I have been teaching online for 3 years now and although things seem to be smooth sailing right now, there certainly was a lot of “teething” when I first started out.
In this article, we will look at some of the online teaching tips that I wish I had known when I had first started. From how to set your schedule to avoid burnout to nailing your intro video, this list should have something for everyone regardless of whether you’re a teaching vet or just starting the search for quality online ESL jobs.
Let’s get into it!
Online Teaching Tips
1. Teach on a website that has its own materials.
Sure, you can find websites where you can create your lesson plans and exercises from scratch, but even with your newly earned TEFL qualification, this can be tricky (as I found to be the case!). With this route, you can be exposed to a lot of material that will in time give you more ideas for how to create your own.
2. Expect to earn less in the beginning.
This is a big wake up call for teachers who have been in the game a while. They sign up to a website with their 10-15 years experience. and set the price accordingly only to get 0 students.
Related: See How this VIPKid Teacher Earned $75k Teaching Online
It takes time to start building up a client base and getting decent reviews so that people know you are worth your price. Set your price low for the first few months then raise it for new students as your reputation on the website grows.
3. Absent students.
In bigger classes, if a student doesn’t turn up then you just carry on as usual. In a one to one class, if your student doesn’t turn up then there is no class and you need to be prepared how you will handle this situation.
For students who regularly miss class, you may want to set a “no-refunds policy” and charge for your time (after all, you turned up and did the prep work.) That being said, if it’s a new student or someone with a difficult situation then letting them off the hook may be the better option if you want to keep them long term.
4. Backup your backup.
This is a technology game. Unlike the real world, if your technology fails here then there is no class. Make sure you have a backup pair of headphones /microphone.
Related: Our Favorite Headphones for Online Teaching
Also look into a backup Internet connection if possible. At the very least make sure there is a way to communicate to your student via your mobile if your Internet goes down.
5. Get used to free conversation.
Speaking is the area most of my students want to practice. Most of them are great at self-study and have the other core areas sorted but a lot of them struggle to find ways to practice speaking and need someone to check their pronunciation. Think about this when creating lesson plans.
I’ve started asking new students in the first lesson how much free conversation they would like to do in class and a lot are saying between 30-50% of the lesson time!
6. Consider teaching on multiple platforms.
Some websites will want to employ you exclusively and this can be nice for stability. For other websites though they are happy for you to teach on other platforms as long as it doesn’t clash with your classes on theirs. Find a way to sync these up easily in your calendar and this is a great way of “not putting all your eggs in one basket”.
Note: Jon teaches for Verbling, Preply & Lingoda and recommends all of them
7. Nail the introduction video.
It is common practice for teaching platforms to ask for an introduction video. This is a chance for a potential student to get an idea for who you are and most websites also give guidelines and tips so read and do what they say. Pro tip – just search “teacher intro video” on Youtube for inspiration!
You know how a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, a video is worth a million! Don’t be nervous though as this is essentially a way of making the perfect first impression. Messed up your words? Record it again. Did you come across as too quiet? Record it again. Think you can do better? Then record it again! I scripted and practiced mine until it was polished (but not robotic!)
You need to know that not all of your students will stick around forever. There are some you will make great friends with and teach for years. There are however some who are in it for a very short-term goal as well (e.g. exam preparation). Be prepared for this by actively working to get new students and keeping your regular students as happy as possible.
9. Know the student’s needs.
This one is so important. Every student has their own goals and reasons for learning English and you need to be helping them hit that goal otherwise they will go elsewhere. How do you find out what they need? Simple, ask them!
10. Know the payment system.
This is another one that changes from platform to platform. Make sure you find out how and when you get paid. To give an example, I teach on 3 platforms. One of them pays me monthly, one of them pays me weekly and one of them pays me immediately after the lesson is confirmed. Make sure whatever system is in place it works for you.
11. Back to back lessons.
These can be brutal. I’ve had it where I’ve set my hours for a day and had 4 or so lessons back to back. Not only is this exhausting but it’s a nightmare preparing properly for the next lesson.
One thing you can do is this: don’t make yourself available for all hours between say 9-5. Break your day into blocks that can be booked. You can either do one hour blocks with a half hour block in between or maybe 2-hour blocks if you don’t mind having a couple back to back.
12. The work isn’t always steady.
This isn’t such a problem on platforms I mentioned before where you are employed for set hours every week. On platforms where you are finding your own students though you need to plan for quieter times. This means working more during the busier times to build up some savings to keep you going.
13. Get to know the exams.
Exam preparation is a popular area. This is usually when people get into the last few months before an exam (such as IELTS). Get to know the most popular exams and this will boost the number of lessons you can teach.
14. Be prepared.
For lessons that you have to create yourself, it’s best to make sure you are well prepared. Create a lesson plan and source all the materials you need beforehand. As well as this make sure you have some backup activities you can do in case you get through everything else quickly or if you need to skip an exercise for whatever reason.
15. Watch out for the scammers.
Ok, maybe scam is too strong a word here. But there are certain schools that are very shady. They don’t pay the teachers on time and blackmail them into leaving positive reviews on places like Glassdoor etc. Do your research on a company and if it doesn’t feel right then move on! There are plenty of opportunities out there for you.
Bonus: Invest in Your Teaching Space.
Teaching is so much easier when you have the right equipment – many online companies will stipulate that you have quality gear like headsets and webcams, but other items like whiteboards and props are invaluable when delivering lessons. In addition, a proper desk with good lighting will not only ensure that you are seen clearly, but also convey a professional appearance to your students.
Jonathan is a native English speaker who has been teaching English for over 3 years. As well as teaching online, he runs the website English +XP which offers resources to both teachers and students of English.
Thanks for your invaluable information. I graduated from the TEFL course in April. I am hoping to teach online. I love your insight into the online world of ESL teaching.
Please send me some sites or schools/ institutions that you think might be worth trying. I want to literally teach and live online.
Hi Osman – we’ve written hiring guides to the biggest ones here https://eslauthority.com/teach/online/, or you can browse new online jobs here https://eslauthority.com/teach/online/jobs/. Good luck!
I currently teach ESL on one online platform, but I am considering teaching on a second platform. My greatest concern is with the calendar. How do you manage yours while teaching on 3 platforms? How do you avoid double bookings?
Thank you so much in advance for your help!
Excellent question Savannah! I had this problem at the start and would be constantly updating calendars on different sites. The answer is elegant though.
Google calendar. You can sync a lot of the common websites to your calendar, this way when someone books a lesson on website 1 it will register in your calendar and make it so no-one can book that time on website 2.
You may need to do some experimentation to get it working the way you want but once it’s done it saves so much hassle!
Hi, I’d like to know if there’s an age limit for teaching English online.
Hi Cathy – some companies may have their own policies but in general, there is no limit.
Do you have a list of the websites that you referred to as having their own materials, please?
Thanks a bunch for your online teaching tips. I began to do some online English teaching about three months ago, though I come from the face-to-face context.
Starting with the new school year, I may have new Ss sign a written payment and cancellation policy for one-to-one lessons. I think it is only fair that if they don’t show up for a lesson or cancel within 12 hours or less prior to it, full payment must be made.
As online teachers we tend to book as many lessons as we possibly can fit in our schedules, which is not good, speaking from my own experience. So, yes, back-to-back lessons is definitely something to be avoided in online teaching.