I’ve been working as an English language trainer since 2013, for language schools, corporate clients and private students. Teaching English has enabled me to live and work in different countries (England, Italy and Germany), meet people from around the world and have a job that can be done 100% online. However, as with all jobs, there are some advantages and disadvantages. In this blog post, I’d like to share 12 things you should know before becoming an online English teacher. Many of these things I wish I’d known at the very start, so I hope this post will be useful to you!
The hourly rate is lower than in-person teaching
Online schools pay considerably less than in-person lessons taught in international or private language schools. The main reason for this is because most online schools provide all the teaching materials and there is little to no preparation involved. Most online language schools pay around €17/£14/$20 per hour. At the time of writing, the schools paying the highest wages are Magic Ears (€22/£19/$26), with GoGoKid and VIPKid as close second and third. However, other schools pay much less from €8-11/£6-9/$9-12 per hour. All those wages are before tax, which means you have to put in a lot of hours to earn a liveable amount. Some schools have a complicated payment systems, based on referrals and commission, which means that your take-home pay could fluctuate wildly from month to month. Whenever possible, look for schools which are very transparent about their teaching rates and don’t have complicated schemes which could result in you being paid far less than you are worth.
It’s harder to build a rapport with your students through a screen
I have taught hundreds of students online and in-person since qualifying in 2013. In my experience, it is more difficult to create a bond with your students when you only see them through a small screen. Even more so if you have a large number of students and you want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to talk during the lesson. It is much easier to connect with a student one-on-one, but even so it’s a different dynamic from being in-person together. As a result, I think it is vital to try and learn as much about your students as possible (without being nosey!). Ask questions, show genuine interest and try to remember details about them. My students always seem pleasantly surprised when I remember their child’s name, their favourite hobby or where they were born. Some small talk at the start of class is great conversation practice for the students and it gives you the chance to get to know them better. It can also give you useful points to discuss in future lessons, highlight some grammatical errors or reveal gaps in their vocabulary that you can help with.
Being completely reliant on technology can be stressful.
We all know how stressful slow internet can be in day-to-day life. It’s even more stressful when your job depends on it. If the tech suddenly decides not to cooperate, you will need to cancel your lessons at short-notice and not get paid. It can be incredibly stressful worrying about the internet connection or having to troubleshoot problems when you should be teaching. I have an ethernet cable that connects directly from my laptop to router, for the most stable connection. It’s a good idea to have a source of backup Wi-Fi (like a hotspot). If you are travelling while working remotely, I suggest asking your Airbnb host or the staff at wherever you’re staying if they can send you a speed test summary before booking. That way you know how reliable the internet connection should be and can avoid places with terrible Wi-Fi.
Administration work is usually unpaid
Teachers are normally only paid for their lesson time with students. However, most online schools require their teachers to also complete class logs or write reports about their students’ progress. It is an unavoidable aspect of the job, but in order to speed up the process and reduce how much unpaid administration you need to do, I suggest making a “feedback template”. My feedback template is a simple Word document full of suggestions and advice collated from previous class logs. I choose examples which are relevant to my student(s) and the topic of the lesson and then personalise with a few extra comments. It might sound quite impersonal but it means the students get useful feedback, whilst saving me time by not having to think of and type my suggestions after every lesson. Completing class logs and recording student attendance can be a bit time-consuming, but at least there aren’t regular team meetings or parent-teacher evenings to attend!
There are some shady schools out there
As more and more online schools pop up, it is increasingly important to do your research and choose a reputable company. Read reviews from past and current teachers, ask for recommendations in Facebook groups and from people you know and trust your gut. If a company is unprofessional, rude or evasive during the interview process – that’s a red flag! If you read about a school paying its teachers late or being terribly unreliable, take note and ask yourself if you want to risk becoming another one of their disgruntled employees.
Many schools only hire native English speakers
If you are not a native or fluent English speaker, you might struggle to find work. Even though non-native English speakers often have a deeper understanding of grammar than native speakers, a lot of schools insist on their teachers being from countries such as the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. If you are not from one of these countries, don’t be disheartened. Some schools hire non-native teachers as long as they have C1 or C2 level fluency. I suggest contacting Preply, italki or Teachable, who are known for hiring teachers from a wide variety of countries (for English and many other subjects)
You may not see the same student twice.
With most online schools, teachers see dozens of different students within a single week. From the students’ point-of-view, they get to experience a variety of different teaching styles and listen to different accents each time. It all depends on the school and how it operates: you might have some recurring students who you teach often, or you might work with all new students each time you turn on your computer.
The variety keeps things fresh and interesting for both the students and teachers, but it’s a shame when you can’t see people progress over time. You might meet a lovely student who you never see again!
Most companies have strict cancellation policies
Online schools impose rigid cancellations policies on their teachers to reduce the number of changes and cancellations. If you agree to a class, you are expected to teach it. The most flexible schools offer a 24-hour cancellation notice period. If you need to cancel after that time, your account might be frozen for one or two weeks, and you are unable to book any new classes during that time.
Other schools take a harsher approach and might impose a penalty, deduct from your wages or freeze your account on future bookings. You will need to provide a doctor’s note if you need to miss a class for medical reasons. Make sure to ask about the school’s cancellation policy during the interview, especially if you need a particularly flexible schedule.
Timezones can be challenging
Many of the bigger online English companies focus on teaching students in Asia. If you live in Europe, that might mean a 5 or 6-hour time difference. However, if you are based in North America, you would be 12 hours behind your students, who usually take lessons in the late afternoon and evening. You might have to teach very late nights or early mornings.
Online teachers often don’t get benefits
Most online teachers are employed as freelancers, which means they miss out on all the benefits that full-time employees get. You may have more flexibility and autonomy than permanent employees in traditional schools, but you also miss out on a lot of perks. No paid annual leave, sick leave or retirement contributions.
If you have another job or another way to get benefits, this isn’t a problem. However, if online teaching is your full-time job, you will need to pay for your own health insurance, set money aside for taxes and save for your retirement by yourself.
You spend a lot of time sitting down
Perhaps I am showing my age, but online teaching can be tough on the body. Sitting on the computer for several hours is taxing on the back and shoulders. Staring at a screen for hours on end can make your eyes feel tired. To improve your comfort during your lessons, you should consider investing in some padded headphones, an ergonomic desk and chair, a laptop stand to elevate your computer screen and perhaps some blue light blocking glasses to protect your eyes.
It can be isolating
You spend all day talking to students, but it is different from day-to-day contact. Furthermore, you rarely interact with other teachers or won’t have a direct line manager to go to for support and advice. You will need to handle working independently, autonomously, without daily interaction and support from colleagues and peers. Some schools invest in their teacher’s professional development by offering online training sessions. However, most of the time you need to make sure your skills and knowledge are up-to-date, and you are familiar with the virtual platform you will be using (such as Zoom, Cisco Webex, Skype or MS Teams. You can join some teacher Facebook groups for the main online schools.
Now that you’ve got a good understanding of the pros and cons of teaching English online, here are some companies to approach:
Hopefully this post and 10 Reasons to Become an Online English Teacher have given you a balanced, honest view of a profession which is going to be increasingly in demand in this ever-changing world of ours. If you’ve got any other questions about teaching online, please leave them in the comments below.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow