As I’m browsing through the latest posts on one of the many online teaching social media groups I’m in…
…I see mentions of a new and growing company or another online education opportunity:
“I’m making way more money here than with (current online ESL company)!”
“This company really cares about their teachers!”
“Forget companies, tutor independently!”
“PM me for details!” (and I usually do)
As I’m reading, my heart starts to race. I instantly feel the familiar mixture of intrigue and anxiety.
I’m already working with VIPKid, dipping my toes in Outschool, contracted with GoGoKid, (and started applying to Zebra English before their hiring freeze)…
…but as a teacher trying to make a sustainable career out of this work, my FOMO (fear of missing out) kicks in and I wonder:
Is this company or opportunity worth looking into?
Should I go through the trouble of applying?
Am I potentially missing out on the next “big thing” in online (ESL) teaching?
A big part of this anxious feeling can be due to the startling growth over just the past few years and the number of present and future opportunities this industry holds.
When I started teaching online with VIPKid in 2016, I had no idea that the company, let alone online education as a whole would explode in the next few years.
Global EdTech companies took in over $2.98 billion in 2015, and the market is projected to grow at about 17% per year, with an estimate of $252 billion in 2020.
In China, the primary market for online ESL companies like VIPKid, GoGoKid, and dozens of others, the number of online education users is at 423 million as of March 2020.
While certain factors, such as COVID-19, have reduced some of this rapid growth in certain countries and companies, other online educational sectors have experienced rapid growth in the past few months.
Prior to March 2020, Outschool had 1,000 teachers but sought to hire 5,000 new teachers after they saw an 11x rise in enrollments following mass U.S. school closures. They have also raised close to $10 million as of May 2020.
How We Fit In
Many of us current online ESL teachers are deep in the trenches of this growing field, experiencing and witnessing the rapid changes in company policies, wages, and supply and demand.
Despite stricter regulations from the Chinese government on online ESL companies in 2018-2019, becoming an online ESL teacher still has a relatively low barrier to entry compared to other professions ($20 TESOL anyone?).
Outschool‘s basic hiring requirements are even more lenient as do not require a degree or any specific teaching certification and allow you to reapply seemingly as many times as you’d like. Plenty of prospective teachers still do not get hired, but the ease in applying to these companies and lack of regulations in the field as a whole creates a wild west of sorts in regards to the sheer number of opportunities available out there to teach online.
As independent contractors, we are free to explore multiple companies and set our own schedules…
…which can be both a blessing and a curse in terms of work-life balance, as well as mental and financial well-being.
Some of us do this work part-time while others aim for full-time work. Either way, the reality is that the instability of any one position drives many of us to keep an eye out for what else is out there…
…ESPECIALLY given the changes with many online ESL companies regarding payment, booking rates, etc.
How to Deal With the FOMO
While some general FOMO-reducing strategies work well for a situation like this, others are harder to implement.
For example, some might say:
“Just don’t go on social media!”
But the reality is that in this field, you may very well miss out on valuable information about opportunities.
Many new and blossoming opportunities are shared through online word-of-mouth. For those who aim to gain steady income through this work (like myself), it is important to be in the know about certain opportunities in online education BEFORE they are “mainstream”.
I found out about VIPKid from a teacher alumni group back in 2016 and was fortunate to be able to build skills and knowledge over the years about teaching online. It’s certainly not too late to start now, but we’ve seen that the field (and supply of teachers at most companies) gets more and more saturated as the years go by.
Additionally, when important updates are shared via official company Facebook groups, there’s automatically more reliance on some social media compared to traditional jobs.
Finally, given that we don’t have in-person coworkers, these groups help create meaningful teacher connections and collaborate in a way that can help us become better teachers.
What to do then?
Define your boundaries
As with many things in life, clear boundaries can help reduce some of the information overload and subsequent FOMO, such as:
- Turning off “notifications” for certain groups or blocking certain people (temporarily or permanently) if their particular successes are making you feel inadequate
- It’s nothing against them, but we all have our triggers for what may cause excessive FOMO
- Picking specific groups or social media platforms that bring value and positivity to your life (I go over some of my favorite communities for online ESL teachers in this post) but still limiting how often you visit certain online ESL pages
- For example, although I love the online teacher community on Instagram, I don’t go on every day
- Decide how much of your time and energy you are willing to devote to any particular company and teaching online in general vs. walking away – one way to do that is to:
Define your “online ESL” teacher identity (and revisit it regularly)
The truth is that this field over the past few years has transitioned from a low supply of online ESL teachers to an abundance of qualified teachers overall. While this doesn’t mean that new teachers can’t still be successful and maintain a steady student base, it means you may need to work harder and differently than previously.
Work opportunity FOMO isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it pushes you to grow and try new things that ultimately help further your success as an online (ESL) teacher.
Right now, try deciding explicitly which statement you want to identify yourself with based on what’s best for YOU and your priorities in life currently. Here are some independent contractor online teacher “identities” to help get you thinking how “in” you want to be with the online ESL world:
- ALL IN: “I’m going to work the way an entrepreneur would and spend large amounts of time in this field researching opportunities and building a sustainable “business” (knowing that I might fail along the way).”
- MOSTLY IN: “I’m going to spend a decent amount of extra time on building stable income in this field, but I’m not going to prioritize this work over my family, etc.”
- COMPANY-SPECIFIC IN: “I’m going to focus on only 1-2 companies and do everything I can to excel with them.”
- JUST IN: “I’m going to just keep doing what I’m doing now and maybe look into other types of jobs that provide more stable income.”
- ONLY A LITTLE IN: “I’m only going to spend 30 mins a day or every few days on anything online teaching-related.”
- MINIMALLY IN: “I’m just going to work the hours I have now and once I finish for the day, no more online teacher-related work at all.”
- CURRENTLY NOT IN: “I’m going to take a break from any Facebook groups or social media, or maybe even teaching.”
- NOT IN: “I’m walking away from online (ESL) companies and might come back, but I don’t have to.”
I’m currently ALL IN with online education because I love working online and hope to build a brand related to teaching online (hence this blog!). I enjoy the flexibility and supporting both students and teachers in a way that works with my personality and life circumstances.
Some weeks or days I shift to MOSTLY IN, MINIMALLY IN, or NOT IN depending on what’s going on in life…
…but overall, I reduce the FOMO by either taking time off social media groups completely or reminding myself that if worst comes to worst…
ONLINE TEACHING IS NOT THE BE-ALL AND END-ALL IN LIFE
There are other jobs out there, especially now with the positive cultural shift towards remote work over the past few months.
I hope you find an “identity” that resonates with you and helps you gain some peace with being in this rapidly-changing field.
What’s your “online teacher identity” currently?
– Check out my related blog post: 7 Tools and Techniques I Use To Reduce Stress As an Online ESL Teacher
– From Positive Psychology: How to Set Healthy Boundaries
– If you’re looking for more work (not a referral link): https://www.flexjobs.com/employment-help-and-resources?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI7Pmcz_vP6gIVipyzCh3s-A6YEAAYASAAEgJIZPD_BwE
- Subscribe here for online teaching tips, resources, and posts related to mindfulness!
- Join my Facebook group for support and resources on your #teacherpreneur journey
- Want to know more about teaching ESL online with VIPKid, Outschool, or other companies? Check out my FAQ on VIPKid and Outschool. If you’re not sure where to begin, 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