I'm semi-retired and work at a number of side jobs. Teaching English online to kids in China is not yet one of them.
The Good Things About Teaching English Online
Several years ago, to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, my wife and I relocated to a fairly remote little island in the Pacific Northwest. We both still needed to work and although we lived in an isolated place, we had access to high speed internet. Having a teaching license already, my wife applied and was accepted to teach for VipKid, one of the larger online teaching platforms, along with one called Magic Ears. After providing an extensive list of documents, identification and completing an online training course, she began teaching English to children in China. In this article I'd like to share some of what I observed, along with her own views on these platforms after having worked with them for a while.
Having had classroom teaching experience with younger kids and ESL (English second language) students was a plus for her, and she quickly learned the ins and outs of the program, its teaching methods and quickly developed her own style. We made many trips to the dollar store for educational props and "rewards" which are used as prizes to encourage positive behavior. Much of online English teaching is visual, and as all kids love toys and animated, encouraging feedback while learning it was necessary for her to build a large, alphabetized collection of learning tools and prizes. Prizes, even if they were not physically given, are very powerful positive reinforcements when teaching online English to Chinese students. For example, at the end of a lesson they might be awarded a "gold necklace" or stuffed animal. The thing that was so amazing to me was that most of these kids were excited to learn, had incredibly positive attitudes and would work hard for prizes that they couldn't even touch. As I mentioned, much of the learning is visually based, and an online English teacher is expected to utilize all of their theatrical skills to win kids over, and to get across the point of the lesson. Much emphasis is placed on watching the teacher's mouth and lips, as they form English words that may require unfamiliar vocal actions. In order to be a success with your students, and also with their parents, who rate you after each lesson, one must develop their best, "school teacher meets Saturday morning kids show performer" personality. It was incredible to watch my wife adapt to the norms of online English teaching and to develop her own unique style.
Interestingly enough, one does not need to speak any Chinese at all to begin teaching, in fact it is discouraged. It is common practice that children are even given "English names" in most cases rather than using their real names on the platform.
The pay is not incredible, but with bonuses and by working long hours she was able to bring in just over $1,000 a month in income. In 2000 the average pay for VipKid teachers ranged from $14 to $18 per hour.
Interactions with kids were almost always positive, as they were with parents, who were nearly universally appreciative. On VipKid for example, teachers are rated on a scale of one to five "apples". A five apple rating is very important on that platform, since parents often choose a teacher based on their "apple rating". During all the time that she has taught, with more than five hundred lessons, so far she has not received less than a "five apple rating".
Although the pay is not comparable with that of a classroom teacher in North America, the upside is that there is very little outlay required to begin earning money. There are no transportation costs and other than a company tee shirt, little need for a large wardrobe. It's a job that those who are qualified can do easily from their own home. Also, not all of these teaching platforms require a teaching degree. A degree in almost any subject, from an accredited university, may be enough for you to get started, though you may have to take additional training in ESL.
The Bad Things About Teaching English To Kids In China Online
Not all about teaching English online to kids in China is wonderful. There are some downsides and we'll discuss those next. If you are looking for a good paying side job, don't let these negative things about online English teaching discourage you, just know that they do exist.
One of the main negative things about teaching English online are the hours that you must keep. Because most of the students are in China, you're expected to teach during times that work for children in Beijing. For example, 5:00 PM Beijing time, when some kids were just coming home from regular school to take their English course, was 1:00 AM our time. Most of the time, my wife was getting up and teaching in the very early hours of the morning. This can be quite disruptive for everyone's sleep, especially if you have a small home. For those who live in other time zones, the Eastern time zone for instance, the difference is not so severe and it may mean getting up only slightly earlier than normal.
Another downside to teaching English online is that it may be difficult to keep up your level of enthusiasm, especially when waking up so early in the morning. Kids and their parents expect the same, high energy enthusiasm from their teachers as the time before, or they will leave negative feedback. Also, not all parents are supportive and some leave the children to their own devices (literally as they play on them), or allow them to even walk away from the lesson. There are support numbers that the teacher can call to have a Chinese speaking company representative phone the parents to get their kids back on track, and these measures are sometimes necessary.
Occasionally, perhaps one out of a hundred times, a child will be openly defiant and rude to their teacher. I observed it, and after hours of seeing kids at their best behavior, it was quite shocking. Parents may also be abrupt, and lose patience with the teacher, though this is rare. I saw more than one child draw x-rated things on the screen and from what my wife read on the online forums, this is quite common, especially with boys. The teacher has the ability to block them from drawing, and often a lesson may be completed as a "one way conversation" with all the same positive emotion and feedback, as if the child was still performing on task. Negative feedback, or reprimanding a child is never allowed by the company, and would not be tolerated by many of the parents, who consider their children beyond reproach.
Another negative aspect of online English teaching is that you will experience technical glitches, whether they are from your end, the child's or the platform's technology. It may be hard to explain these types of disruptions to parents, who may give you a bad rating for something that is not your fault.
These are just some of the pros and cons of teaching English to kids in China online. Don't let the negative parts discourage you from giving it a try. If you can put up with some of these downsides the financial rewards can definitely be well worth it.
© 2020 Nolen Hart
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 15, 2020:
Because of Covid-19, many teachers in the U.S. have had to teach online classes with all types of subjects. One of our neighbors living behind us has been doing that most of this year. With regard to your wife teaching Chinese students the subject of English, I found your article very interesting.