For the last few years teaching English abroad has become a popular option for recent college graduates. Seemingly, you can get the best of both worlds: you get to travel and you get paid.
But what if you could teach “abroad” all from the comfort of your computer? This way you can still teach and earn an income while living in your home country, or better yet, while you are traveling.
A new fad in TEFL education is teaching English online. This connects students in any country to Native English Speakers via their computer and, sometimes, even their cellphone. Some classes are held through a branded online platform while others are held directly through Skype or Google Hangouts.
So what do you need to know about teaching English online? While it might seem like an ideal job for someone who wants to be location independent, there are many factors to consider such as start-up costs, availability to certain time zones, and possibility of faulty Internet connections.
Here’s what you need to know about teaching online:
What qualifications do I need to teach online?
In most cases, the qualifications for teaching online are exactly the same for when teaching abroad. Applicants are required to have the following qualifications:
- Native English Speaker
- Bachelor’s Degree
- TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certificate
- Teaching English experience +1 year
- Strong computer and Internet skills
Some of these skills may vary based on the company or platform that has hired you. While some companies do not require teaching experience, nearly all jobs require you to be a native English speaker. As when teaching English abroad, the more qualifications you have, the more you are likely to earn when teaching online.
What will I be teaching?
What you will be teaching depends largely on whom you will be teaching, just like in a normal classroom setting. When you are teaching online you will have the opportunity to teach adults and/or children. Some companies specialize in one or the other, while other companies allow a mix of the two.
When teaching English online to adults, the primary focus will be on oral conversation. This will include proper spoken grammar, accent training, and vocabulary retention. Likely, you will be able to build lesson plans based on the topic of your student’s choice. These are skills you’ll learn in your TEFL/TESOL/CELTA course.
Sometimes your company will have the lessons pre-made for you. Sometimes you will have to create your own lesson plans. This depends largely on what kind of company you decide to work with.
How do I know if teaching English online is right for me?
There are two important things to know about teaching online:
- Just because you like teaching in a traditional classroom setting does not mean that you will like teaching online.
- Teaching online is not easier than teaching in a classroom.
Many people are drawn to teaching online because it seems like an easy way to make money while being location independent. This is not true. Teaching online is just as demanding and often just as time consuming as teaching face-to-face.
Here are a few things to consider when figuring out if teaching online is right for you:
- You must be Internet and computer savvy. And not only that: you must like being on computers! It is important for you to be able to navigate computer and Internet issues quickly and efficiently so that you can execute your classes successfully.
- You must like teaching and having conversations with people. Just because it is on a computer and you could theoretically be any place in the world…doesn’t mean that it is not teaching. You will still be conducting a class for someone and communicating with them on a regular basis. Your classes will likely be conversation-based so an ability to communicate effectively is paramount when teaching online.
- You must be able to meet the needs of the students. When students are taking a class online, they will often have higher expectations of the classes. Will you be able to create a plan so that they can reach their goals?
What are some of the negative aspects of teaching English online?
Teaching online may seem like the ticket to being location independent, but it isn’t. Here are some reasons why teaching online isn’t exactly what you might expect:
- There are start-up costs. Most companies require a headset, an independent webcam, high-speed Internet, and compatibility with their systems. This could mean having to spend some money before even being interviewed.
- You can’t actually be location independent. Just because you are teaching online doesn’t mean that you can always be on the road. Some companies even have country restrictions based on the Internet speed in your country of residence.
- You can’t choose your working hours. Sure, sometimes you can, but often times you will be required to be available during certain peak periods. This could be during awkward hours depending on the time zone you live in.
- You always have to worry about WIFI or Internet speed. If you decide to travel while teaching online be prepared to be constantly on the look out for fast WIFI. You will find that often times your hostel or hotel WIFI won’t be able to properly handle a Skype call or your company’s software.
- It’s not like teaching in a traditional classroom. While you must like teaching in order to teach online, not all teachers will like teaching online. Some people find it difficult to connect to students via webcam, while others find the idea of Skyping with strangers to be awkward.
Not all teaching online jobs are created equal.
Just like teaching in traditional classroom settings, not all jobs teaching online are created equal. It may seem more difficult to tell the difference between online opportunities, but there are two major differences between most jobs teaching English online.
Jobs teaching English online often fall into one of two camps:
- You will represent their company and must be available during certain hours. This is more like a traditional teaching gig. You will be required to have more qualifications and adhere to certain working hours. Often times you will meet with different students at random depending on their schedule and your schedule. This kind of opportunity is more stable than the kind listed below. Companies that offer this kind of work include VIPKID and Education First.
- You will be more like an independent contractor. While you might be interviewing with a company to teach on their site, it will be your responsibility to gain and maintain clients based on your portfolio and success ratings. While you will have more control over the hours you work and you won’t have to have as many qualifications, your income will be a lot less stable. Companies that offer this kind of opportunities include Cambly and Verbling.
You will have to do a little background research to figure out which one is which, because from the job advertisements they post online they look almost identical. Decide which one works best for you and then try to find those opportunities!
Even though teaching online may seem like a great opportunity for college graduates who want to be location independent, there are a lot of things to consider before seeking out online opportunities.
If this is your first time teaching, opt for teaching in the traditional setting first to see if you like it before trying it online. This will give you more confidence in your “classes” and lesson planning.
Most of all, be wary of the kind of opportunities you apply for: be sure to only seek out the kind of job opportunities that would be best for you and your schedule.
Words by Dara Denney.