As of early 2020, roughly 4.7 million U.S. workers were working remotely. That number has grown rapidly as efforts are made in the upcoming weeks and months to combat the spread of COVID-19.
As someone who’s been working as an online ESL teacher and mentor for 3.5 years, here are some concrete action steps and potential downsides to consider if you are interested in teaching ESL online.
Note: My experiences and advice are shared through the lens of a native English speaker living in North America.
Jump ahead to:
1. Learn Some of The Basics About the Online ESL World
As with any field, there are certain quirks to teaching ESL online – we all work from home but have online communities with hundreds, thousands, and even sometimes tens of thousands of coworkers!
Most companies look to hire people who:
- Have a Bachelor’s degree in any subject (a few companies hire people without one)
- Have at least some teaching/tutoring/coaching experience
- Formal teaching experience is a plus but not a requirement for most companies
- Is willing to learn how to engage students online by asking questions, using level-appropriate language, correcting mistakes, etc.
- For most companies, this does not necessarily mean you have to be a “clown” or over-the-top, but you will need to adapt to the teaching style that best suits your students based on their age, level of English proficiency, etc.
In general, teaching ESL online tends to be a good fit for people who will:
- Set their own schedule and stick to it
- (Usually) work early in the morning or at night
- Are willing to adapt and be flexible in this relatively new field
2. Do Research on Companies
There are lots of companies out there and it can be challenging to know which one(s) to start with. Many of us start out with one company to get experience and then research/try out others until we find a good fit.
If you are interested in information with VIPKid, you can check out my FAQ here.
Note: Although I work for VIPKid and GoGoKid, they are not necessarily a good fit for everyone.
As you review companies, here are some reflection questions to keep in mind:
- What types of lessons do they have (1:1 vs. group, kids or adults, etc.)?
- What is their pay structure like?
- Do they require a minimum number of hours per week or are you free to open and close time slots as you wish each week?
- What do their reviews looks like on Glassdoor, Facebook groups, etc.? Also, why are people satisfied or dissatisfied?
- For example, not everyone at VIPKid gets as many bookings as they’d like, but it’s highly dependent on how many hours a week you’re looking to work, whether you can maintain regular students, your availability, etc.
3. Decide if You Want to Apply on Your Own or Find a Mentor (But be Cautious)
Many online ESL companies have standardized application processes, usually something to the extent of:
- Fill out an initial application form
- Complete a preliminary interview/demo
- Review training materials and Complete A mock class or Classes
- Sign your contract and become a hired teacher
For any given company, there tend to be materials available both during the application stage and around the Internet. However, if you want someone experienced who can answer questions, help you get booked, offer 1:1 coaching, etc., then you may want to find a teacher that works with the company to “refer”/mentor you.
Full Disclosure: For the majority of referrers do get referral bonuses, so know that there is a financial incentive for us to guide teachers through the process. However:
Referrers vary widely in their level of support/accessibility
If you’re talking with an online ESL teacher who works for a specific company, you can ask them what they provide if you use their referral code/link.
It’s better to ask some questions at first and feel comfortable with how much or how little support they will provide because once you use their code, you can’t change it to someone else unless you apply again with a different email.
That goes for any referrer, including me! I do my best to answer questions promptly and guide teachers in applying to VIPKid or GoGoKid, or I can provide general information on other online ESL companies that I’ve researched.
I will also direct you to a different referring teacher if you’re interested in a company I don’t work for.
For personalized feedback with any company, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
3. Get a Small At-Home “Classroom” Ready
To create an educational environment for students, many companies look for teachers to have an educational background against a wall.
Additional tools may include a headset, a computer with a clear webcam (internal or external), bright lighting, and having the camera close to eye level.
Setting up an at-home classroom can be very affordable (sometimes free!) and feasible with some creativity – my “classroom” pictured above is in a closet!
When I first heard about teaching ESL online, I was nervous about classroom management, having to keep up a ton of energy, etc.
What I didn’t know until I actually jumped in and tried it out was that there are many ways to be an engaging teacher, especially with 1:1 teaching.
Now, after almost 4 years, I hope to be able to teach ESL online for the rest of my life!
Starting out in this field does not require extensive costs or commitments, which allows teachers to easily leave or change companies if they realize it’s not right for them.
Additionally, a lot of this field is about sticking it out as the sooner you get started, the more you:
- Build confidence and knowledge about online ESL strategies
- Learn about different companies and find the best fit for you
- Establish a positive reputation with your company and parents (if you’re at a company where parents book teachers) to build a student base
- Gain experience to then be eligible for potential secondary positions
- After a while of teaching classes, I was also hired as a Mentor and now work both positions
- Make money teaching online! 🙂
- Subscribe here for online teaching tips, resources, and posts related to mindfulness!
- Want to know more about teaching ESL online with VIPKid, GoGokid, or other companies? Check out my VIPKid FAQ and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
The Introverted Online Teacher