If there is one topic that people are continually asking about, it’s teaching English online. There is a huge interest to teach English online. First, many are attracted to the idea of working from home. Second, for those of us living abroad in places where English teaching salaries are low, it makes a lot of sense to teach English online. I made the switch to working exclusively online about a year and a half ago, while I was living in Veracruz, Mexico. Shortly after, I moved to San Salvador and when I realized the lack of opportunity and/or living wages here, my temporary online gig had to become permanent. I have experiences with several online companies and platforms, so I am going to share the good, the bad and the ugly with you. If you would like to add to this, please free feel to share your knowledge in social media posts.
What is it like to Teach English Online?
Believe it or not, teaching online is not suitable for everyone. It is especially NOT suitable for stay at home moms, even though that is one of the most used advertising ploys. If you have small children, dogs that bark or live on a busy street, teaching online is NOT for you. Most online companies required a quiet, professional work setting for online teachers, free or any noise or distractions. Even if you can silence family members, take it from me, having children and husband tiptoeing around the house while you are trying to work and concentrate is not ideal either. Teaching online IS a real job.
There are parts of being an online teacher that we don’t consider. We tend to focus on the positives: saving gas money, no more commuting, working in your pajamas, etc. But, there are some real issues when you spend 8 hours or giving online classes each day. The first thing I can say, is be prepared to smile for hours on end. Sometimes my face hurts from smiling so much. When teaching with a busy company, you will have a new batch of students each hour, so it’s like making a first impression all over again, 8 times a day. You cannot have an off minute, let your mind wander, or god forbid, take a quick pee break. Students are paying for your time, attention and expertise, and they want every second’s worth.
What are the biggest companies that offer jobs to Teach English online?
When people ask me about getting an online job, I tell them to start with the big 3, English First, Tutor ABC and Open English. These companies have remarkably similar operating strategies and there is little difference from one to the other. English First has students worldwide, while Tutor ABC focuses in China and Open English in Latin America. Figuring out the time zone difference from where you are can help you decide which is right for you. All 3 of these companies pay a low salary, between $8 – $10 an hour (from what I have seen, Open English used to pay tutors more, but has been steadily lowering their hourly rate over the years, the most recent offer they send me was a pitiful $8!). Despite the low hourly pay, these companies have the students to FILL your hours. While many smaller companies will offer $15 – $20 an hour… what they don’t tell you is that you probably won’t get back to back classes and will end up sitting at your computer for hours on end waiting for students. With the big 3, you can pretty much guarantee that the hours you open are hours that will be filled.
However, keep in mind that common complaints regarding these companies are lack of communication between the company and the tutor, a very high turnover, being fired for no reason or for uncontrollable technical issues and being punished for unfair ratings by students. The general feeling of many teachers is that these companies run like an ESL “factory”. Get the students in, teach then and on to the next set. Overall, I think working for these companies depends on your personality. Some teachers are fine with having new students each hour and others miss the relationship and report of having ongoing students.
The Bad and the Ugly about teaching English online
Just remember that the companies I mentioned above are the BIGGEST, not necessarily the best. In fact, I think finding a “good” online company is kind of like spotting big foot. Many people have a friend of a friend who makes $50 an hour online and works only 2 hours a day and you know how it goes. But horrible online schools? Oh, there are plenty of them! In fact online language schools are sprouting up like weeds! Most of them don’t have a huge student base but insist on hiring teachers “just in case”. The following are some of the worst online schools. This information is based on personal experiences, experiences from colleagues and research.
Topica EdTech Group
Tropica English or as I refer to them, that English school that spams every ESL website and Facebook group. I have NEVER seen an online school put up so many job advertisements as this school. Yet, I have also never met anyone who has worked for them. I did send in my resume and they were supposed to contact me for an interview, but it just never happened. I am finding out that many others have had the same experience.
I had a horrible experience with this company. I jumped through all their hoops with interviews and training and then got told at onboarding that they would only hire me if I quit my other job. I told them that I could not take such a huge financial risk without seeing for myself that they could fill classes consistently. They talked a big talk about being the biggest online company in China but at the end of the day I couldn’t risk it. As it turns out, a friend of mine was hired just 2 weeks later and quit within weeks because she didn’t get even 1 student. She said several other new hires in her group quit as well. This is another school that is constantly advertising and I can see why. I also hear that they financially punish teachers for bad ratings and internet problems.
This company has just recently starting posting daily advertisements all over the web for teachers. The troubling thing about this company is that the rate they offer in Filipino pesos amounts to $2 – $3 USD per hour. I saw them advertised on upwork.com for $10 – $15 an hour so I scheduled an interview but asking for clarification on pay before we continued. I never heard back from them.
I could go on and on about the worst online schools… but these will probably change in a couple weeks. These schools are just the ones I have been seeing lately, spamming the internet with job posts.
How to Teach English online through Platform Websites
If you decide not to go with an online company, you can work as a freelancer through a website that connects students and teachers. Most of them allow freelancers to set their own rates and hours, but take a percentage of the hourly rate as a fee (10 – 20% is standard). Generally, to be successful on these websites, you need to have a lot of availability scheduled and patience. It can take months to build up a steady part time schedule.
There are many of these websites available so I am only going to talk about the ones I have had personal experiences with:
Buddyschool is a platform website that connects tutors of all different subjects with students. You can teach through Skype or their online platform. I know some teachers who have had success with this website, but it does take time to build up a steady student roster. The negatives about this website are that there are many, many teachers, and unless you pay for advertising, you will be at the bottom of the list. I tried paid advertising as an experiment and it did help students find my profile. I got several requests for trial lessons when I had an ad running. However, trial lessons are unpaid and I suspect that many “students” sign up for trials with as many teachers as possible to practice English for free. Also, some of the teachers offer really low rates, as low as $2 an hour… average seems to be $10, so competition is stiff. Also, the website takes a 10% cut of your rate.
Skimatalk is an online English teaching website that connects teachers with Japanese students. Classes talk place on skype. The class rate is set at $9 USD for 25 minutes for the first 10 classes, then the teacher can adjust it, but most teachers keep it at $9. I have had some success with this website, but as a new teacher (under 25 classes) there are some limitations that make getting many students difficult. I do like the website overall and it is simple to use and schedule classes. You can read other teacher’s feedback about students and get an idea of their level and interests before class. Also, classes are paid if a student does not show up. Pay is once a month by Paypal and I have no complaints; it is on time and accurate. Just keep in mind: ST takes a 20% cut of your class rate. Overall, I will continue to use this website but keeping in mind it is not a full time job. Classes are scattered so it’s best if you have something else to do between them.
Using Social Networking as an Alternative way to find students
If you decide that none of the previous options are for you, you can try to find your own students on social networking. The best site for this is Facebook, with the most worldwide users. Simply create a teacher/professional profile listing your qualifications and rates, and you are good to go! Now, finding students is the tricky part, but there are several options. Facebook has a paid advertising option to either promote your page or an individual post. I have experimented with both, and find that promoting a post gets more interaction and leads people to your page to read more. Now, I have even gone so far as to experiment the same post in different targeted markets: one in Latin America and one in Asia. I found that the Asian market had much more interest in English language learning and led to more clicks, thus a lower cost –per-click. In this experiment, 10% of Asian people who saw the post, clicked on it. Only 5% of Latin American people clicked on the same post.
If you don’t have the money for paid advertising, the best option is to create content and share it online. You can create pictures with grammar tips, vocabulary, practice test questions, etc., and share it in all of the English groups you can find. This is an extremely successful form of advertising but also providing value for the potential student. I do this regularly with my charity project, aimed at English teachers, and receive 10 – 20 page likes daily from sharing content, even more than with paid advertising.
Make sure to be active in English groups beyond sharing content. Comment on people’s posts and be helpful in answering questions. You don’t have to directly advertise your services. Instead, show the group members how friendly and helpful you are, they will visit your page and make the connection.
Either way you decide to go, it is possible to make a living entirely online. It will take some patience and experimenting on your part, before you decide which option is best for you. In my case, I rely on a combination of working for companies and working freelance to bring in steady income from several sources. This also adds extra protection in case there is a technical issue (I recently got suspended by a company for 1 week because my internet went out during a storm!). In online work, you need to always have a plan B, C and D because you don’t really know the status of the company or students and if they will be around long term.
That being said, more and more positions are transitioning to online/remote, so I hope we can see better options, salaries and benefits for online teachers in the future.