How to Teach English Online: Everything You Need to Know

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Online Overview

If you’re interested in teaching English online, you’re in good company – more and more companies are opening up and countless educators around the world are making the move from the classroom to online.

Even though the technology had been there for a while, it wasn’t until the past few years that companies like VIPKid were founded and paved the way for what is now a seemingly endless list of companies that offer online English classes.

Today, VIPKID has over 60,000 teachers working for them and their business model proved to be so successful that many other companies followed in its footsteps and found their place in the market.

The success of these companies lies in the fact that online teaching offers benefits for everyone involved:

  • ESL teachers are able to work remotely and with a flexibility one could only dream of when working in a classroom.
  • Companies are able to hire teachers from around the world and classify them as contractors, saving both on overhead and taxes.
  • Students are able to find classes that fit their schedule and have their choice of teachers and subjects.

Types of online teaching jobs

If you’ve looked into online teaching, you may have noticed most positions can be broken down into three types: companies, create-a-profile, or do-it-yourself.

Let’s take a better look at each job type as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Company (like Dada or VIPKID)

These types of companies only started showing up around 2010 or later and are now one of the most popular choices among online ESL teachers.  However, while it may seem like they represent the best option out there, there are several downsides that are hard to overlook.

Pros:

  • You don’t need to worry about finding students – these kinds of companies are in charge of marketing and they recruit their own students and assign them to teachers automatically.
  • They often provide lesson plans – while this could be a double-edged sword (more on that in the cons section), companies like Dada or VIPKID give their teachers detailed lesson plans, including slides and teaching instructions that can cut down the lesson prep time significantly.
  • You are (almost free) to set up your own schedule – even though some companies may require you to work a minimum number of hours or commit to so-called peak times, you can still pick and choose the times you want to work.

Cons: 

  • The lesson plans given may limit the creativity of teachers since they know they can’t stray too far from the content of the slides.  This can make the lesson a bit rigid and at times, repetitive for the teacher.
  • You’re not in complete control of your schedule – while you do have some control over your schedule, at the end of the day you’re still their employee.  This means that if you want to take a day off or something comes up and you can’t teach one day, you’re going to have to ask permission and be ready to face the consequences.
  • Getting hired doesn’t necessarily mean getting booked – companies obviously want to make sure they have enough teachers for any potential client, even if that comes at the price of overhiring, which may result in low bookings for some teachers.
  • Peak times may fall at odd hours – if you’re in the States and teaching kids in Asia, you might have to wake up at 5am to make sure you get your hours in.

Profile (like Preply or iTalki)

Companies like Preply or iTalki are becoming more popular with students looking to learn a language.  On these platforms, teachers are asked to create a profile, add a bio, attach an introductory video, set their own schedule and prices and then wait for the students to book a class. As great and easy as it sounds, this choice also comes with a few important drawbacks.

Pros:

  • You get to set your own schedule – probably one of the best advantages of setting up a profile with one of these companies is that you truly get to set your own schedule. You normally don’t have a minimum number of hours required nor are you asked to work at specific times.
  • Set your own price – even though you still need to make sure you stay competitive when setting your prices, you can charge students as much as you wish.
  • It’s easier to cancel classes – all the problems we would have when canceling a class as a company teacher disappear with a profile company, just let the student know in advance and reschedule the class at a time that’s convenient for both.

Cons: 

  • The competition on these platforms is unbelievable – while it’s true that you are in charge of establishing how much you’d like to get paid, when setting your prices you also have to consider that you’ll be competing with potentially thousands of other teachers.  The hard truth is students are always looking to save a few bucks, even if that means opting for a less qualified teacher.
  • You’re in charge of lesson planning – since you’ll most likely be teaching 1:1 classes, you need to keep in mind that every student will have different interests, different goals and a different learning style.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but when you start to have 10-15 students a week, the hours spent planning your classes will start to add up.

Freelance (do it yourself)

This may be the most sought-after type of job for an ESL teacher because, at the end of the day, this is really the only way you get to be your own boss, and who wouldn’t want that? However, as idyllic as it may sound, you should also remember that, as someone once said, with great power comes great responsibility.

Pros:

  • You truly are your own boss – want to work only four days a week? Take a last-minute one-week vacation? Start charging $60 per class? Technically you can do all of that and more when you’re working for yourself, putting you in complete control over how you work and live your life.

Cons: 

  • Finding students can be a pain – I’m pretty sure many of the qualified teachers that end up on one of the profile platforms mentioned above have, at some point, considered or perhaps even tried to set up their own business. So why give up? The answer is convenience. The struggle to find students in such a saturated market is real and finding clients may require some real marketing skills that not many people have or have an interest in acquiring.
  • You have to worry about student retention – even if you do manage to get started and you find a number of students that are good enough to get by, nobody assures you they will need you forever, that’s why finding ways to retain your students or finding new ones to replace those who leave could become a second job, and a pretty demanding one at that.

Online teaching requirements

If you want to become an online English teacher, the requirements you have to meet will largely depend on the type of job you decide to apply for.

Company

Online teaching companies tend to have the strictest requirements in the online teaching world and they will often require you to:

  • Hold a Bachelor’s degree – this can be in any subject and it is considered a basic requirement since most companies won’t go through with your application unless you have it.
  • Be a native English speaker – most companies will only accept candidates who hold a passport issued by an English-speaking country, however, there are a few, like iTutorGroup, who hire non-natives as well.
  • Pass a background check – this is extremely important for companies that offer online tutoring to kids.
  • Have access to reliable technology – this means a fast internet connection, a good computer, camera and headphones.
  • Hold a TEFL certification – more and more companies are starting to set this as a requirement as well, but some of these companies like VIPKid offer their own TEFL program for you to take before you begin teaching for them.
  • Have prior experience – teaching candidates with past teaching experience are often preferred.

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Profile

Companies like iTalki and Preply are much more relaxed than the companies mentioned above when it comes to teaching requirements. Some platforms, such as Italki for instance, let you choose to either register as a Professional Teacher or as a Community Tutor.

In the first case, you’ll have to prove you are a certified teacher by submitting a copy of your TEFL certificate, in the second case simply stating you have a native-level of English will be enough to be showcased on their website.

Freelance

If you want to freelance and make it on your own, you’re the one who’s going to have to set your own requirements. Obviously, your main selling points, besides your personality, will probably be your experience and qualifications, so the more you have the more likely you are to impress your potential clients.

Online teaching salaries – What to expect

Teaching online is a great job for numerous reasons, but making a lot of money is not one of them. Because you won’t have a set of contract hours you need to teach each month, online ESL teachers are paid on an hourly basis. The pay can differ depending on the type of job or the specific company you work for, but you can probably expect to make between $15 and $25 USD an hour, before tax.

Company

Expected salary: $15- $25

Most online teaching companies will offer to pay a base rate (usually between $15 and $19) and then reward you with a series of incentives, such as class completion or student sign-up, that can help you increase your hourly rate.

Referrals

Companies like VIPKID put a lot of emphasis on their referral and affiliate programs, which allow existing teachers to recruit new candidates, coach them and get a bonus each time their candidates are hired.

Here’s a nice video that explains how this all works for VIPKID.

Profile

Expected salary: $10- $35

Determining how much you can expect to make on platforms like Preply is a bit trickier because, as we mentioned earlier, here you are able to set your own prices, create different tiers, sell class packages and even offer discounts. However, before starting selling your classes for $50 an hour, there’s something you need to take into consideration: your competition.

On iTalki alone there are over 4,000 teachers offering online ESL tutoring, and prices range for $8 an hour all the way up to $30+ dollars an hour, so it’s up to you to decide where you want to fall on the scale.

Another factor to take into consideration when setting your class prices is that these platforms charge their teachers a fee for each lesson taught, which can range from 15% all the way to a whopping 30% depending on the company and that, once again, is all before tax talk.

Freelance

Expected salary: $10- $35+

Calculating your expected salary when working for yourself is trickier – you get to set your own prices and you get to keep everything you make (besides taxes, obviously) but if you want to attract students, your best bet is to keep your fees competitive enough or you’ll run the risk to scare away potential clients!

How to land your first online teaching job

Believe it or not, the best way to start teaching ESL online is to look for a job… online! So let’s take a better look at each fundamental step to landing your first online teaching job:

Determine which job you want and what you qualify for

For obvious reasons, the preparation you need to start teaching online will differ considerably depending on the type of job you’re seeking, so it’s important you have that clear from the get-go.

Thoroughly consider the pros and cons for each type of job and don’t forget to make sure you fit the requirements. Once you’ve got a better idea of what you can and would like to do, it’s time to start preparing for it.

Prepare, prepare, prepare (watch Youtube)

This goes for any online job – thankfully, regardless of the type of online teaching job you’re after, YouTube is filled with extremely useful videos that can guide you through the whole process (from starting your application process all the way to increasing your bookings).

Here are a few examples of some channels you might find useful:

If you wish to work for a company like VIPKID.

If you’re interested in applying for a profile company such as iTalki.

If you’re looking to get started on your own.

Get your docs in order (resume, pics, etc)

Once you’ve found out what the requirements are, take some time to put together all the documents you’ll need for your application and update your TEFL resume.

If you’re applying to work for a profile company, chances are you’ll also be asked to record an intro video, so make sure you take the time to plan that out and create something that you think will make you stand out from the crowd.

You can find a few useful tips here.

Consider getting a coach

Earlier we touched on the referral and affiliate programs for companies like VIPKID, which help teachers make a bit of extra money for each successful candidate they refer.

And guess what? You could very well be that candidate!

Go find a teacher whose style you like and use their affiliate or referral link to get extra support when preparing for the interview. This will come at no extra cost for you and will increase your chances of passing your interview on your first try.

Apply

Regardless of whether you’re applying to work for a company or to have your profile included on the website of a language learning platform, the application process tends to be fairly quick and straightforward.

Most of the time, you’ll simply have to answer a few questions on their platform, attach a few files (a copy of your resume, any degrees they may require and so on) and you’re good to go.

Rock the interview

This really only applies in case you’ve applied for a teaching position at an online teaching company. If this is the case, make sure you familiarize yourself with the company, their business model and what they look for in a teacher.

Rock the demo

Most companies, such as VIPKID, will require you to either teach a live demo lesson or record it for a recruiter to watch later. Whichever option you choose, make sure you get in tons of practice and rehearse the demo class several times, both off and on camera, until you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of it.

How to succeed in teaching online classes once you get a job

Passing your interview is an amazing accomplishment and you should take the time to celebrate, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the hardest part is now behind you. When teaching English online, every day is a challenge where you’ll have to prove to yourself to the company and your students that you are up to the job.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure everything goes smoothly and that you provide good quality lessons to your students.

The right equipment

Get your hands on some good equipment – you don’t need to go all out and spend thousands of dollars on the latest technology but there are a few staple pieces that can really make a difference in the quality of your online classes.

  • A good Internet connection – this is at the top of the list for a good reason. You can be the best teacher in the world, with the best equipment in the world, but if you lack a good, fast and stable Internet connection, all of this won’t mean much.  Most companies go as far as to give you the exact Internet speed parameters you have to meet in order to work for them – you can test yours here.
  • Teaching headsets – the objective here is making sure both you and your student can hear each other clearly so the best choice would be opting for some over-ear headphones that come with a microphone.
  • Lights – it’s truly amazing how much of a difference lighting can make when teaching online. As a rule of thumb, the brighter, the better (the student should see both and your background clearly). You can try and work with what you have at home, but if you can’t, purchasing an extra lamp might be a good investment.
  • A nice computer with a good camera – luckily, nowadays, most computers, even laptops, will do the job and the built-in webcams usually provide a good enough image in most cases but you still want to double-check the quality of the picture is good and not too pixelated.
  • A few props – this is extremely important, especially when working with kids or teenagers. Even though online teachers rely heavily on their energy and facial expressions to keep children engaged, teaching props can often help with entertaining the learners and spicing up the class.
  • A well-thought-out background – this goes for any level or age you might be teaching. For older students, a neutral and organized background can help them focus and helps you look more professional. On the other hand, kids will appreciate a fun and colorful background that can also be used for sticking props or rewards. Once again, there is no need to spend a fortune to put together a background – oftentimes, less is more.

Make sure to use the school’s curriculum and platform to the max

If you’re lucky enough to have your company provide you with the material you need to teach your classes, make sure you make the most of it – not only will it help you cut down your lesson planning time but you can also learn a lot from the teaching tips and instructions often included in the slides.

Planning and scheduling

Planning and scheduling are crucial when teaching online and as teachers, we may sometimes overestimate how much we can do.

Make sure you plan to take breaks in between classes so you don’t teach too many classes back-to-back. Overscheduling can also occur especially when you know that each extra hour you teach means a bit of extra money but make sure you are honest with yourself when it comes to setting a maximum number of daily or weekly hours.

If you’re planning your own lessons, make sure you have a few spare lesson plans you can always refer to if you need something at the last minute.

Keeping the students happy

You can have the best curriculum, props and technology anybody’s ever heard of, but nothing will matter if you’re students aren’t happy. More often than not, when teaching online, you’ll end up teaching 1:1 classes, so make sure you listen to your students, always keep their goals in mind and work in each class to build a rapport with them.

Scenarios – where to apply?

I don’t have a degree but am a native speaker

Not having a degree may make finding a job a bit harder than you would otherwise, but, no worries, there are still plenty of options. Here are a few companies that might be worth looking into:

I don’t have a degree and am not a native speaker

While there are companies willing to hire even non-natives (such as iTutor Group) the vast majority only accept native speakers, so the easiest thing, in this case, will be to find students through a create-a-profile platform.

I have a degree and am a native speaker

If you have a degree and are a native speaker, you’ll definitely have your pick when it comes to job opportunities so it’s up to you to decide where you would like to work.

I’m qualified but can’t find a job

If for whatever reason, you can’t find a job at any company, you may want to consider giving a language learning platform a shot. Qualified teachers are always welcome there and you’ll be completely in control of how you sell your services.

To sum it up, if teaching English online is your goal, you’re in luck because finding a job in this field has never been easier and new companies offering ESL classes online keep springing up. Whether you would like to work for an established company or start your own business, now’s definitely the time to do it.

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0 Responses

  1. Hello! This was a very interesting and all-inclusive article. I can tell it is for a person new to teaching English online but I found it helpful for even an experienced online teacher like myself.

    I’ve taught for some time with VIPKid as well as one other company but this article opened my eyes to how many companies there truly are out there to look into.

    It was also interesting to learn more about recruiting and if it is worth looking into for some online teachers looking to boost their income in addition to teaching.

    Thank you for the wonderful tips!

    -Tori

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