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When I was previously a classroom teacher and felt ill, calling out sick was significantly different than my current experience as an online ESL teacher.

While I did have to worry about sub plans (bleh)...

I didn’t have to submit a doctor’s note or worry about potentially losing my job due to too many absences from school.

I love that being an online ESL teacher means choosing when to open your schedule, but getting sick when you’re scheduled to teach requires more forethought and planning than most other jobs.

Whether we should have to be concerned about taking off is another issue, but in the spirit of being proactive vs. reactive, if you have concerns about:

How can I best prepare for a sudden bout of sickness?

How should I decide whether to teach or not if I’m feeling sick?

What are some ways to reduce anxiety about this process?

Here are 5 practical tips to help you prepare, deal with, and create your “game plan” for getting sick as an online ESL teacher!


While these tips have personally helped me, I am not a trained doctor or professional. As with any healthcare-related topics, please do your own due diligence and consider your personal health and circumstances.

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1. Know Exactly Where to Find your Company’s Cancellation Policy and Procedures Readily

While it’s not fun to think about getting sick while you’re healthy, knowing what you need to do before you find yourself in that position can help alleviate a lot of stress when the time comes.

If you work with VIPKid, you can check the ‘support’ tab for information about types of cancellations, documents needed, etc.

If you’ve had to cancel this contract period, you can keep a list of when you canceled, how many classes you had to cancel, what type of cancellation you received (soft, medium, etc.) and any other relevant information.

Feeling comfortable with your company’s rules and how many cancellations you have left in your contract (if applicable) is rather empowering. Then, you can make a more informed, confident decision on the costs and benefits of canceling. You can look at your contract status, degree of sickness, financial necessity, etc and decide what decision is best for you.

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2. Sign Up With a Virtual Doctor App

No matter how much planning we do, sometimes we may wake up not feeling well and then need that doctor’s note shortly after to submit to our company.

If you haven’t already, consider utilizing a virtual doctor program, which allows you to virtually meet with a doctor from your computer or phone!

Since some of us don’t have reliable transportation or may not be able to find time to make an in-person appointment promptly, this method can help get that doctor’s note conveniently.

Here are some options I’ve seen recommended:

I found out about this option from seeing other teachers recommend this option online, leading to the next point:

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3. Check Out Your Company’s Social Media Groups 

One of the biggest ways that large social media groups offer value is through allowing you to read and ask about what 1,000’s of other online teachers have done when they were sick.

Disclaimer: please remember that other teachers aren’t doctors and any advice or personal experiences should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s still wise to compare any advice you read with other trusted sources of information and your own personal judgement.

Nonetheless, we are more likely to understand the experience of teaching online and offer unique tips specific to our job and if it worked for them or not.

For example, I saw other teachers post about Throat Coat tea to help soothe your throat and it’s now my go-to drink when my throat is feeling sore.

If it worked for them, it may very well work for you!

Whichever group(s) you are in, you can search your specific ailment (morning sickness, back pain, cough, etc.), and if somehow it hasn’t been discussed yet, write a post!

If your company doesn’t have a group or you don’t use Facebook, you can try Instagram, Reddit, etc.

Social media groups can also be helpful when dealing with cancellation issues, as other teachers in the group have experience having to cancel many classes with a specific company.

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4. Self-Assess Your Propensity for Sickness

While we certainly can’t predict and prepare for every possible sickness, we do have the power to reflect on past events to answer questions, such as:

  1. Are there certain times of the year I tend to get sick?
  2. What kinds of sickness/symptoms to I tend to get?
  3. Do any kids/dependents have trends as well?

I get a cough regularly, ranging from a mild itch to Bronchitis at different points of my life (especially in the winter). Knowing this tendency, I always have cough drops and cough medicine handy for unexpected bouts.

Scheduling fewer classes ahead of time

Based on your answers, along with your specific financial circumstances, you can also think about your scheduling preferences.

Especially this time of year, I leave a slot or two open in the middle of my schedule. That way, if I have to take off or unexpectedly get sick, I can have a break if needed. I’ll open it short notice OR a few days ahead of time if I know I’m feeling well.

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5. Consider a Back-Up Plan

I get it, thinking about the worst-case scenario of losing your online ESL job is even less pleasant than planning for getting sick.

However, just like in my post about traits that mesh well with teaching ESL online, the volatile nature of being an independent contractor means that it is our best interest to be prepared for if we lost our position with a specific company.

That doesn’t mean every company operates that way though!

I wholeheartedly believe that it is beneficial to stay informed about other companies and their policies as we never know what might happen with any specific company!

If you find yourself needing to cancel regularly and your company offers limited cancellations, I would recommend working for more than one company.

It could be particularly beneficial to add an online ESL company with a relatively more lenient cancellation policy, such as Magic Ears and Palfish. I don’t personally work for either of those companies, but you can find many teachers on Instagram that can give you more information!

I’d recommend checking out specific company hashtags on Instagram or Facebook groups such as Online ESL Reviews.

There are also other types of at-home jobs that don’t require you to be “live” and can be more flexible, such as working as a virtual assistant, making educational videos, and more!

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No matter what you decide, I hope this post helps empower you to create a “game plan” around feeling sick and teaching.

While we don’t have to worry about getting our students sick the way we might in-person, there’s still the risk of negative parent feedback or just overworking yourself if you can’t push through and teach. So, like most other endeavors, try to pause, review the tools and information you have, and prepare for whatever decision you may have to make!

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  • Want to know more about teaching ESL online with VIPKid, GoGokid, or other companies? email me at for FREE resources and guidance.
  • Interested in mindful and valuable social media use? Check out my first post in the 4-part series, which also shares a little more about me and why I started this blog/a teacher Instagram.

Further Reading



The Introverted Online Teacher


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  1. Besides the sound and practical advice, I learned a few other things from your post. I had never heard of doctors online and didn’t know about virtual assistants. There’s so many new opportunities with technology. Thank you for the exposure!

  2. I am not an in-line teacher as of yet. I am seriously considering it for the future. I’m going to subscribe to your blog for more tips and info on online teaching. Knowing the company policy on sick days isn’t even something I would have thought about. It’s good to know! Thanks for the helpful article.

  3. Wow, great tips! I never thought about that being an issue in the online world, but it makes sense! Thanks for sharing!

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