Do you want to teach English online – to pad your income or work full-time, from home or location-independently while traveling?
Usually, teaching through an online teaching company is the easiest way to start a career in the industry. But you can also build an independent teaching business or advertise on platforms where you are matched with students.
Whichever way you prefer, you certainly have questions upfront and want to prepare for success.
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This is where this handy guide comes in: In only a glance, you’ll get an overview of all the requirements, possibilities, and specifics of teaching English online.
Read on to have a head start to your online teaching career!
What is Online English Teaching?
Teaching English or ESL (English as a second language) online can take several forms. It’s become incredibly popular worldwide in recent years because it lets language learners worldwide easily connect with tutors.
Some people look for highly trained tutors or native speakers, while others just want someone they can practice conversing with through the internet.
People teach all age ranges, from young children just starting to learn English to business people working to improve their speaking skills.
You can work with students all over the world: Chinese high schoolers, immigrants who’ve recently come to the U.S., South Korean children, adults in the Middle East.
As an online English teacher, you can also decide how much control you want over the back end of teaching: curriculum development, marketing, and pay and class structure.
Some online English teachers work for companies that manage everything except teaching the class itself, while others take total control of all aspects of their teaching business.
Other Great Guides on Online Teaching
While this article focuses on working for online teaching companies, we have other guides for teachers who want to work independently.
Teaching English online may seem kind of weird at first, but once you find out a little about it, it sells itself. Because there are so many routes to teaching English online, the job can really look whatever you want it to look like. Once you try it, you won’t want to miss the undeniable benefits.
Jobs are Abundant
There’s a high demand for native English speakers to teach online, so it’s relatively easy to get a job teaching.
If you don’t have any teaching experience or training, no problem. Most companies will train you, and some will even pay you for training hours!
Although the demand for non-native speakers is lower, you’ll still find plenty of opportunities to teach provided that your English is good.
Flexibility: The Job Works for You
Teaching English online is a fantastic option for anyone who wants flexibility and a mobile workplace. You can teach anywhere with a stable internet connection, and you can set your own hours.
Also, you can work as little as much as you want, meaning that you can make the job work for you. Whether you’re looking for a new full-time job or a side hustle, online English teaching can work for you.
The Job is Meaningful
Perhaps the most surprising benefit of teaching English online is the relationships you’ll make.
Because you work one-on-one with students, you get to form relationships with children across the globe, and you get the satisfaction that comes from watching children grow and learn as a result of your instruction.
You’ll also learn teaching skills that will serve you well on paper and theoretically if you ever decide to live abroad and teach ESL in person.
The General Requirements
Requirements for online teaching vary by employer, but by and large, companies require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and either be a native English teacher or speak with native fluency.
Most companies don’t require a TEFL/TESOL certificate, but they encourage it, and you may be paid more highly if you have a TEFL certificate, a teaching certificate in your home country, or teaching experience.
Can you Teach English Online Without a Degree?
While most companies require all teachers to have bachelor’s degrees, some companies are more flexible with their requirements. However, most likely, you will earn less at these companies.
If you work independently and teach own students, there are no requirements at all, except for being a great teacher!
If you teach ESL online through one of the major online teaching companies like VIPKID or DaDa, you’ll generally make $14-26 an hour.
Some companies pay teachers a flat rate, while others set your salary according to your teaching experience and performance in your interview.
So, let’s say, if you teach 30 hours a week at $20 per hour, you’ll earn $2,400 a month. Not bad, isn‘t it?
On online teaching marketplaces like Preply, usually, competition is high; thousands of private tutors offer their services for $15 and below. Having many 5-star ratings and a professional profile, you will be able to make $25 to $40 per hour.
When you are an independent teacher or tutor, you can set your own rates: They’ll heavily depend on where and who you teach. As an experienced business English tutor, you can easily make $50 per hour or more. On the other hand, you’ll have to advertise and find students yourself and have much higher expenses.
Remember that you should consider tax deductions when calculating your expected salary as a freelancer or independent contractor.
Types of Students and Classes
Innumerable people are looking for tutors teaching English as a foreign language online all over the world.
School children take supplemental English classes outside of school, business people learn English independently or through their companies, and people who want to travel to English-speaking countries practice English on tutoring platforms.
Teach Children, Teens, or Adults
There are opportunities to teach ESL to different age groups:
If you’re a fun, bubbly person, you’ll probably want to look at online TEFL-teaching jobs aimed at children. Keeping small children engaged for a full lesson can be hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding especially if you like kids and are a high-energy person. However, if silly faces, props, and big hand gestures sound exhausting to you, you may want to look into teaching adults.
Teaching teens or adults is rewarding because you can often talk about the more advanced subject matters than with children. It’s challenging in its own way because you need to make a class interesting and worthwhile and you can’t fall back on shiny toys and stickers to keep your students engaged.
However, you’ll practice your tutoring skills and may even foment a cross-cultural relationship with someone halfway around the world.
Give 1-on-1 Lessons or Teach Small Groups
Different online teaching companies design classes a number of ways, according to what they feel is the best teaching style and format for their platform and goal.
Although some platforms only facilitate one-on-one tutoring, a number of online teaching companies, such as Boxfish and QKids, allow you to teach classes of up to 4 students.
Teaching more students can be an added challenge because it requires you to keep the attention of multiple students, and sometimes to cater to slightly different English levels at once. However, it also lets you play games and do group exercises in your classes, making class more fun and taking some of the pressure off you as the teacher.
Often you’ll also make a little more money teaching group classes than individual students.
Different Lesson Types
As alluded to above, lesson style will vary based on the age of online teaching companies’ students and the nature of their mission.
Classes that prepare students for English exams, business, or interviews will be structured to hit specific language aims. Exam prep classes specifically are serious and highly structured.
Classes for children often use an interactive platform that revolves around games and songs.
There are also platforms that host conversation spaces, where you and a student simply practice conversational English by talking for a set period of time.
Working for an Online Teaching Company
The hardest part of building your online English teaching career is getting started. Working for a company is definitely the easiest way to get started teaching online, and probably your best option if you’ve never taught online before.
If you decide to work for an online teaching company, you’ll go through an application process and then the company will offer you a salary when they give you a job offer.
At that time, you’ll sign a contract, probably for somewhere between 3 and 12 months. After your contract period ends, your position will be reassessed and assuming you’ve performed well, you’ll renew your contract and may be offered a raise.
It’s a great idea to teach through a company when you first start out because they’ll provide support and help you get started.
Terms and Conditions
The contract usually lays out that you are an independent contractor and not an employee, and as such are responsible for your taxes.
Most of the major teaching companies have teacher portals that let you set your schedule, see what classes you have booked, and manage feedback and payments.
Some companies, like VIPKID, let you change your schedule continuously (although you can’t cancel a class once it’s been booked without penalty), while others, like DaDa and Englishunt, require you to maintain a set schedule.
Some companies also set minimum teaching hours. At DaDa, you have to commit to teaching at least 4 hours a week, and at QKids you must teach for at least 6 hours a week.
Minimum teaching hours can help motivate you and keep you on track, but they can be annoying when life gets hectic, and you want to put teaching on the back burner for a bit.
The Application Process
The application process varies by company, but most online teaching companies have you submit an application and then invite you to an interview.
Following that, there will be one or two mock lessons that you’ll need to prepare and practice for before you’re hired. The whole process may take a week or two, depending on how quickly you move through all the steps.
The interview and mock classes may seem intimidating, but there are many resources online for preparing for both — if you work for any major company, you’ll find tons of demos and advice videos made by their teachers on YouTube.
Pros and Cons
Do you prefer teaching with a large company or independently? Here are the benefits and downsides of working for a company.
- Online teaching companies provide professional support and pre-made lesson plans and resources.
- They communicate with the parents and book classes for you, so you’re only responsible for teaching.
- They often have room for raises and further training and certification.
- It’s easy to build up a large enough student base to make a steady income teaching with a company.
- The company makes the rules, and it can be difficult to communicate with management.
- The teaching requirements can be strict, and punishments tend to be inflexible. (For example, even if you have to miss class for an emergency, you may be penalized if you don’t have proper documentation.)
- You have less room for flexibility than you would teaching by yourself.
- You have less earning potential than a specialized tutor would.
- You have to file your taxes.
- You may end up teaching classes or lessons that you don’t like.
Now for the nitty-gritty. If you want to teach English online, you need some basic tools.
Stable Internet Connection
For starters, should have a stable high-speed internet connection. Some companies, such as VIPKID, technically require that you have an Ethernet connection, but a strong, fast Wifi connection should be just fine.
Computer, Tablet or Mobile Phone
Webcam and Microphone
You should also have a good webcam, mic, and headset. The headphones that come with a Mac are perfectly good for teaching online, but some teachers prefer buying their headsets for increased comfort and reliability.
Quiet, Well-lit Space
A quiet, well-lit environment is a must for online teaching. A home or office is preferable, but any spot will do in a pinch.
If you’re traveling, you may have to be creative to create the appearance of a professional classroom setting. You can set up your classroom in a closet, a quiet corner, or a deserted hallway.
All you really need is quiet and a patch of wall where you can set up your teaching background!
Read our Buying Guides for Online Teaching Supplies
In our buying guides, we recommend high-quality yet affordable online teaching supplies.
Tools to Teach English Online
If you teach independently or through a marketplace or company that doesn’t provide or require a certain platform and requisites, you’ll need to figure out what software and physical materials work best for the kind of teaching you’re doing.
Here are a few options you can consider:
Video Call Software
The success of an online class is contingent on the quality of the platform it’s held on. Make sure you choose to host your classes using the video call software that works best for both you and your students.
Perhaps the most popular video call platform, Skype is a great option because it’s easy to use, and your students probably already have it.
It lets you have the chat box and the video open at the same time. It automatically makes the video call visible when you have something else pulled up on your computer, making it easy to refer to teaching materials and communicate with your students at the same time. Skype also lets you easily share files within the platform, which makes teaching much easier. The basic version of Skype, which should have all the functionality you need, is also free.
Zoom is user-friendly, popular, and not prone to technical issues. If you’re teaching one-on-one, you’ll also be fine with Zoom’s free plan. However, some people complain that lots of Zoom features are add-ons that you have to pay for, which means it can get expensive fast.
This is a great free platform for group or one-on-one meetings. It also allows screen and file sharing and is easy to use. However, it’s blocked in China, which means if you make it your main platform you’ll be excluding a huge population of potential students.
WeChat’s video platform allows file sharing, and is a great option if you’re teaching in China because your students will already be familiar with it. It’s also free!
The biggest disadvantage of WeChat is that it stores conversation history on your device, meaning that if you change devices, you won’t have a record of what’s been said. This is particularly frustrating if you’re trying to refer to files you’ve sent or other information you’ve exchanged on the platform.
Other Online Tools
Aside from a good video call platform, there are a number of other online tools that you can use to make teaching easier for you and your students alike.
Witeboard, a free shared whiteboard, lets you illustrate concepts as you would with a real whiteboard, and lets both you and the student draw.
PayPal is the easiest tool for handling your finances and collecting tuition from your students internationally. If you’re living in China, you may also consider conducting payments through WeChat Pay or Alipay.
Of course, you need real-life tools to teach, too, not just ones online.
Having a cache of objects to decorate and fill your classroom with will make your students’ learning experience more engaging and fulfilling.
A whiteboard, pinboard, or magnet board is a great tool to have in your classroom because it doubles as a tool and decoration. You can use it for a points system, to illustrate teaching concepts, or to hang pertinent decoration or a sign with your name.
Flashcards are a great teaching tool for any age of language learners. Depending on your students’ age and level, you can put letters, objects, colors, or words on them. If you teach young kids, it’s a good idea to have a catalog of flashcards with basic concepts on them next to your computer so you can use them when they come up in your lesson.
If you’re teaching kids, you’ll want lots and lots of fun props. Hand puppets and realia are great tools. Fruits, stuffed animals, miniatures, and anything that may be pertinent to your lesson will help draw your students’ attention and help them understand you.
Or you use different background images in your online classroom, which is possible through a green screen.
Create a log of videos and articles for students to look at before class so that you can have topical discussions about them in class. Likewise, you should have a file of worksheets you can assign after class.
Make the classroom yours! Whatever unique things you can add to your classroom will help you and will make your students want to keep coming back to your lessons.
More Tips for Teaching English Online
Personal Traits and Qualities Needed
Teaching English online looks very different from teaching in a classroom, or, for that matter, almost any other job. To succeed, you should develop the necessary personal traits.
Be Energetic and Engaging
ESL teachers must create a vibrant and engaging lesson for a person halfway across the world who doesn’t speak fluent English. For that reason, being friendly, energetic, and engaging is essential for the job.
You should be able to keep a child’s or adult’s attention, use body language and expressions to illustrate concepts, and be instantly friendly and relatable so that students don’t feel intimidated or shy.
Be Disciplined and Self-Motivated
Also, because when you teach ESL online you’re effectively your own boss, it’s important to be disciplined and to be able to self-motivate. That way you’ll keep booking classes, waking up, and making money.
The blessing and curse of a job that allows you to make your own schedule is that if you don’t decide to work, no one will force you to.
Be Flexible and Adaptable
Last, teaching online constantly throws you into new situations with people with various needs, English levels, personalities, and cultural backgrounds.
It’s exciting and gives you an opportunity to connect with different people all around the world. However, it can also be hard to adjust to all the different kinds of people you’ll meet.
A good online ESL teacher will be able to adapt to new situations and relate to people of all ages, language levels, and dispositions.
The Challenges of Teaching English Online
Teaching English online is, in many ways, an incredibly easy job.
You can roll out of bed in the morning, fire up your computer, and teach in your sweatpants. If you work for one of the major online teaching companies, you’ll never have to do lesson planning or much prep work at all. And best of all, your schedule is flexible.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses.
Unconventional Work Hours
Keep in mind that a flexible schedule does not mean teaching any time of the day or night that you fancy it.
As many teaching companies are focused at teaching students in specific countries, they open classes at times that are convenient for their student base.
This means that if you work with students in China and you live in America your prime working hours will be early in the morning (as early as 3 am, depending on what time zone you live in), and late at night.
While this gives you the day for yourself, it does mean you have to keep unconventional hours if you want to get lots of classes booked.
You’ll Need to Put On a Mask
As an online English teacher, you need to deliver high-quality lessons to your students. This means that you will have to spend some time familiarizing yourself with lessons before class time.
You’ll also need to create a fun and educational classroom environment and teaching props. You’ll also need to look put-together and awake, even when you have a class scheduled at 4 am.
Being a good teacher means always being friendly, patient, and kind. This means that even if you’re sick, tired, are going through personal issues, you need to put your best face forward and be totally enthusiastic and focused during class.
You may have to teach the same lesson over and over again or try to get a kid that’s absolutely bonkers to focus, and it’s your job to maintain your positive, encouraging attitude and never show your frustration.
It Takes a Lot of Self-Discipline
Additionally, you must be organized and self-motivated to teach ESL online. Without the structure and hierarchy of a traditional office setting, you’re in charge of maintaining your schedule, showing up on time for class, and doing the preparation you need to.
It’s easy to lose motivation or forget about a class if you don’t discipline yourself well, and if you miss lessons or get unsatisfactory remarks from parents you can get penalized or even fired.