Teaching English online is a great opportunity for teachers who want all the benefits of teaching abroad with the comforts of teaching from home. In addition to providing the opportunity for location independence, teaching online guarantees you a schedule of flexibility that in-classroom teaching does not. You are entitled (in almost every situation) to create your own schedule and teach as many classes as you’d like- though many companies will require an average minimum of five classes per week. Financially, experiences will vary between companies and individual teachers. However, you are certainly able to build a career that meets your wants and needs, whether that be to teach a full-time schedule or a few classes each week to earn some extra cash.
While accepting a TEFL placement abroad is usually a fairly lengthy process complete with interviews, visa procedures, flight bookings, accommodation considerations, and, of course, packing up and moving your entire life to another country, teaching English online is a far more simple process. But exactly how does someone start their online career? First, it’s important to decide which type of position best matches your goals and experience. From there, you’ll need to get connected with the appropriate people.
New teachers or those who aren’t particularly confident in their repertoire of classroom (or computer) skills are advised to begin their online teaching experience by working for an established company. Just because you don’t have to show up to a specific place every day does not mean that teaching English online is a breeze. In fact, I find it more challenging, as making yourself understood and maintaining control of the classroom is hard when you are a mere face on a screen, particularly with children. Working for a company that specializes in online instruction will benefit you in that you’ll receive job training, technical support, and feedback from people who have experience in this type of instruction. This enables your confidence to grow and your skills to be refined. Some of the better known and well-reputed companies for teaching online include VIPkid, 51Talk, Verbal Planet, Go Fluent, and many others. Online schools are especially prominent in Asia, and a simple Google search will show you hundreds of opportunities and the requirements for each individual company. I also highly recommend making a profile on Upwork so that employers searching for teachers can message you directly.
If you already have a year (or several) of in-classroom teaching experience under your belt or consider yourself particularly tech-savvy, you might be interested in skipping this step altogether and branching out on your own as an independent contractor.
Nail the Demo
After applying and interviewing via video chat, almost every online employer will ask you to do a demo lesson. Sometimes they will provide you with a topic and virtual materials and other times you will be left to your own creativity and devices. I have had both experiences, although the latter has been more frequent. If you are demo-ing to children, make sure you have props…colorful, vibrant props. Stuffed animals that act as the student’s encourager and congratulatory friend after giving correct answers is great for the little ones, while older children respond well to point-value, game style rewards. Adults don’t usually need such an extreme degree of positive reinforcement, as they will presumably have chosen to be their on their accord, but praising them for getting a pattern correct, using proper accent and intonation, and asking questions merits a, “Well done”, too.
In order to nail the interview, you must be enthusiastic, smiley, and seem passionate, especially for children. These qualities are great for classroom teaching but are considered crucial to successful online instruction by most employers. Manage your time well by practicing your demo several times before giving it, and be sure to speak slowly and clearly. Most importantly of all: repeat, repeat, repeat. Don’t go through a concept once and simply move on. Approach it from a few angles, and review straight after and at the end of your devised lesson to ensure comprehension. Your interviewer will be looking for this, guaranteed.
Although working for an established online school certainly has its advantages, plenty of teachers go in alone as independent freelancers. A great way to put yourself out on the market and attract the interest of clients is to maintain a well-kept blog of your experience. Brand new teachers might struggle in this area, as previous experience is a top way of marketing yourself. If having a blog or personal site isn’t for you, there are several websites where online ESL teachers can list their skills, services, and availability; Freelancer, Upwork, and BuddySchool are great options in this case. If you do have previous experience teaching, traveling, or have friends from abroad, utilize your resources and human connections- and never underestimate the power of a solid, updated LinkedIn profile. Write a post in an expat or ESL forum, make a page on Facebook, or post a short bio and description of services on one of the previously mentioned platforms and get the word around. Selling yourself, having specific examples of plans, and setting competitive rates will also further your chances of success in the online solo realm.
Choose a Platform
The internet acts as an open window of opportunity for ESL teachers, enabling us to find (and create) opportunities, make connections, find resources, and teach either through a company or independently. While Skype, Facetime, and Google Hangouts are completely viable options for independent teachers, companies abroad (particularly in Asia) typically have separate software that you will be required to use as your teaching platform. Mac users beware: I’ve had to pass on several job opportunities because the software wasn’t compatible with my laptop. PCs are definitely preferred by a majority of online schools, but, sometimes, there are add-ons that you can download to make the software work with your system. Regardless of your platform, employers (and sometimes independent adult students, as well) will typically prefer that you have a headset to use for teaching in order to increase clarity and reduce static noise. Choose a reliable platform, a quiet enough location with a neutral background, and get the ball rolling from the get-go.