Get Started! 6 Helpful How To’s for Teaching English Online

Escape the 9 to 5 grind and classroom chaos!

Teaching English via the Internet could be your ticket to making your own schedule, being your own boss and discovering cultures on an endless journey to learn and educate. There are tons of reasons why you’ll probably adore teaching online, and landing an online gig doesn’t have to be hard.

Maybe you’re currently teaching English as a Second Language in a school and would like to branch out, change the vibe or be less tied down so you can explore the world?

Educating on the Internet can take you places you may have never dreamed of going.

You’ll connect with students from around the world, all while enjoying your morning coffee in the comfort of your own warm and tranquil home.

Is Teaching English Online Even Possible?

In a short answer, yes!

It’s an easily attainable goal for anyone interested in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).

As is the case whenever seeking a job, the better your qualifications and experience, the better your chances of finding the right job for you.

Certificates for ESL teaching come in a few different shapes and sizes. Some certificates will land you a job at an oil company in the Middle East. Some may let you enjoy backpacking South America, stopping along the way to teach and learn about new cultures. If you have years of experience teaching English already without holding a certificate, that essential experience may be all you need.

Teaching online will (virtually) take you around the world and back again if you have a passion for new cultures, traditions and students who will light up your life. If you want to actually travel the world, this job gives you the freedom to move around. You may not fill your bank account with stacks of cash, but with a bit of thriftiness and careful planning, you can hit the road and experience a journey of a lifetime. However, you can always opt to travel and live in places with lower cost of living and live fabulously on the hourly salary you earn online.

That’s not even the most optimistic way to view teaching online—the most successful online teachers will tell you it’s both freeing and lucrative. Just look at Jack Askew of Teaching ESL Online. Not only has he had brilliant success with teaching ESL online, he even offers an affordable course for ESL teachers that can get you up and running with your very own online ESL teaching business. It guides you through creating your own teaching website, finding students, growing your professional reputation online and filling your schedule with high-paying teaching sessions. 

Still on the fence about teaching ESL online? To dispel a few myths and highlight a few benefits, let’s quickly take a look at the facts!

Advantages of Teaching Online English

  • You can work from home, or anywhere you choose.
  • You’ll be your own boss and have control over your daily schedule.
  • You can reach students all over the world and have a variety of cultures to communicate with.
  • You can wear pajamas all day long, if that’s your thing!

Disadvantages of Teaching Online English

  • Online teaching may have you keeping odd hours.
  • You’ll have a lot of time zones to keep track of and you don’t want to miss your classes.
  • “Cabin Fever” is a common occurrence. Being at home all day may bring on a touch of solitude, so get hobbies outside during off time.

With the advantages and disadvantages on the table, let’s take a closer look into the how to’s for you to take the next step in your teaching career. The possibilities are exciting, so read on, and you’ll embark on your online teaching experience in no time!

6 Helpful How To’s for Teaching English Online

1. How to Market Yourself

When thinking about the many ways you’ll need to market yourself as an online teacher, there are four key aspects to consider:

  • Are you a university graduate of any kind?
  • Do you hold any teaching certificates (TEFL, TESOL, CELTA)?
  • How much experience do you have to offer to a potential online school?
  • Are you a native English speaker or non-native English speaker?

Missing one or two of the above assets most certainly doesn’t disqualify you from teaching online English, or any teaching any kind of ESL for that matter. These are just great ways to market yourself and obtain the best job possible, in the location you want and at the right price! So, if you’ve got them, flaunt them.

Relevant university degrees will get you in the door of an online English school with much more ease than without. However, there have been many instances when teachers get hired on with an associates or even less. There’s really no standard set by any governing TEFL association. It varies with every educational organization’s unique needs. Your suitability for any teaching role will depend on how you present yourself, your qualifications and your strengths in a well-articulated way.

TEFL certificates are another aspect to teaching online English that is sought, but again not required. There are thousands of online English teachers out in the world, with decades of experience who hold no certificate at all. If you have the time and money, it’s an excellent way to hone your skills as an ESL teacher, however, experience outweighs any piece of paper. Many schools will have “TEFL certification required” in their job postings, but don’t let this stop you from applying.

Native English speakers are highly sought after, especially in online English teaching. If you do a quick browse, you’ll see thousands of non-native speakers filling the “Our Teachers” pages scattered throughout the Internet. If you’re a native English speaker, use it to your marketing advantage. If you’re a non-native English speaker, posting TOEFL or TOEIC test scores will boost your marketability greatly!

Think of yourself as a product. Brainstorm any possible skills you have which could relate to teaching English online and fill your resume with them. Marketing is an essential aspect to online English teaching, possibly the single most important component which will determine if you’re employed or not.

2. How to Join Up or Fly Solo

Deciding whether to join a school or seek out students privately is also an important aspect of teaching English online to consider.

There are defined benefits and pitfalls to each path—but nobody’s saying you can’t do both if you have the time in your schedule. Many teachers go back and forth, enjoying the online English school life, while moonlighting and filling in daily time gaps when the opportunities present themselves.

Teaching for an online school is a great way to get stable teaching gigs within days or weeks of being hired. The online English schools out there already have the student base you’re looking for. You’ll likely be given some structure, training or worksheets and templates to work with. Teaching for an online school will also offer you a unique support system of administrators and other online English teachers. This can be helpful if you get sick, have an emergency or just want to take a vacation.

Flying solo in the teaching English online world can be just as rewarding, fun and exciting if you’re an expert at hunting down your student base. Most people who have the best success at finding students on their own are natural extroverts. If you’re in Argentina and you like to get out and enjoy the night life, then you’ll find networking easier than advertisements. You’ll be your own boss, but that also means you have boss problems. You’ll need to schedule, invoice and receive payments from your students, which takes time and can have pitfalls of its own. You’ll even have to figure out paying your own taxes, which can be a big issue for some.

3. Finding Your Niche

Finding your niche or specific place in teaching English online is an essential aspect to your overall success and ability to retain your students. This usually presents itself over time, after you have spent some time teaching and getting comfortable with the online format. Without a classroom, you may find yourself feeling awkward, staring into a blank Skype screen, trying desperately to guide your student toward the lesson objectives and aim.

A niche is your personality combined with the areas of ESL you really shine in. Yes, online teachers often have to teach different ESL skills depending on the student for that particular hour, but you’ll find more and more students flocking to one or two specific ESL areas you teach. These might include business lessons, casual conversations, basic textbook English, giving professional presentations, technical English, scientific English, legal English or something of the kind.

Finding and marketing your niche, whether through social media, advertisements or even student word of mouth, is essential to focus on. Your niche and place in online English teaching will make you popular among students, which equates to more lessons, money and valuable experience.

4. How to Get Paid

You’re teaching, working hard, developing quality lesson plans that are making you the popular online English teacher you envisioned yourself becoming. But now it’s time to get paid! Getting paid can be a challenging part of teaching English online, an aspect often overlooked by most teachers until the time arrives to hit the ATM.

If you’re teaching for an online school, it’s important to decide on a number you’re comfortable accepting for the work—before signing any contracts. A lot of factors play into this number. Think of the perks you’ll get while working online that might be worth taking a pay cut for: No commuting time or cost, no expenses for eating lunch out, no need to buy nice new work clothes periodically.

Then think of the additional expenses you’ll incur with this line of work: High speed internet, increased utilities expenses overall, additional work time “off the clock” for lesson preparation.

If you’re teaching privately, look at what other teachers are charging on Craigslist and other job posting websites for online English teachers. Every country will have fluctuations to the hourly rate you can charge.

Another important situation to consider is the quality and reputation of he online school you’re hoping to work for. Do your due diligence and make sure they pay what they promise. Normally, any online English school that has wronged a teacher or teachers will be subject to a barrage of negative online blogging, Facebook posts and any other means of destruction. If you’re on your own, always take payment up front if you can. This will keep your mind at ease and it is a common practice. Either way, be sure to have the tax situation figured out beforehand. If your online school does not deduct taxes from your paycheck and give you official tax forms, then you’ll need to figure out how to file as a self-employed person.

One tip for the eager online teacher: Set up a Paypal or Payoneer account online to receive payments whether you’re working from a school or teaching online privately. These accounts will keep your banking information secure and allow students from anywhere in the world to make payments.

5. How to Find Online English Teaching Jobs

There are a few different ways to search for an online English school you would be interested in teaching for: Research, research and more research!

You may find yourself browsing the web for an entire day and only getting three or four resumes out the door. Another common issue when it comes to finding an online English school is the lack of response or the time it takes to hear back. Don’t let it discourage you. Keep applying and you’ll land the online English school you want.

Remember, not all online English schools are created equal and many of their teacher demands vary widely. Again, the more research the better. Know exactly what the school requires from you before you accept any position. Some schools require detailed reports, dealing with students and rescheduling issues, daily or weekly meetings and requiring teachers to create massive lesson plans, all of which is time you most likely won’t get paid for.

There are a few excellent websites to begin your search and also research online schools. Craigslist, with all its publicity, both positive and negative, is still a viable place to find a good online English teaching position. Dave’s ESL cafe, Indeed and Glassdoor are wonderful places to begin your search for the online school that fits your needs and schedule.

6. How to Stay Up to Date with Technology

When it comes to teaching online English, being the most technological savvy person you can is essential. Your whole career choice hinges on technology, and if you don’t keep up, you may find yourself with less opportunities.

You’ll need to have very high-speed Internet. A slow Internet issue is one which turns many students off from taking a specific teacher’s lesson. If you have excellent Internet, with video and voice quality students expect, then you’re one step ahead of the game.

You’ll need to become an expert in Skype. Everything related to Skype needs to become your wheelhouse. Most online schools use Skype as their primary means of conducting lessons. Sharing screens, adding students and managing contacts are all key aspects to putting Skype to use.

For a super user-friendly platform that allows you to teach students with native materials look no further than FluentU.

With the program you’ll be able to set personalized homework, assess student weak areas and more. Be sure to request a free trial to explore even more of the great features. 

Another aspect to consider when discussing technology is the age of your computer. If your computer is old, loud and slow due to too many videos, music and photos, you may want to make a change. Online English teachers need fast operating systems to ensure the best lesson quality as possible. Your students will greatly appreciate it and you’ll also have a new toy to enjoy! At the very least, you should do a massive sweep and clean your hard drive out, removing all excess files and stashing most of the important stuff on a backup hard drive.

You should also be sure your computer is virus free. Nothing is more annoying to students than opening the files you share and having their screen freeze.


Teaching online English is an attainable, fun and exciting profession anyone can participate in.

Whether you’re a classroom teacher with years of experience or new to the TEFL community, your experience and personality can get you teaching online with little challenge.

You can enjoy the freedom of making your own schedule, being your own boss and traveling the world as you hop from virtual classroom to virtual classroom.

Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.

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