I have been teaching English online to children in China for over a year now. While there have been many awesome benefits to this experience, there have also been a few bumps along the way. Some of these things were certainly to be expected and come naturally with any online or teaching experience in general. However, there are a few things that I wish I would have known about before signing my contract and undertaking this position, if not purely for my own contentedness. Teaching English online certainly has its positives, but, as with any job, the negatives, or shall I say, “challenges’, should be addressed.
Let’s start off on a positive note!
The biggest appeal of online teaching is the independence that it provides you with. By accepting a virtual job, you are no longer confined to a location and you certainly don’t have to go through the process of moving to another country for work- this means no visa applications, notarized degrees, flights, apartment searches, or sorting out essential versus non-essential for that single massive suitcase. Teaching English online allows you to teach from anywhere in the world that you want to be, provided you have a fast and stable internet connection. I have taught from Europe, North America, and Central America, mostly without an issue. I have been able to cross the globe for a family wedding, travel to new countries, and visit friends across the world, all while maintaining my job. Not many jobs allow for this.
With this benefit, though, comes a responsibility. The students are in China and, as such, the teaching hours do not change. This means that you must take time zones into account. While this may seem like a small, mundane detail, changing time zones can really mess with your body and your performance. Even if you are not regularly adjusting to time changes, you need to decide if the hours are compatible with your lifestyle. People living in North America, for example, will need to accept that the majority of their lessons will take place in the middle of the night- mine are typically between 1:00 and 9:00 in the morning. This is not for everyone, so remember to take this into account. If you have the freedom to be nomadic, choose your location (and time zone) wisely.
Another major pro to include in this list is the freedom of scheduling. Most online companies allow you to make your own schedule as you see fit- some will require you to open a minimum number of time slots during peak hours. This means that you can, in theory, work as many hours as you’d like, full or part-time. While this sounds like an absolute dream, you need to be aware that your open slots are not guaranteed to be filled. This will vary week-to-week, and larger, more established companies may be able to guarantee you more students. It’s important to remember that you are not typically given classes with online companies. Rather, you make a profile, open slots, then play the waiting game while parents decide if they want to book their kids with you. My experience has been split 50/50 as far as stability of classes goes: with one company, the number of classes was varied and always up in the air, while my current company has provided me with a fully-booked schedule every week. From this point of view, working with a big company is often considered more reliable.
The Challenges of Teaching English Online
While teaching online does give teachers more freedom in many ways, it also comes with a few stressors that can vary in importance, depending on the teacher and the situation. Apart from a lack of guaranteed hours in scheduling, it’s also a highly frequent occurrence to experience no-shows and last-minute cancellations. This can be very frustrating, as you sit in front of your computer and wait. Fortunately, most companies will still offer some degree of compensation if your student does not show-up for class, but having a large number of no-shows each month can make a huge difference for your paycheck. Be sure to read into the company’s no-show policy cancellation policy.
The last downside of teaching online is the seeming lack of ability to form a relationship. It’s true that teaching online doesn’t allow you to make tactile connections with your students and that, more often than not, you will teach random students every day (at least with the larger Chinese companies). This is not always true: I have many regular students who I look forward to speaking with each week and vise versa. However, proportionately, I see most students once before they bounce around from teacher to teacher. Students who are thinking of joining an online school also sign up for trial lessons, which you will teach, and often that will be the only time you see them. Personally, I teach at least three trials per day, averaging 60 per month. That is a lot of ‘one-off’ encounters. As is the case with any relationship, though, you get what you put into it, making the importance of impressing the student (and, moreover, his/her parents) a crucial aspect of online teaching.