This is intended to be both a help file for this website as well as a guide to online teaching
- Two types of online ESL teachers
- The independent teacher
- The employee teacher
- A quick checklist for the impatient
- How to land your first job
- How to research a school's background
- How much you can expect to make
- Types of teaching schedules
- Cancelation policy
- Class length and student feedback
- About native-speaker accent
- Teaching ESL as a non-native speaker
- Audio-only classes
Two types of online ESL teachers
Generally speaking, there are two types of online English teachers: the independent teacher and the employee. The independent teacher does everything for himself. They look for their own students, write their own lesson plans and have total freedom over their pay rate and working hours. The employee, on the other hand, works for an online school that usually (but not always) gives the teacher guaranteed hours and almost always provides the lesson plan. There will usually be a required minimum availability per week/month or even a fixed schedule and the pay rate may or may not be negotiable, but will always be within a fixed range for each company. NOTE: the term 'employee' here is used very loosely. In the vast majority of cases, you will actually work as an independent contractor for the online school, rather than as an actual employee as defined by law. Thus, you are responsible for all the tax paperwork that comes with being self-employed.
Of course, you can be both independent and an employee at the same time. You might want to start out as an employee part-time, all the while you are gradually building up your client base. Below is more information about how to get started.
The independent teacher
As an independent teacher, you do everything yourself. You have total freedom, but at the same time, there is no security either. The aim of this website is predominantly to provide information about online schools, so this part will be kept short.
As an independent teacher, you are basically a business that provides a service. And as such, you have to have good reasons why people would choose you instead of another competitor. A TEFL degree would probably be a good idea. It gives the prospective student at least some assurance that you are competent to teach him or her English. You should also have good video & lighting equipment to record professionally-looking clips in order to showcase your skills. Finally, make sure you have enough savings or another stable source of income, because for most teachers, building up a client base takes a lot of time.
How to find your first students
The first way to find students is to use language tutor marketplaces. In my experience, the most popular ones are:
Besides these specific language tutor sites, there are also academic tutor marketplaces for a multitude of subjects, such as tutorme.com. However, most of them are US-based and users looking for ESL teachers will probably be rather rare.
Next, you can (and probably should) create your own website. It should showcase how you can help prospective students improve their English. These days, it's cheap and easy to buy pre-made templates from platforms like themeforest.net. This requires no coding skills at all. Guides on how to set up a simple Wordpress site can be found on the web. Once you have your own site, you can also try using Google Ads.
The vast majority of your students will be on social media nowadays, so you should be, too. English learners ask questions in Fb groups, on Reddit and on Quora. You can assist them by answering their questions. If you provide good, detailed responses, prospective students might become interested in hiring you as their teacher. Moreover, you can also post videos with free language lessons on all popular social networks, including Fb, Youtube and Instagram. Also don't forget checking out big social networks used in other parts of the world, such as Russian VKontakte and Weibo from China. Also, don't forget to utilize good old classifieds sites, such as Craigslist & Co.
One problem with the above methods is that you compete with English teachers worldwide. That makes it that much harder to find students than it already would be otherwise. Another way is thus to reduce this high level of competition by finding students locally and teaching them face-to-face. Once they are comfortable with you as their tutor, you can start trying to convert them to online students. This might not happen overnight. But if you keep hinting at the possibility of giving the lessons online, there is a good chance the student will agree to give it a shot sooner or later. And since online teaching really isn't that much different from face-to-face teaching, all the while being much more convenient, there is a good chance that they will decide to stick with it, too. If this is an option for you, consider even moving to another (non-English speaking) country for a while. Depending on the country, the demand for face-to-face tutoring will be very high and the competition much lower than compared to online teaching. When you start making new friends in that country, you will be bound to come across somebody who is interested to hire you as their teacher at one point or another. When it's time to return back home, you should have found at least a couple of students that you now have a good and valid reason to convert into online students. Even better, assuming they are happy with your service, they will almost certainly recommend you to their friends.
The Employee Teacher
As an employee, you have less freedom, but you will usually have some guaranteed hours.
A quick checklist for the impatient
- What is the hourly rate and bonus system? Make sure you know what the usual total pay rate is if there is a bonus (the company may give you an unrealistic picture)
- Are pay raises possible if performance is satisfactory?
- Is there a referral bonus system?
- What is the rate for trial classes?
- Is there a fee deducted for transferring your pay?
- How many hours can you get? Is there a minimum availability? Maximum number of hours?
- What are the are the available teaching days and hours? What are the peak hours?
- What work is required outside of teaching hours, such as class prep and student reports? And is it paid?
- How long are lessons and how long are breaks between lessons?
- What ages are the students?
- Will you teach 1-on-1 or groups? If groups, how many students per class and will they all be on the same level?
- What platform is used to teach (Skype, Zoom, WeChat, proprietary, ...)? Is webcam required?
- Is the schedule fixed or flexible? Can you take time off teaching and if so, how much in advance do you have to give notice?
- Are lesson materials provided or do you have to provide your own?
- Is there an initial training and if so, how long and is it paid?
- Is there a minimum contract duration, probationary period and/or notice period?
- What are the tech requirements? Do they conduct an internet speed test?
- Can you teach from anywhere in the world?
- Can you work for competitors at the same time?
- How long do you have to make a decision to accept the opportunity or not?
- If you get rejected, how soon can you re-apply?
Requirements from schools can vary a lot. Many do require either a 4-year college degree or a teaching certification (or both). There are also schools that require prior teaching experience, but as far as I can tell, they are usually the least strict about that requirement. So, it would probably be a good idea to get a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA if you want to maximize your chances of getting a job with a decent salary. On the homepage of this site, you can filter for jobs that have no degree and no certification requirement.
How to land your first job
The first key to getting a job is clearly persistence. Although some people find an online gig fairly quickly, it can take up to several months for others. Then, make sure your resume is up-to-date and presentable. Highlight any prior experience with teaching, whether or not ESL-related. Next, apply to as many companies as you can. There are currently 172 companies in our database! The more options you have, the more likely you can find something suitable. It is inevitable that you will waste some time on interviews, tests and trial classes. But if you mentally prepare yourself for this in advance, it should be no issue.
How to research a school's background
Doing background research on the schools you intend to apply to is advisable. There are a few places that can help you assess the reputation on a company. Glassdoor has a good collection of reviews, especially for the bigger schools. Then, there is this website and our Fb group called Online ESL Reviews. Also check if the company has an Fb page. If they have reviews enabled, (former) employees might have also left reviews there. Finally, there is the blog post at goodairlanguage, which provided the inspiration for this page in the first place.
How much you can expect to make
Pay rates vary a lot from school to school. However, for native-speakers, the range is usually between $10 and $25 per hour. Most non-Chinese schools and Chinese schools mainly catering to adults will pay somewhere between $10-15/h. Chinese schools that teach kids can pay anything starting from around $13 up to $25 or higher. Just like for any other type of job, the higher your education, the better your pay (generally speaking). Some schools will have a fixed rate for new hires. Others have negotiable salaries. A few Chinese schools will pay you based on your current location, regardless of your background and nationality. Two prominent examples are TutorABC and ABC360. Your accent (or nationality) may also play a factor in your pay rate. More on that further down. You can specify a minimum salary in the search form on the homepage. Besides the base pay rate, many schools also have performance-based bonuses as well as referral bonuses. These can substantially increase your income.
Types of teaching schedules
There are different types of schedules at each school. At most schools, you will have to provide your availability for a certain period in advance, usually one week (but it might also be one or two months). Students then can book you during the hours you specified. Another type is a fixed schedule. You will always teach the same student(s) on the same day/at the same time. Very few companies have this schedule type. The only prominent one with a fixed schedule is DadaABC. Finally, there are those platforms, typically mobile apps, that allow you to teach anytime you log on, so there is no minimum availability. Some examples are NiceTalk and FaceTalk. Other schools will have a combination of these types. Since I didn't keep track of this information, schedule type is not available as a filter at this time.
Class cancelation policy is usually favorable toward the student. Make sure you understand how far in advance you as the teacher can cancel the class without incurring penalties and how far in advance the student is allowed to cancel. Also, check if/how much you get paid if the student is a no-show. Often, you will receive half the rate for no-shows.
Class length and student feedback
Class length can vary from less than 20 minutes to up to 90 minutes. A standard length is around 25 minutes, especially for younger learners. Breaks will also be different accordingly. Something to be aware of is that many schools require teachers to fill out student feedback reports. This is often done during breaks. The time required to complete these reports is different from company to company and even within the same school, some teachers might spend more time on these than others. It will usually also take longer in the beginning, until it becomes a routine and you can do it much quicker. Still, it is advisable to make sure you understand how much time approximately it takes to complete student feedback, whether or not this work is paid and if so, at what rate.
About native-speaker accent
It is undeniable that most demand for online English teaching comes from Asia. Within that market, the single biggest source of work for aspiring online ESL teachers is China. If you look even closer, you can see that there is something unique about the Chinese market: to the best of my knowledge, it is the only country that has a significant demand for online English teaching for kids. When you teach kids, your real customers are of course their parents. And Chinese parents are willing to spend vast amounts of money to give their kids a headstart early on in life. That's why teaching kids is the most lucrative market. However, the requirements are correspondingly higher. Probably because many parents hope that their offsprings will one day go to America to study and get a good job (and later, get them a green card, too), a considerable number of online schools make American accent & the American curriculum one of their core marketing messages. Thus, they will only hire, you guessed it, North Americans, i.e. citizens from the U.S. and Canada (and sometimes they will have the additional requirement of previous exposure to the American curriculum). This phenomenon is pretty much limited to Chinese schools catering to children. And some, like DadaABC or Alo7, seem to do pretty well without limiting themselves to any particular nationality or accent. It's something that you just have to accept! On this site, you can find schools that will accept (almost) any type of native speakers
Another issue is with teachers from South Africa. Many Chinese schools apparently won't accept them. It's another very sad fact that really cannot be changed. If you are from SA and do not have any luck with Chinese schools, try European or American schools.
Teaching ESL as a non-native speaker
For non-native speakers, it is the most difficult to find a job - especially one that pays a decent wage ($10+/h). You really should have a teaching certification at the very minimum. A few well-known schools that hire non-natives are TutorABC, Talk915, Bibo Global/Engoo and Topica Native. You can filter for schools that accept non-natives by choosing "Any" in the Accent field on the homepage.
Most schools will allow you to work from anywhere. However, there are some companies that will reject applicants in certain countries. DadaABC is one of those known to only accept teachers in certain (well-developed) countries. This is not always transparent, so currently, this information is not available on this page.
There are some schools where you don't need to turn on your webcam. Most of them are in South Korea. Some examples are Global21 (GlobalT), Pagoda Talkool and Carrot Global.