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Is Teaching English Online for you?
Teaching English online is becoming more and more popular for those who enjoy the immense flexibility that the job can provide. For those of you wondering whether this is the travel job for you, consider the following five benefits…
- Live and work from anywhere in the world.
- Say goodbye to your daily commute.
- Choose your own hours.
- Earn a very good hourly rate (up to $25 US an hour).
- Team the job with an extensive backpacking trip.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Teaching English Online – Interview with English Teacher, Jessie
Wondering what you need to do to get started in your new teaching career? Well, you’ve come to the right place! We recently interviewed online English teacher Jessie, who gave us the lowdown on everything from how to get started, to the challenges and rewards that this lifestyle brings. Jessie is currently based on Koh Lanta, Thailand living that paradise island life that we all fantasise about!
So Jessie, what qualifications do you need to teach English online?
It differs from company to company, but a minimum requirement for almost all online schools is a bachelor’s degree (in anything) or higher, and a TEFL or TESOL certificate. Most of the higher-paying jobs also want native speakers which are defined as passport holders from a country where English is the first language. Some companies have regional requirements too, like only hiring North Americans because they want to advertise a particular accent to their students.
Can you teach English online without a degree or TEFL?
You might be able to find the odd company here and there, but any of the schools that pay well are likely to require a degree and a TEFL. Luckily, there’s an online version of the TEFL/TESOL that is very cheap and quick to get, though some jobs will require a full one-month course.
Are there any other requirements for the role?
It’s a pretty standard requirement to have a headset and boom mic as well as solid internet speed. It’s not fun when the student can’t hear you or your connection is breaking up. While some companies have mobile apps that allow you to teach from your phone, many still require a laptop as well.
A quiet environment is also super important. If a dog barks outside now and then, it’s no big deal. But if you’re teaching in a loud restaurant or have some kids running around yelling nearby, it’s going to be a problem.
In the world of online English teaching, whatever shows in the background behind you is referred to as your ‘classroom’. You don’t need a complicated classroom, but it’s a good idea to try and make your environment look school-esque and fun.
Do you need props in the classroom for teaching?
Yes, you’ll definitely want some props. I like to use laminated paper cutouts because they are not bulky which makes them easy to travel with. Most of my traveling teacher friends will aim to fit all of their teaching props into a daypack.
Potential ideas for props include:
- A world map you can unroll and sticky tack to the wall behind you
- Laminated gold stars/fruit/numbers/characters
- Handheld whiteboard that you can draw on in class
- Fold up green screen background for fun digital effects
And boom! Instant classroom!
So where is a good place to start looking for a job?
I’d advise starting with some online research to find out which company would be the best fit for your lifestyle. Do you need flexible hours? Is a guaranteed full schedule more important? Are group classes OK or would you be more comfortable one-on-one?
All of the schools have different requirements on who they hire. Scheduling systems and pay also varies across different platforms. There are tons of blogs and YouTube videos that compare the different companies and you can find the one which suits you best.
I’ve seen some companies advertise rates as low as a few dollars a lesson, while others pay as much as $25 an hour. Those higher-paying ones are not just for veteran teachers either – if you prepare well for your interview and deliver a solid demo lesson, you can easily get a higher-paid position right out the gate. Once you have chosen a company, the next step is to see if you can find a mentor for the company you want.
How did you choose which school to work for?
After going down a rabbit hole of research, I picked GoGoKid. The pay is great and the schedule is very flexible. I found a mentor and she held my hand through the hiring process, coaching me along the way. By the time I did my demo lesson, I felt prepared and knew what they were looking for in a teacher.
I’m stoked to have gotten hired because it was my first choice, and I’m a big fan of the way everything is laid out and how fun and interactive the curriculum is. I now mentor new teachers myself and help teach them to learn the tricks of the trade. This streamlines the interview process and helps them get hired!
Can you recommend any companies for teaching English online?
Yes! I guess I’m a bit biased because it’s the company I work for the most, but my favourite is GoGoKid. They have the same parent company as TikTok, so they’re very stable and established, and they’ve got a well-developed curriculum and a whole musical component to keep classes engaging.
GoGoKid put out little music videos featuring all the characters in their curriculum and the lessons all follow cute little storylines. They’ve really created their own brand and it’s fun too – the kids love it, and all the little jingles get stuck in your head. The company sends the kids stuffed animals of the characters and all kinds of other swag that the little ones always want to show you. It’s adorable.
GoGoKid has been around for just shy of a couple years, so while still being a young company compared to others, they’ve made it through a lot of their growing pains already and have ironed out a lot of wrinkles. The virtual classroom is super interactive with sound, animation, and even voice recognition technology built-in. They have ongoing incentive programs that increase your pay as well, which is great for us teachers!
What is the interview process like for becoming an online teacher?
Usually, you’ll submit an application and based on this, the company will determine whether or not you meet the requirements. You usually get the feedback from this very fast, as they’re just weeding out the people that don’t have the required qualifications or aren’t from the countries they are hiring from.
From there, you typically have to advise when you are available for an interview. If there is a demo component to the interview, you’ll also be given the materials and some written information to study. This usually includes details about the virtual classroom features and what they’re looking for in teachers.
Your interview is usually conducted by an experienced teacher working for them already, and they’ll ask you basic interview questions about who you are, and any previous teaching experience you may have. This is a great opportunity to talk about any other interaction you’ve had with kids (babysitting, childcare, younger siblings or cousins, etc), especially if you don’t have previous teaching experience.
Next, they ask you to do a demo class. It could be 10 minutes of you teaching the provided lesson, and them pretending to be a kid. They’ll do things incorrectly intentionally to see how you respond to mistakes and distractions. Hook their attention in with big smiles, exaggerated movements, and by being fun. There are TONS of tricks of the trade, and that’s why being prepared and having a mentor really pays off.
Once you’ve been hired, there’s a short process which involves you sending them your documentation and them sending you a contract (all digitally). Contracts are 6 months at a time for most companies.
What are your students like?
Almost all of the online ESL companies are Chinese. Most of my students live in mainland China, but every now and then I’ll teach kids from a Chinese family based in Singapore or Hong Kong.
My students are ADORABLE. Most range from 3-14, but I mostly teach the younger ones. You can make an intro video and decorate your “classroom” to attract whatever age range you feel most comfortable with. My classroom is full of props and bright colors, and I act like a character on Sesame Street, so I naturally get the little ones most often.
I feel like they are the most fun, and the parents are often there to encourage them. It’s the most rewarding when they finally say some short sentences for the first time and we all get super excited and throw a party over it! If you like kids, those moments are truly what makes this job so fun and rewarding.
Are hours fixed or flexible?
It depends on the company. Some have fixed hours that you have to commit to for the whole 6-month contract, and others allow more flexibility. With GoGoKid and VIPKid for example, you decide once a week how much you would like to work the following week.
You’re welcome to take days/weeks off as much or as little as you want, as long as you’re not already booked. Your time slots open up to be booked by the parents on the Monday of the previous week. So I decide when I want to be available next week before the ‘booking frenzy’ every Monday.
The classes occur in 30-minute slots (25 minutes of class and a 5-minute break), and you can open as many or as little as you’d like. Granted, the parents decide whether or not to book you, so you need to gain a following and get some good reviews in order to keep a full schedule. There are peak learning times, which is evening time over in China, so you’re much more likely to get bookings during that peak time.
If you’re backpacking Southeast Asia, it’s a very similar timezone. If you’re in Europe, it might be midday. In North America, it’ll be early morning. It’s possible to get booked in non-peak hours, but you will need to be a teacher in consistently high demand to fill those slots. During summer break or recent times (when China has been on lockdown), it’s very easy to get any hours you want because the kids in China aren’t in school.
Are you a freelancer or an employee?
You are a subcontractor, so no taxes are taken out. That does, however, mean that there will likely be taxes your government would like to collect from you later, but that really depends on a lot of other stuff. I know plenty of teachers who teach part-time and write off basically everything they would have owed against relevant expenses (cost of utilities for the space they teach in, desk, computer, props, internet, and the cost of TurboTax to figure it all out for them).
What are the typical working hours for an online English teacher?
Peak times are from 6 pm-8 pm Beijing time during the week. On the weekend, it’s easy to get classes all day in China. During summer, it’s a free for all! You could get bookings all day (Beijing time) if you wanted because the students don’t have school.
During the 2020 lockdown – While the majority of the world is just now becoming concerned about not having work, online ESL teachers have been working double-time to keep our Chinese students busy while they’ve been quarantined for months. I’ve been teaching 15 classes a day recently when normally I would only teach 6 during a weekday!
Do you have contract hours? If yes, can they change from week to week?
With GoGoKid and VIPKid, there are no minimum days that you must work per week. If you would like to take a month off, just stop opening slots. They have high expectations and you are required to take your bookings seriously but there is no pressure for you to keep a full schedule if you want to take a break. I know some teachers who teach an average of 1 weekend a month, just for a little extra travel money here and there.
Some companies require you to commit to one schedule over a 6-month contract. I couldn’t fit my lifestyle with that kind of company personally, but I know some nomadic teachers who easily make it happen.
How much can you earn teaching English online?
It is possible to earn between $7-25USD an hour… I would say that the average is about $17-21USD. If you’re a native English speaker, it’s going to be on the higher end of that.
How does it work in terms of annual leave or sick pay?
Unfortunately, being a subcontractor, you don’t get any sick pay or paid leave. However, it’s nice to be your own boss and decide to close out any slots that aren’t booked and take as much time off as you want. With GoGoKid, you get a certain amount of times that you can “call in sick” (cancel a class last minute) before it could impact your contract. They’re pretty reasonable when you can provide a doctor’s note or some form of proof that you had a legitimate reason to miss classes.
Do you have to make your own syllabus?
No! One of my favorite parts of the job is that the hard part is already done for you. The company has laid out a master plan for the student and prepared the curriculum. Each lesson is like an interactive PowerPoint presentation between 17 and 38 slides. With each class being 25 minutes, you have to keep an eye on your pacing so that you land on the goodbye slide at just the right moment. As for how to teach the lesson, as soon as a class is booked, you’re able to go in and check the lesson content.
At first, I was super nervous and spent a lot of time reading over the teaching tips for each slide. But then I got the hang of the system they consistently use and barely had to scan the content to know what to do. A year into doing this, I rarely come across a lesson I haven’t already taught a bunch of times and I know exactly how to present it.
Do you need to prepare your own lesson materials?
You should definitely be prepared for each lesson by reading the lesson content prior to your class. As you read through, you might think of some props you want to use or ways you would like to explain certain concepts, but that’s the extent of it. The nuts and bolts of the curriculum are all digital, and the props or examples you might prepare are just sprinkles that make your class more fun.
What is the hardest part of teaching English online?
The biggest obstacle is keeping away from noise. That’s the number one thing I am concerned with when taking my show on the road. I have to find somewhere that’s not super loud and also somewhere I won’t be disturbed. You can get a noise-cancelling headset, which helps, but it can be stressful when there are sound elements around you that are out of your control.
Weak internet or power outs is also something to consider, depending on where you are in the world. I live in Thailand, so sometimes my island suffers from power cuts. I have backup plans ready, in case all hell breaks loose and my WiFi goes down with a power out, but sometimes it doesn’t always work out and you get docked. It’s only happened to me a couple of times, but my advice would be to not open up your schedule until you can be sure that you will be somewhere reliable and quiet.
Another concern for teachers can be the time difference. During daylight savings on the west coast of the US, some teachers are waking up at 3 am to teach their classes. Ouch. I’m usually not even asleep by 3 am, so a job that never starts before noon is perfect for me. I don’t know if I could handle this job if I still lived in California. I know plenty of early risers who love it though. They’ve done a full day’s work before many people are even out of bed!
What are the best things about teaching English online?
As cheesy as it sounds, the kids! I have some of the sweetest and most adorable students, and it’s very rewarding to watch their English progress. I have some students that struggled through repeating a short sentence during our first classes, and now they have mini conversations with me and crack jokes.
The flexibility is also really, really nice. I love that I can work from anywhere in the world. If I want to take a long holiday or even move, it’s no problem – my work is coming with me! If I don’t want to work during that holiday, that’s also no problem. As long as it’s planned more than a week in advance, I can take off as much time as I want without any repercussions. I’m paid into PayPal once a month, and it’s always reliable and on time.
When I first started out, I thought this was just going to be a temporary side gig to make a little extra cash. Now, over a year later, I’m so glad to be doing it. My students are hilarious and so sweet. I feel like I run a low budget kids TV show out of the corner of my bedroom.
The more silly I get, the more fun the class gets and the students just can’t get enough. Before this, I ran my own business and it was full time 24/7. When I wasn’t AT work, I was thinking about it – how to grow my business, ways to improve and problems to fix. It was nice being my own boss, but it was stressful. Now, I still get all the advantages of being my own boss with picking my schedule and only working when I’d like to, but I don’t have to carry the weight of the company around with me. When I turn off my computer, I’m DONE. It’s the best of both worlds.
If you’re interested in checking out GoGoKid and getting a mentor, I’m happy to help you through the process. There’s a referral program that they do to get their existing experienced teachers to help find and train their future teachers, so it ends up being a win-win all around. I had a mentor teacher answering questions for me and it was so nice to feel like I had someone in my corner through the program. Now, I like to pass on that love and help new teachers that are in the same position I was in. Please feel free to hit me up and check out my website for tons of helpful links and info!