Teaching English Online: The Beginner’s Guide, Part Two

In the first part of this article, we looked at the perks and pitfalls of teaching English online and introduced some different styles of classes you can use. Continue reading for more tips on how to build a successful online teaching career.

Three Choices for Teaching Online

There are three popular choices for how you go about finding students and teaching English online. Your choice will depend on several factors, including:

  • how many hours you want to teach
  • how reliable you want the work to be
  • how good you are at using platforms and technology
  • how much money you want to make
  • how experienced you are as a teacher, and with making/sourcing your own materials

Here are the three options for getting your online students and starting to teach.

Total Freelance is not an option for the newbie teacher, because basically, going total freelance style means you’re totally on your own. No support network, no help finding students – it’s you and you alone. However, if you’ve got some experience and think you can do it, this is the best option because:

  1. You set your own timetable, and class length times.
  2. You can teach what you want.
  3. Pick and choose the students you want, not who you’re told to teach.
  4. Set your own pay, and cut down on the middleman costs. Finding students can be tricky, but there are ways to do it. Online advertising is a good choice, but if you live somewhere with lots of English language learners, you can also look at local advertisements, pin boards, etc. This is also a popular choice for teachers who have taught student on other platforms (or in person) who can then transfer these students to online freelance classes.

Platform Teaching is a great way to get started, and probably the most popular choice. Using a platform means that you have easy access to loads of students who will pick their teacher from a list of profiles on their search. To get involved in platform teaching you often have to make an introductory video for your students to get a feel for you, your style, your accent, etc. You may also need an interview. Students will read your profile and see if you’re the one for them. Pros of this choice is that you have a support network if things go wrong, and there are usually secure payment systems in place. Some platforms offer training, and you can network with other teachers. Cons of this choice is that you get paid less (as the platform will take a cut) and it can be difficult to get off the ground when there are so many other teachers advertising on the same platform. One way to counter this is to set low prices to begin with, and then raise your prices once your profile is more attractive.

Online Teaching for Companies is probably the least popular choice, but for some people, it works well. This is when you get hired by a company to teach English online – they find the students and set the timetable. This is a great way to start if you want a hands-off approach and just want to get stuck in. Downsides are that these companies often have a minimum contract hours and you might end up working more than you want to. Again, you get paid less because the company takes a cut. The company might be online, or it might be a physical language school that also offers online classes, which you might teach from home or from the school itself. For online companies that advertise a wide pay scale – make no mistake, even experienced teachers are likely to start off at the bottom pay grade.

Platforms for Teaching English Online

There are a number of teaching platforms, and it’s good to shop around. Some platforms might be more difficult to get accepted onto, but if it’s a more professional company, it’s worth the slog. Some will have more potential students than others, minimum weekly hours, different class lengths… there’s lots of research to be done.

Learnlight is a good company to go with if you’re a newbie, but this upside for beginners is the downside that stumps many experienced teachers – to start off with, you need to undergo an extensive online training course, including several Skype meetings, before you teach anything at all. This training is also unpaid. But once you’ve finished that, this is a company that will find you plenty of students within your contracted hours. Materials are provided, and for an experienced teacher, these classes require almost no prep. There is some paperwork though!

Verbling has a bustling community and there are message boards where both students and teachers can ask questions to their peers. Verbling has a wide price range and it’s easy for teachers to set a price, and also to change prices in general or for certain students. The Verbling platform is quite easy to use, and they have their own chat technology – Verbling Video – which you use on the website to conduct lessons. Verbling is a good choice if you have a very small number of available hours per week because you can choose as many or as few hours as you want – just bear in mind that the more limited your schedule is, the less choices there are for students.

VIPKID has over 200,000 students on their online teaching platform, taught by more than 30,000 teachers in one-to-one classes. In 2017, Forbes ranked this company as number one in a list of 100 work from home companies. The students are Chinese children aged 4 – 12. Lesson plans are provided. Each class is about 30 minutes, and the minimum commitment is 7.5 hours a week for a 6 month contract, with peak availability. This platform seems like it’s really well put together and would be a great choice for first time teachers.

For a list of many more platforms to consider, read this blog post.

Teaching Tips and Materials

  • For resources, check out websites like the British Council, BusyTeacher, the iSLCollective, Breaking New English, etc.
  • Youtube has thousands of short videos you can watch with your student in an online class. Ask the student to turn down the sound, and rather than listening to the audio, they can describe what they see while you take notes to correct afterwards. There are also countless websites that gather films for this purpose, such as the Film-English
  • Before the class, think up conversation topics or browse online for ideas. In the initial classes, you should spend some time getting to know your student so that you know things that they’re likely to want to chat about

Summary

Teaching English online isn’t for everyone, but for those teachers who can make it work, teaching online is a fantastic opportunity to take your job wherever you go and be in charge of your own teaching schedule. Most teachers just do a bit of online teaching on the side of their day job (which may or may not also be teaching!) but there are those who manage to make a full career out of online classes. The opportunities are endless, so get stuck in – you never know where it’ll take you.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer and TEFL-trained English teacher who spent five years teaching in Asia. She specialises in travel writing and writing for children, and has a penchant for knitting. Celia is the author of Knitted Sushi (easy knitting patterns for beginners) and Ben and Maki – Let’s be Friends (an English/Japanese bilingual picture book). To contact Celia about freelancing work, check out her Upwork profile or contact Celia through her website.


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