Ria ditched her nonprofit office job in Chicago to teach English overseas. Needless to say, that transition gave her a fresh perspective.
Get a College Degree
Most online teaching companies require you to have a bachelor's degree. While some companies, like iTalki, technically don't require you to have a college degree, the amount you can expect to be paid is significantly lower. Some will want you to have a teaching-related degree, but many English teaching companies will hire you with any degree, as long as you can demonstrate competent teaching skills.
You can theoretically charge even more with a Master's degree, but keep in mind that the pool of learners seeking such an advanced teacher is relatively small! With a Master's degree, you will probably attract college students and advanced adult learners, which is great if you don't want to teach kids.
Think About Your Schedule
Some employers will give you large amounts of flexibility in scheduling. Others may require you to be available a minimum number of hours a week, or during certain in-demand times. For employers serving the Chinese market, you will usually need to be available at least a few days a week during early morning hours (Eastern Standard Time) to provide evening lessons for Chinese clients. Your prospective employer will probably ask you about your availability during the interview, so be prepared for the possibility that they will ask you to commit to some early mornings!
If your availability is inconsistent or doesn't seem to match the most in-demand times, you can always create a profile on iTalki, which lets you set your own schedule and rates.
Find an Employer
Some companies, like VIPKID, are highly competitive and will typically only hire experienced teachers with some kind of language-teaching credentials. These companies are also usually seeking to cater to a certain market—Say ABC and VIPKID, for example, both specialize in the Chinese market and will seek people who can work the unusual times that market requires.
If you're looking to make more than about $15 an hour, you may have to hunt around a bit—many entry-level English teaching companies will only pay $15 base pay per 40–60-minute lesson, with incentives for good reviews and/or attendance. Still, it's usually not hard to jump between companies once you gain some experience.
One more thing: make sure to figure out whether your employer provides a curriculum, or whether you'll have to make it all yourself! Some want you to invest significant unpaid time into curriculum or materials development, which reduces your actual hourly pay. Avoid those companies—and if you're not sure what you're getting yourself into, just ask during the interview process, or search online for past employee reviews.
Prepare Your Demo Lesson
Most employers will require some kind of demonstration lesson. If you're going to be teaching kids, you'll want to exude friendliness and caring vibes. You'll also want to have a few easy songs and chants up your sleeves. If you're teaching adults, you'll want to tone down the energy somewhat while still being encouraging and approachable. Make sure to have good visuals, like props and flashcards, available for your lesson as needed.
The good news is that even if you're relatively new to teaching, you can find a myriad of demo lessons on Youtube. Take notes on how each teacher structures their lesson —usually an introduction or warm-up, followed by a demonstration of the target language, drilling, and a chance for the student to actually practice the language in context. If your interviewer hasn't provided information on how to structure your lesson, go with this simple approach, since your employer may need to provide you with more information on how to structure your lesson after you've already been offered a job.
Read Your Contract Closely
Depending on your circumstances, you may need to turn down a contract that penalizes you unfairly for absences, or doesn't give you enough hours. Some employers will have a non-compete clause that keeps you from teaching at other places —and this is bad news if they only want to give you 20 hours a week! If in doubt, seek out advice from an online ESL forum or other resource.
If you really don't want to teach a certain age group, make sure to talk about this with your employer in advance—many will insist on giving you at least some of their largest demographic. Some also don't give you much right to refuse students. Systems like iTalki allow you to review clients and refuse to do lessons for clients who are rude, but the downside of that is that your clients get to review you as well!
The Bottom Line: Do Your Homework!
Overall, teaching English online is great, especially if you're cheerful and can deal with a wide range of students. However, it's easy to find yourself in a tough situation if you rush into things and don't your research before applying with an employer. Credentials, pay, scheduling, and other issues can derail your teaching experience quickly, so take care not to get burned by a shady boss. Plus, teaching isn't for everyone, so look for another flexible gig if you don't have the energy to teach.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Ria Fritz
Liz Westwood from UK on June 19, 2019:
This is a very helpful article with useful tips for anyone considering online teaching.