Navigating the Online ESL Teaching World

I recently had a friend approach me asking for advice on how to approach her first ESL teaching job. I thought that this post would be a great thing to release right now since we are stuck at home and a lot of people might be exploring the option of teaching online! I found teaching English online to be supremely rewarding and fun, here's how to get started!

I taught English online for about 2 years, mainly to Chinese children and adults. I used two different platforms to do so: TaoTao WeCourse and VIPX. There is a massive market for Chinese students, many of which start their English studies at a very early age as it's something that gives them a boost when it comes to getting into a good high school or a good college. This being said, I've taught a diverse age range of students. I've had students as young as four years old, and as old as middle-aged. I once had a grandmother take my English classes as a new hobby, which was super fun for both me and her!

I started teaching online during college as a way for me to make some additional income between classes and my other job. I'd typically schedule around 25 hours a week for classes, but as you'll find out later in this post, you don't always teach for the full time! 

I found my teaching jobs online and if you've done some Google searches, you'll discover they are not hard to come by! Linkedin, Glassdoor, and even Facebook have job postings for this field. I recommend shopping around a bit when you look for the right company for you. Do you want to teach one on one? in a class of 4 students? Do you want to teach children or adults? How good is your internet connection and do you have headphones with a good quality mic? These are all questions you should ask yourself before applying to any job posting.

These companies promise you can make your own hours and teach whenever you want, but it's a lot more rigorous than it appears. Depending on what company you choose, you need a certain minimum amount of hours committed every week and you commit to a certain time frame that is your time.  An example: with the company VIPX (sometimes called VIPKids) I told them I was free from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. every weekday, and so that was locked in as my timeframe for the 9 months I worked there. I had students commit to semester-length classes, so I had to be sure that I was free for this time since that was their permanent time as well. 

Keep in mind, just because you opened up that time slot does NOT mean you'll be teaching the entire time. If a student booked me at 5:30 until 6, but my next student wasn't until 9:30, I'd have to get paid a majorly reduced 'non-teaching hour' rate in between that. And no, you can't go back to sleep. You're required to be on your computer in case they call you in for a sudden absent teacher coverage, which happens as often as not. You'll need to give MUCH prior notice for any kind of time off, so be sure to make that crystal clear the second you have a plan in mind. 

Another important thing I overlooked when booking these jobs was the taxation I'd have to deal with at the end of the year. When you are an online teacher, you file taxes as an independent contractor, so prepare to be coughing up a pretty penny at the end of the year. 

I'll be honest and say the best thing to bring to class is a positive attitude. Kids like little gimmicks like puppets, stickers, and funny props, but ultimately you have to have a personality that keeps them interested and engaged. I had very few physical props. I used a small frog puppet with a few of my students, a name tag to introduce myself to new students, and a microphone to get shy students talking. I don't think you need any physical extras to be a good teacher, but I recommend having some virtual extras to fill class time.

You'll come across students that take a long time to complete a lesson that's set for 30 minutes, and then you'll have students who breeze through it. The students who breeze through it are the ones you want to prepare extra materials for. Instead of sitting there trying to review material they know and consider easy, I downloaded Where's Waldo activities, I Spy games, coloring sheets, word searches, and a blank Hangman sheet. These were so crucial and definitely saved me a few times. 

I can't speak for all companies, but most will give you a Powerpoint-like slideshow with lesson content, and most times you'll be able to review these slides beforehand to figure out how you'd like to teach them. After you teach 'Bears in the Forest Chapter 1' over 20 times, you'll know it like the back of your hand and won't have to prep as much as the first few classes. You'll be able to interact with the slides by drawing on them, underlining, and even playing audio that comes with it. Lessons can be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, and class sizes vary. My classes were all one on one because I didn't like group classes. 

Classes start with an intro slide, where you can make some small talk with your student. The next slide starts the lesson content. The lesson content can be anywhere from 15 to 40 slides long (depending on what grade level you teach). Towards the end there is usually some review material, then an ending slide that's blank so you can import extra content if needed.

Classes are reward heavy, as it keeps the kids wanting more. There's usually a small gift button you can press to award the student a diamond, star, etc for doing well during class. Some companies want you to give a certain amount of rewards per class, some aren't as strict. Feel free to give them at your discretion, and make it a big deal if you give one; students always seem happy to receive them!

Most companies require you to leave feedback after lessons. Parents love to read this, so they encourage you to leave as detailed feedback as possible. Often times, there's a cheat sheet going around that has some stock sentences you can edit as you wish, adding some details about your student. I kept a digital note on my laptop FULL of sentences I could use for feedback, which is required after each class you have with the student. Before you point out the bad points, always say what they did well FIRST. 

Example: Jessie did a great job making animal sounds in class today! Her duck sound was perfect.

Then, give criticism in a gentle way. This is your chance to mention any grammar mistakes, acting out during class, or just some points the student should keep in mind for the next class. If you've mentioned an issue in the past that hasn't been resolved, keep pointing it out in feedback. 

Example: Jessie seemed to struggle with reading about the seasons during class today. Let's read the slides again and study the 4 seasons with Mom or Dad!

I hope this post was helpful! Good luck with teaching!