Teaching ESL is growing tremendously. In terms of ESL learners in China alone, one study shows that 100,000 English teachers are needed there; countries such as South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Spain, and Italy are also following in demand. The British Council estimates that there are approximately 1.125 billion English as foreign or second language speakers. With student ages starting as low as three years old, limited access to physical schools, and the proliferation of internet users, online ESL teachers are needed to fill the gaps.
A number of well-established online companies are growing during this time while others are sprouting up. But what should you be aware of before deciding to teach English online? Today’s blog will give you a little more information to help you make the right decision. And we’ve broken the question down into three categories: pay, stability, and scheduling.
On average, you can earn anywhere from $10–20 USD per hour (or even higher) with several established companies or you can charge your own rates. There are literally so many options out there, you could spend hours researching and applying. But there are a few considerations you need to be aware of.
Low Base Pay
One method companies use to recruit new teachers is by offering high pay. But be sure to check if that high pay is based on student ratings or not. Some companies will offer low base pay but give bonuses based on student ratings. The base pay plus the bonuses are what give you the high pay. But students can be a little fickle—not all like the same things, so that number may not be attainable. Therefore, be sure to check if you’re being paid a base rate or if the pay is based on ratings.
Some companies require a probationary period of significantly reduced pay. That could be for example, one-third less pay and/or a probationary period of three months. Before you sign on, be sure you know what you’re getting into. And remember, if you don’t like the offer, there are other companies out there.
Classes Less Than One Hour
Some companies will offer high hourly pay, but you only teach 45-minute classes. For example, they may advertise $20.00 per hour, but for a 45-minute class; in reality, that means $15.00 per hour. You’ll have to do the math and figure out what you’ll really be getting per hour. And don’t be shy about asking questions if something doesn’t make sense.
Charging Your Own Rates
Some platforms allow you to charge your own rates. However, they charge you a commission. Sometimes it’s a pretty hefty amount. I’ve encountered anywhere between 5-35% commission on some platforms. That means, if you want to get a certain amount each class, you’ll have to charge that much higher to get it. The drawback: Some students are not willing to pay that much. Be sure to check the commissions before you get going on a platform.
If you’re marketing savvy and know where to look for potential clients, you can give it a go on your own. Skype is an excellent workhorse when it comes to teaching. Zoom offers another fantastic resource for teaching individuals as well as groups. The drawback here is that the competition (the big companies) can offer lower rates. So, you’ll have to price your services competitively.
In terms of having a stable income, hands down, working for a company is much better. However, you may want to check how the company links students to you.
For example, some companies put you out there, then give you trial classes. If students like you, they’ll book you. So, it takes time to build a regular client base. And that may not be time you’re willing to lose.
Wait for Students to Choose You
On the other hand, there are some companies where you can open time slots, and it’s up to students to choose you. Again, if you have a good connection with your students, you’ll likely gain regular customers. If not, you’ll need to build your clientele and that can mean significant time.
Some companies will assign students to you. That means you don’t have to wait for them to come to you. You just open your schedule and wait for students to be assigned. This can be days ahead or as little as an hour or last minute. It really depends on the company. But in my opinion, these are the better companies to work for. It means you won’t have to chase students down; the company will bring them to you. It’s just up to you to keep them.
However, if you’re a freelancer with your own regular clients, you’re in control. The only difficulty is getting to that point. If you’re willing to take your time and establish yourself as an independent ESL teacher, you could have a steady gig without a company over you.
In terms of scheduling, there are three variations.
Some companies require specific hours.
There are companies that cater to specific nationalities. For example, the Chinese ESL market is quite abundant. Therefore, many companies tend to focus only on Chinese clients. That being the case, the preferred hours are typically in the evenings and weekend (Beijing Time). If that works for you, great; if not, you might consider something more flexible.
Some require minimum hours.
Other companies want a minimum of 5 hours a week or even 24 hours a month. It depends on the company. That means if you don’t fulfill that obligation, you could be removed from their roles. Consider what you can give before committing to this type of company.
Others simply let you open your hours.
A third type of scheduling system is where you open time slots for any time day or night, and or weekends. The company will either assign students or the students will book your classes. The best companies for this type of flex-scheduling are those that cater to global markets. One such company is English First. So, you could be anywhere in the world and teach people from anywhere in the world. It’s win-win because there are always students and teachers available day or night.
Additional considerations are whether you need to provide lengthy after class reports, pay for absent students, background requirements, equipment, internet speed, attire, whether they hire native speakers only, and how you’ll be getting paid. But perhaps that’s something for the next blog—we just don’t have the room in today’s!
So, now you have a better idea of what to consider before applying with an online company. If you’ve already applied to one, these might be points for you to discuss with them before committing.
Did we miss anything? What other areas would you like to see covered here? Please share your thoughts, comments, or ideas with us in the comments.