Is Teaching English Online Worth It? The Pros & Cons

Teaching English online from home sounds great: Making money without leaving your home, deciding on your schedule, meeting new people and engaging them in conversations… too good to be true?

On the other hand, I’ve almost never heard of a teacher who became rich, and many complain about being stressed or even burnt-out.

So, if you consider stepping into an online ESL career, the question is legitimate: Is teaching English online worth It?

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In this post, I am going to weigh the pros and cons of four aspects of this career – the final verdict is up to you then.

Is Teaching ESL Online Worth It? Pros & Cons

Is Teaching English Online Even Legit?

Perhaps before we even delve into the pros and cons of teaching English online, we should clear up any doubts about it:

Teaching English online is a legitimate, viable way to earn an income. People are teaching English online, both part-time and full-time.

We don’t suggest anyone to quit their current job to pursue a career as an online ESL teacher, but we can recommend it as a way to supplement or diversify your income streams. That’s not to say it can’t develop into something more. Indeed, some online ESL teachers found their way into full-time careers in online ESL.

Teaching English online is a good option for people who have seasonal jobs, are freelancers, or bootstrapping a startup. Even for those who don’t need the additional income, teaching English online can be a great way to bring more fulfillment and joy into your life.

The online ESL industry is populated with school teachers who have made the transition to online teaching: stay at home parents, musicians, artists, career ESL teachers, and world nomads who have discovered they can enjoy a decent lifestyle in countries where the cost of living is relatively low.

So now that we have cast any doubts about whether teaching English online is legit, let’s examine the opportunity from different angles and determine if teaching English online is worthwhile for you.

Video Interview: “Teaching ESL Online is the Best Job I’ve Ever Had“

Michael Wasserstein is an online ESL teacher who lives in Florida. Prior to starting his career as an online ESL teacher, Michael worked as a computer training consultant. But as the market forces in his career changed, Michael found himself at a crossroads that would eventually lead him to the world of online ESL education.

Michael only works with one company, and he is one of the most popular online teachers in the company. He is also a member of the company’s academic team, enabling him to enjoy a near full-time schedule in online ESL.

Making Money as an Online ESL Teacher

People who enter the online ESL industry don’t do it to get rich. You probably won’t get rich teaching English online, either. However, not everyone has the opportunity or fortune to earn fantastic salaries or launch a successful, multimillion-dollar startup.

The fact of the matter is, for many people, searching for an online teaching job is a means to making ends meet, or paying down debts. So, let’s be crystal clear that if you’re looking at teaching English online from a monetary perspective, it’s likely because you need to make money.

Let’s look at the pros and cons and see if teaching English online is worth the money:

Pros

The money is real, and you can get hired and start earning in as little as one month. The income can be fairly steady, depending on your popularity and availability.

Some companies reward top performers with additional work such as recruiting, training, and content development.

There’s a very low startup cost; you probably have the most expensive cost (i.e., a computer) already covered.

Because you can do this from home, there are no commuting costs.

Because most online ESL jobs are offered on an independent contractor basis, some of your expenses may be tax-deductible.

If you have to travel, you can still teach English online. You don’t have to take days off (unless you really want or need to). So, in essence, you can still make money while traveling.

Cons

Though some companies offer rates as high as $50 per hour, most fall in the lowly range of $10 – $20 per hour. Remember, this is pre-tax income, too.

There’s no fixed income; you get paid per completed lesson, which means you have to be good at maximizing your teaching opportunities by optimizing your work schedule

While some companies offer 24/7 online classes, most work tends to fall within the early morning and evening hours, mainly due to time zone differences. This somewhat limits your potential to earn more.

The work can get extremely sparse during holiday and festival periods.

Your online teaching income is somewhat at the mercy of the Internet gods and freaks of nature. If you lose your Internet, electricity, or your computer crashes, so does your income. Tough luck.

How Much Can You Expect to Make?

How much money you earn as an online ESL teacher is going to depend on some factors, but primarily your earning potential will be tightly correlated to your availability to work.

Some people have a high availability to teach English, and thus have more earning potential. Others look at online ESL teaching as a side hustle, and fit it in or around other work.

So even though you could potentially make $75,000 per year teaching English online with a company like VIPKid, in reality, the earnings for most online ESL teachers will be lower. Below is a table we have designed to help you estimate your potential monthly earnings based on a $20 per hour rate and 4 weeks per month. Note that these amounts are before taxes:

Teaching 3 days a week:

Hours per dayHourly RateMonthly earnings (4 weeks per month)
2USD 20USD 480
4USD 20USD 960
6USD 20USD 1,440

Teaching 4 days a week:

Hours per dayHourly RateMonthly earnings (4 weeks per month)
2USD 20USD 640
4USD 20USD 1,280
6USD 20USD 1,920

Teaching 5 days a week:

Hours per dayHourly RateMonthly earnings (4 weeks per month)
2USD 20USD 800
4USD 20USD 1,600
6USD 20USD 2,400

Read our guide on how to make a monthly salary of $4,000 with VIPKid.

Job Satisfaction

When it comes to teaching ESL online, the adage “money isn’t everything“ holds true. What you will discover from the broad range of online ESL teachers is that many find the work enjoyable and personally rewarding – and, thus, absolutely worth doing.

Many could not imagine doing anything else.

Much of it comes down to being passionate about the work and the difference you make in the lives of your students, but beyond passion, most of it boils down to whether you have the right personality for this job. 

It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and for some, the job may actually feel unrewarding at times. Particularly, if you are introverted and find it uncomfortable engaging with others, this may not be the ideal opportunity for you.

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons in terms of job satisfaction:

Pros

This job is fun if you enjoy interacting with others, and especially if you feel comfortable engaging with young children.

Though many people feel nervous when getting started with teaching online, teaching online for the most part is not stressful.

As most lessons are scheduled in the early mornings and evenings, and on weekends, there is a lot of spare time during non-teaching hours to focus on other personal or work priorities.

Many companies offer incentives and rewards for outstanding performance. For example, some Chinese online ESL companies will invite their top teachers to visit China, all expenses paid.

Though online teachers work independently of their homes, there isn’t a sense of feeling isolated. You are always interacting with students, and there are numerous channels for online teachers to interact with each other. Some companies have been quite effective at building vibrant communities for their online teachers.

Because online teachers are essentially independent contractors, that enables them to choose how much they work, work with one or more companies, or split their work between online teaching and other types of freelance work.

Cons

If you don’t enjoy interacting with children, this job will not be enjoyable for you. Though there are online classes for adult ESL learners, the largest segment consists of learners between the ages of 6 – 12.

A lot of the work happens in the early mornings and evenings, so depending on your location, you could be working during hours when most people are still sleeping. Most online ESL classes with Chinese students are scheduled between 6pm – 9pm (China Standard Time), which is 5am – 8am (EDT). If you like sleeping late or sleeping in, this job is not for you.

Online teaching often involves having a high level of energy and enthusiasm. If you are introverted and have difficulty stepping outside your comfort zone, it may not be a good fit.

Online teaching is essentially sedentary work. If you have a hard time sitting in one place for several hours, you might feel uncomfortable at times. A standing desk may be a good option in this case.

Some online ESL companies levy penalties for last-minute cancellations, missed classes, or complaints. For some people, this can be a bitter pill to swallow and detract from the satisfaction that comes with teaching English.

Some online ESL companies have been known to operate unpredictably or unethically. For example, some companies have changed their terms with short notice, while others have expected teachers to attend training sessions or other work-related sessions without pay.

Read our guide on how to start your independent English online teaching business.

Teacher Molly givong an online English lesson about feelings.
Teacher Molly giving an online English lesson about feelings. (Photo: Molly Oberstein-Allen)

Challenges

Most experienced online ESL teachers will agree that the job itself is not difficult.

If you are fluent English, enthusiastic and engaging, and genuinely passionate about teaching and helping your students improve their English fluency, there isn’t anything complex about teaching ESL online.

However, as with anything, some aspects of being an online ESL teacher can be difficult to cope with. There will be times when you feel frustrated, feeling like it isn’t worth it, and throwing in the towel.

Based on my experience, though, the pros far outweigh the cons. As long as you have carefully selected who you want to work with, and selected well, the negatives will be a once in a blue moon thing.

However, decide for yourself; here are the pros and cons again:

Pros

If you know English, you can teach English online. Most online ESL jobs are not actually about teaching grammar, verb tenses, or other mechanics of the English language.

Except for advanced classes such as IELTS preparation, most online ESL classes are about engaging your students in conversational English. This is one job anyone who speaks English can do.

Most online ESL companies have their own teaching platforms and courseware, so, beyond reviewing the lesson content beforehand, there is practically little to no preparation required to do the job. You basically show up, teach your lessons, teach them well, and finish up.

Some companies may also require you to complete post-lesson evaluations of your students. Most of these can be completed within minutes, and many companies pay you an additional fee to complete the reports for each lesson

If you have a computer and a stable internet connection (which you probably do if you are reading this), you can teach English online. Some companies will require you to install some software to perform the lessons, while other companies have developed their courseware to run in a web browser, with nothing to install on your computer.

Cons

You will get complaints. There isn’t a person on this planet who can perform at a level of perfection. And even if you deliver what you thought was the perfect lesson, there will be times when a student (or parent) disagrees. You’re going to get complaints just because the student (or parent) does not like you.

It is a fact of life you need to accept. It is not something isolated to teaching English online, of course. But, as you will be teaching hundreds, if not thousands of online classes over time, you will have to come to grips with it.

It is never comfortable to get complaints from students or parents, and that’s one of the things that make this job more difficult. If you struggle with receiving complaints, this job may not be for you

There are going to be times when the staff of the online ESL company will baffle, anger, confuse or disappoint you in some way. Part of this is routine in any type of employment, but another part of it will be rooted in cultural differences in workplace ethics. People in different parts of the world view work obligations differently, interpret and resolve conflicts differently, and have different priorities.

Beyond the cultural differences, you will likely also experience misunderstandings due to language barriers. There is a good chance that some staff members you have to deal with inside the company don’t have a high level of English fluency. It is ironic, indeed. But it is true. For these situations, you need to be patient and keep your cool.

Getting Hired to Teach English Online

As with many things, getting hired into online ESL teaching used to be super easy. If you spoke English, looked like someone who ought to speak English, and had a pulse, you were hired.

It is still relatively easy, but, as the industry evolves, requirements for hiring online ESL teachers are becoming more stringent. You will need a university degree as well as a TEFL certification for most dependable online ESL teaching positions today.

Due to new legislation of the Chinese government, since summer 2021, Chinese companies aren’t allowed to offer online lessons given by foreign teachers to Chinese students (residing in China). Before, China was by far the biggest ESL market; as a result, the demand for online teachers tanked.

However, people are learning English as a second language in almost every country of the world, so there are still enough opportunities.

If you are a native speaker who is a visible minority, don’t feel dismayed. Things continue to improve on that front. It is difficult to say discrimination in ESL will vanish completely, but take comfort knowing that many visible minorities are teaching English online with a great deal of success. And, some online ESL companies are equal opportunity employers.

Here are the pros and cons of getting hired into online ESL teaching:

Pros

If you speak English fluently and have a university degree, chances are good you will be hired quickly, especially if you are a native English speaker from the US, Canada, UK, Australia, or New Zealand. In most cases, you will need to have a TEFL certification as well.

If you demonstrate enthusiasm and a high degree of passion when interviewing and performing your demo lesson, there is really no reason why you would not be hired.

If one online ESL company isn’t hiring, another one is. There are plenty of choices when it comes to whom to work for at the moment. We anticipate some consolidation as the market matures, but for now, you have the pick of the litter, and can even stack up your calendar with lessons from multiple companies.

Cons

Native English speakers without a university degree will be challenged to find ongoing work. For those with degrees, this might not be seen as a con, but for those without, it is an unfortunate reality.

It is harder to get hired if you are a non-native English speaker. Many companies prefer a native speaker to a non-native, and some companies will only hire natives speakers.

Though it is gradually improving, native English speakers who are visible minorities still face discrimination, not only when applying for jobs, but also from students and parents after they have been hired.

Wrapping Up: Is Teaching English Online Worth It?

If you are adaptable, open-minded, and enthusiastic when interacting with people, then teaching English online is entirely worth it.

It offers you a lot of flexibility that other types of work don’t, and for many people, it is one of the most enjoyable parts of their day.

You probably won’t get rich teaching English online, but it might open the door to new opportunities you never imagined.

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