First and foremost, what does it mean to teach English online? In the past decade or so, there has been a rising demand for English teachers, particularly across Asia. New ESL teachers go abroad every day, and the market continues to grow. As a way to meet this demand, online teaching companies were created. Native English speakers are able to teach classes remotely with just their computer. This allows students to interact with native English speakers no matter where they live.
Teaching English online is very different from teaching in person and presents both unique opportunities and challenges. There are tons of resources available for online teachers, from blogs and videos to language apps and online ESL games. Instead of textbooks and worksheets, your students can have a variety of fun and engaging activities.
Teaching through a webcam does come with some challenges. It can be difficult for your students to understand you, especially because there are less visual nonverbal cues for them to see clearly. If you are aware of this, it’s easy to work past it by simply over exaggerating. Use lots of gestures and facial expressions to help the students understand you during class.
Relying on so much technology can also be difficult. To get to your ‘class’ you have to have a working computer, webcam, headphones and strong internet. If you have a bad connection, odds are your students are seeing a frozen picture of you and some warped audio. In a class where seeing and hearing you are the most important features, this can potentially ruin a class. Be sure to check your internet strength before class and try to have an emergency option. If you have unlimited phone data, you could always make a Wi-Fi hotspot for yourself in a pinch.
Teaching English online enables you to meet and teach children from all around the world. This also presents the challenge of teaching across all the time zones. For example, if you live in the US and your students are in China, your classes will likely be very early in the morning. This can be a blessing and a curse. If you have a full-time job, you can easily add a class or two before your regular job, but it will cost you some sleep. Also, if you are teaching in the early AMs, that probably means your young students are attending your class at the end of their long school day. This could lead to some sleepy students, so keep your own energy up to keep their attention engaged.
Where can I teach from?
Teaching English online gives you a unique kind of freedom. Are you a homebody who hates the commute each day? Imagine working from home: no more long drive each morning, no boring packed lunch or mad dashes to the coffee shop, no more getting trapped in traffic. If you want to work from home and avoid a lengthy commute, teaching online is a fantastic option for you. You can set up your teaching spot in your home, and then the longest commute you have is from your bed to there. You are also able to control how many hours you work. If you need to save up for some big purchase, you can put in the hours and rake in the benefits. On the other hand, if you just need some pocket money from time to time, you could work one or two days a week and be perfectly content.
Even better, if you are bitten by the travel bug, teaching English online is a perfect way to supplement your travel budget. Picture this; you finish your classes for the day, then get changed and head out to an elephant sanctuary and play with elephants. Or maybe you head to the nearest tropical beach. With a flexible teaching schedule, it’s easy to work and travel at the same time. In fact, you could easily become a full-time traveler. Some countries, especially across Southeast Asia, have a lower cost of living. That means you could work a few days a week and spend the rest of your time exploring the sights. When you have seen everything you want to see, simply pack up and move along to a new location.
One other benefit of teaching English online is that it gives you a chance to gain work experience if you plan to teach abroad later. Having ESL and TEFL experience already on your resume puts you in a position to get a better job if you do decide to move abroad.
What supplies do I need?
Depending on what online company you work for, there are different requirements for your lessons. The basics for online teaching are a good computer with plenty of RAM, a webcam, headphones with a microphone, and of course a quiet space to have your lesson. Since online classes focus primarily on conversation skills and pronunciation of new vocabulary, it is critical that your students can hear you clearly without lots of background noise. This might be something to take into consideration if you are traveling and teaching at the same time. For example, a shared room in a hostel is not a great place to have a class. Many companies also prefer their teacher to use an ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi, but it’s not always required. Be sure to check with your company on their specific requirements when you start teaching.
Also, if you are traveling and teaching, it might be a good idea to keep a few basic things with you. Most companies ask that their teachers have class in front of a blank wall, or a space with educational posters on display. In case your accommodation doesn’t have that at the ready, keep a white sheet in your suitcase. You can always find a way to hang it up for a clean blank backdrop. Also, the more engaging your classes are, the more money you can make. That’s why having props can make a big difference in your online teaching career. If you don’t want to use up a lot of space in your suitcase for toys and flashcards, you can rely on the basics: a whiteboard, and a small plush toy. You can use the white board for basic letters, words, or drawings, and use the toy to model conversations.
Can I teach without a TEFL?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, but why would you want to? Many people are intimidated by teaching English online, especially if they don’t have a TEFL certification. There are lots of online companies that only require you to have a degree and be a native English speaker. However, your pay will be much lower per hour or per class. Getting TEFL certified is always a better option, so grab one asap! Teaching English as a second language is quite different from learning it as a native English speaker. A TEFL course will give you a better understanding of how to teach effectively and how to help your students. Having a TEFL opens up more opportunities at better companies. And you also get a better pay rate for the same work!
What companies can I work for?
As you begin your job search, you will see tons of companies and options. Sure, there are lots of online companies, but what about apps on your phone? What type of company is best for you? Let’s take a closer look at a few kinds of online companies.
Teaching with Online Schools
This is the most ‘traditional’ type of online teaching. You will have to make a commitment to a certain number of hours a week and be willing to sign a contract for at least 3 to 6 months. Some companies will ask for your availability and schedule your classes for you, meaning you have less control over how many classes you have each week. Just check your schedule each week and be on time to the classes. There are great perks to this method, the biggest being a steady income. You will likely have classes every week and will get compensation even if your student is a no-show.
Another great advantage is that these companies have all the lesson plans and teaching resources prepared for you. Most ask that you review the lesson prior to class, but you don’t have to prepare anything. The only downside is a lack of flexibility in your schedule. If you plan carefully, you can still travel and sightsee, but it will be a bit more challenging.
Here’s what you will need to teach with an online school:
- A laptop/ computer to teach from. It has to have a fast processor since you will likely need to download that companies teaching platform
- Headphones with a built-in microphone
- A good quality webcam
- A quiet and well-lit workspace to have your class (often the companies will ask that you teach with a blank wall or educational decorations behind you)
- Since these are usually the better paying positions, you will probably need a bachelor’s degree (in any field) and/or a TEFL/CELTA/TOSL certification
Mobile Apps for Teaching English
If you need more flexibility in your schedule, teaching on a mobile app might be perfect for you. You aren’t tied to a fixed schedule and can take breaks whenever you feel like it. Do you need a week to travel to a new destination? No problem! Just teach when you have the time and motivation.
With a mobile app, the focus is on conversational English. This means you don’t have to prepare class materials, but you should be comfortable chatting on a variety of subjects. When you are ready to teach, just go find a quiet area and wait for calls to come in. The length of each ‘class’ depends on the student. Some will want a quick 10-minute call, others will stay on the line for an hour. But don’t worry, you are paid by the minute with mobile apps. Just be friendly and try to build a relationship with the students so they will call again next time.
This flexible schedule does mean you have an unreliable income. You don’t know how many calls you might get when you do open your schedule. Some days might be very busy, and you could earn hundreds in a week. Others might be very slow, and you only make 50 for that week. That’s why quickly building a rapport with your students is important. If you have a good relationship with the students, they are more likely to call you repeatedly.
Here’s what you will need to teach using a mobile app:
- A smartphone (iPhone or Android) and access to the Apple Store/Google Play store to download the teaching app
- Headphones with a built-in microphone
- Fast and reliable Wi-Fi
- You don’t have to have a TEFL/CELTA/TOSL for most of these apps, but you need strong conversational skills and be able to speak English fluently (generally they ask for native speakers)
Online Teaching Platforms
If you prefer to take the reins with your online work, using an online teaching platform is a great fit for you. You simply register with the platform and make your own profile. You have complete control. You set your own availability and your hourly rate. The students contact you when they want to book classes. The key to success with this kind of platform is to make an appealing profile and a good hourly rate. If you charge too much, you won’t find many students. Also, be sure to see if the teaching platform charges a commission fee, as it might affect how much you charge your students.
Online teaching platforms can be a very competitive environment depending on what subject you are teaching. If you can offer a wide variety of subjects, you will be more likely to find lots of students. This kind of platform is the most flexible, so you can teach a wide range of subjects. Naturally, you can teach English. But you can also offer classes on other languages or subjects too, even music or art classes.
Here’s what you will need to teach using an online platform:
- A laptop/ computer to teach from. Depending on the company you choose, you might work in a virtual classroom or Skype
- Headphones with a built-in microphone
- A good quality webcam
- A quiet and well-lit workspace to have your class
- Lesson plans and materials for the classes you create
- You don’t have to have a TEFL/CELTA/TOSL, but having one helps you stand out and potentially get more students. Be sure to check the requirements for the platform you chose to work for.
Teaching English online can give you a special kind of freedom. You can teach students from around the world anytime, anywhere. It gives you a chance to meet students from all different backgrounds and countries. You can share your own culture and learn about theirs. Decide what works best for you and jump into your new job.