Considering Teaching ESL Online? Here’s What You Need to Expect
English is an international commodity—there are thousands, even millions, of potential English students wanting to learn out there.
So, have you ever considered teaching English online?
Today I’ll give you an in-depth look at what it’s like teaching ESL online with a breakdown of a typical day.
- What Are the Benefits of Teaching ESL Online?
- The FAQ About Teaching ESL Online
- A Day in the Life of an Online ESL Teacher
What Are the Benefits of Teaching ESL Online?
Now before I tell you how it is, allow me to introduce myself and tell you about my personal experience.
I’m Chris. After teaching in 3 countries in the span of around 4 years, I thought, “man, it’d be so cool if I worked at home! I wouldn’t have to commute and wear this shirt and tie, and I wouldn’t have to deal with other people!” It sounded like a dream!
So, I started teaching online and have been doing so for about 2 years now. I’ve taught students from every corner of the globe, through Skype and phone calls, camera on and camera off, one-on-one and in groups. I believe that I’ve seen it all.
The teaching approach is more or less the same except that the classroom environment is slightly different and means that, since (most) students are at home or somewhere familiar, they’re more comfortable than if they were in a classroom outside their comfort zone. There are also less rules, unlike in classrooms, but for groups you may have to lay down some guidelines since people tend to dominate conversations a little too much.
It’s a very beneficial position for the teachers, but what about the students?
I hear all sorts of things from different students talking about how much they enjoy the fact that they can have classes at their office, at home or even on the go (yes, I once had a guy have a session while he was driving. No lie, they’re dedicated in Greece.)
The convenience is one obvious factor, but another benefit online students gain when it comes to the group classes is how they can interact with other students in different countries.
Students enjoy how, when they’re in an online ESL group class, they have classmates from different parts of the world compared to people just in their city, as they’d have if they went to the local English school. This is great for making new friends and network connections.
The students also love the typing feature on Skype and most other virtual classroom and meeting programs like GoToMeeting. They say it makes reading and taking notes much easier, not to mention it’s easier for the teacher than writing up on a board.
The FAQ About Teaching ESL Online
Some common questions I hear are listed below, along with my answers.
“Isn’t it lonely?”
Well, if you’re at home alone, yes, it can get lonely.
You won’t know solitude until you’re at home alone 40 hours a week, week after week. But if you have children, a cat, roommates or some friends, then it’s great! Yes, you’re at home all day—unless you want to teach at a café or on the go via wireless router.
“So, you’re at home all day?”
You can stay at home all day, hang out with your pets and brew a cup of your favorite coffee whenever you like. You can blast your music on breaks and teach classes without anyone over your shoulder supervising or observing. However, you’re not tied to your house.
You can go wherever you like!
I’ve heard of someone who teaches online via RV and is in a totally random place at any given time!
“Can anyone do this?”
Yes, most anyone with TEFL qualifications and some experience can do this, so perhaps this means you!
It’s also possible to get started just by virtue of being a native English speaker. You may need to start with less hours or lower pay until you build your experience and start getting stellar reviews from employers and students. You may also need to hunt down your own work opportunities on a site like Craigslist or Elance (now Upwork).
To get started teaching, you can give the FluentU teachers portal a try.
You can assign homework, track student progress and even begin with a free trial to explore the program further.
“How did you find this job?”
Oh, this is a big question—so big that I’ve already written an entire blog post to cover this topic alone.
Teaching ESL online is a whole new world. It’s not like becoming a traditional teacher in a local school—in that case, the steps have all been taken before. There are clear standards. There’s a clear process of getting the right degree or certification, and you already know how to write a resume and send it out.
But how do you find a gig teaching online? And beyond that, how do you start your very own online teaching business?
Thanks to the emerging e-learning sector, jobs like these are all over. I would recommend starting by browsing the opportunities for online teaching work described here!
Want to be more independent and score students on your own? The highly affordable Teaching English Online Course (TEOC) will 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.
“What’s it like for part-timers?”
This is one I hear a lot.
Chance are, you won’t start out in a full-time position (especially if you’re starting out with less qualifications and experience). You need to work your way up to full-time depending on the company you work with.
However, you might be seeking something part-time to work in harmony with your existing day job, making this arrangement ideal.
Simply put, a part-time schedule is either the first half of a given day (09:00-14:00), the second half of that day (14:00-19:00) or a chunk of time sometime later in the evening (for example 19:00-22:00). You can opt to teach students in any time zone on the planet, giving you the chance to choose whatever hours most appeal to you. Since the hours are limited, there are usually fewer or no breaks at all.
Nevertheless, the class structure is the same. It’s class after class, taught in more or less the same style—your style. One popular option for teachers who are in a financial pickle is to work during the day and then a few hours of continuous classes at night.
To summarize, working part-time online would mean that you’re giving the same style of classes but fewer of them, with probably no breaks in between, since you’re just teaching a handful of classes.
To get into a little more detail about part-time and full-time work teaching ESL online, an example of a day in the life goes like this…
A Day in the Life of an Online ESL Teacher
A quick note before jumping in. My availability is set to Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 19:00 (Hey, I like to sleep!) So, that’s what this day in the life is going to reflect!
Roll out of bed and walk over to my computer. Thankfully, the first student is having me call their phone line, so I don’t have to look decent.
Depending on your teaching company, you may have to call phone lines via Skype. Other times you’ll make a Skype call to a Skype username.
For every class, I have to fill out a simple class report that includes their mistakes, corrections and other notes. It takes around two minutes to fill one out, depending on how accustomed you are to doing them. I check emails to stay abreast of any changes or cancellations and, while still in my pajamas, I call the first student.
9:30 — 10:00
I teach the student which, in online ESL talk, means something more akin to “go over the target language and make sure they understand it while ensuring the student is dong most of the speaking and feels comfortable.”
It goes well since the student is familiar with me, feels comfortable and does do most of the speaking.
10:00 — 10:30
There’s no class scheduled until 10:30, so I can do whatever I’d like. I brush my teeth, take a quick shower, put on some real clothes (but still keep the pajama pants) and eat whatever I have in my house, which happens to be some nuts, cheese and a banana.
10:30 — 11:30
There are two classes back-to-back, both on Skype. One student has the camera on, so it’s a good thing I look fine…from the waist up, that is.
The classes follow the same premise as the one I held with the first student, and all is dandy since these are the same students I have every week.
11:30 — 12:00
Another break, just for half an hour.
I decide to check some emails, clean up some stuff lying around my house and even take some time to make an omelette and a cup of tea!
12:00 — 14:00
Now I have an hour-long class which happens to be a group session.
It’s a talkative bunch, so it goes by more easily than other classes. Mostly my work involves answering questions, correcting pronunciation and listening to what the students are saying. The students seem pleased to talk, so I only need to chime in every once in a while to steer the conversation and make my remarks about language use.
Afterwards, there’s another class, but it’s calling a phone line. I listen in while flipping through a course catalog during the class. I do this, of course, while making sure that I’m paying full attention to what the student is telling me. You don’t want to get caught not listening. You want to be prepared to answer questions and make corrections, as well as know what the student’s strengths and weaknesses are so you can make comments and guide them to further success.
The next student after that, one who’s known for being busy, doesn’t answer the call the first few times I try calling, so I mark the class as absent. There’s such a thing as free money (although this depends on your company’s policy).
14:00 — 15:30
I have quite a while before my next class, so I decide to go outside and ride my bicycle. It’s a nice day, so why not? It gets you out of the house and, believe it or not, after working at home for so long, you’ll yearn to get out of the house just as much as you’d yearn to go home if you worked in an office.
I ride around for about 40 minutes and come back and decide to make some lunch. I grill up a slab of pork and steam some vegetables and enjoy my meal while watching whatever’s on the television until my next class. I have some spare time before the break ends, so I enjoy some cookies on my sofa.
15:30 — 17:00
More classes, all one-on-one since my company mostly assigns me one-on-one learners. (Note: From my experience, about 70% of online learners are one-on-one). It goes well, and since I have these students every week they tell me what’s been up in their country, what’s been going on during their weekends and other things.
We barely touch on the actual assignment, but that’s fine since they’re meeting their primary goals of speaking more and improving their fluency. The students don’t use the camera on Skype either, which works for me since I’m busily taking notes and reviewing the lesson plan while they’re talking on about things like their hobbies and the upcoming elections in their countries.
17:00 — 18:00
Yet another break. This day happens to be slower compared to others. Those happen. Plus, a student who I usually have at 17:30 is on vacation in Sardinia so that’s less work for me but, alas, less money.
I take this time to go to the supermarket to re-up on some food. I also need to stop by the ATM and get some cash. The total trip takes less than 45 minutes so I’m back home in time for the last two classes.
18:00 — 19:00
The last two classes are more of the same. Since it’s later in the day, my students are in a different part of the world, so the interactions and classes are a little different—but not too much.
It’s early in the morning where they are and they talk how tired they are and then go into the material. I notice that students from this part of the world are a bit more oriented toward the academic part of the learning process as opposed to my earlier students who are more focused on the fluency part of the learning process. It’s important to get this information and define primary goals on your first session with your students, so you know what kinds of classes they’re looking for.
For these guys, I need to focus more on providing grammar lessons and helping them get all the technical details perfect.
The last two classes go well and then I’m done.
19:00 — 19:15
I finish up on reports that I didn’t do during my breaks and send them off. They’re pretty simple and, since I’ve been doing this for some time, I can type one up faster than ever. Sometimes, when I’m not feeling too lazy, I actually do them during the classes.
19:15 — 19:25
Something else that I could have done sooner was assigning activities for the following week. Since it’s a Monday and I have only around 10 or so classes on this day, it doesn’t take too long to send out the assignments. After this, I am absolutely done with all work.
Keep in mind, I could have wrapped up sooner, but, hey, it’s Monday—and I got a bunch of little chores, my cooking and my daily exercise done during the day. The rest of my time this evening can be devoted to chill time!
As you’ve read, the day has a simple flow and it’s very low tension.
There’s a harmonious rhythm throughout the day that gives you a sense of freedom that you just can’t get when you’re out in the office or at school.
Now, some of you might be saying, ”But Chris, that’s just a 6.5 hour day” and, yes, given my preferred availability, 6.5 hours is likely.
Some teachers, depending on company they work for, can have more classes during this time, resulting in fewer breaks. Teachers can also choose to widen their availability and take on more students at earlier and later hours.
At one time, I was working from 8:00-21:00. That’s a 13-hour day! Well, these weren’t days of continuous classes all the way through (that would be crazy) but instead this schedule provided a good blend of classes and breaks. Plus, I really needed money.
Now then, you’ve seen what a day in the life of an online ESL teacher looks like, and on paper it looks ideal. Maybe even something you may want to consider while you globetrot country to country or to look after your Nan or baby niece.
It’s how your life could be if you decide to enter the world of online ESL teaching.
You have more time on your hands thanks to being in the comfort of your own home.
You avoid all the things that frustrate you every day like the morning (and evening) commute, that one creepy colleague and, of course, wearing those uncomfortable shoes and clothes.
It may be your thing, or it may be far from your thing, but, nonetheless it’s something to consider when the daily grind has ground you up and burned you out.
Where else can you wear pajamas to work, enjoy cookies on your sofa on break and have a commute time of 20 seconds (from your bed to when you open your laptop)?
It can all be so simple!