There are loads of benefits to teaching English in a classroom, but now that online teaching is becoming increasingly popular, it's worth considering this as another way to earn a living while you trot around the globe.
According to the British Council there are roughly 1.5 BILLION (yes, you read that correctly...BILLION!) English-language learners world wide. The Internet gives you access to ESL teaching jobs, no matter where you are. And it's all right at your fingertips.
If you have the proper qualifications (a Degree and a TESOL or TEFL Certificate), then you are already halfway there.
Before you get too excited and start applying for every online teaching gig available, let's calm down, take a breath, step back, and have a DMC (deep and meaningful conversation) about some of the hard truths of teaching ESL online vs. in a classroom.
As a freelancer, you can do what you want, when you want — and this doesn't work for everyone. Some folks perform and thrive in a more structured environment and routine. Too much freedom and no self-discipline can be a recipe for disaster. Are you new beach buddies meeting at that swanky cocktail bar on the South Beach for sundowners right at the time that those cute Chinese kids are logging in for online classes? If you miss a class, your ranking goes down, your pay goes down, your rep goes down.
Check your time zones, make your coffee, make another coffee, crack a few cans of Monster Energy Drink, and you're good to go.
The average time difference between the US and China is around 12-15 hours. If the kids are logging in at 3 pm in China - you're going to be teaching at 3 am if you live in California.
You'll have to mentally prep yourself if you are dealing with obscure work hours. For some this might not be a con at all - some of us are night owls (he types as he sips his tea at 2 am).
Depending on the online-learning/teaching agency you work for, you might have to get used to a whole new workflow and method of tracking classes, lessons, students, etc.
If you're just starting out teaching English online, it might be wise to do it as a side gig and not rely on it as your primary source of income. It may be slow to start, but once you have regular students, you can hook them with your charm and on-camera whimsy and shine in the virtual classroom.
As an online, freelance ESL teacher, you work for an agency and get paid for the number of actual teaching hours you do. You're basically on pay-per-view. If no one is viewing you (maybe your student keeps canceling), you ain't getting paid. You might have a great month and wrack up some good hours and make $2,000. Cha-ching! You get excited, plan a few mini-adventures and trips, a lush lunch at the fancy-schmancy bistro on the beach with your friends and hop onto that online shop and get that shirt you've been eyeing in ALL the colors but then something goes wrong.
Maybe the next month is exam-time in your student's country. Fewer students are signing up for lessons because they have to devote their time to passing their Math and Chinese exams - and the next month's income is somewhat less lucrative.
Students take extra-curricular online classes for the same reason that you teach them. They are convenient. If the online courses become inconvenient, they're usually the first thing to go.
The major benefit of teaching English in a brick and mortar classroom is that you will likely receive perks from your employer. Housing, a work visa, health insurance, to name a few standard ones.
If you teach ESL online, you will probably have to figure those things out yourself.
It's doable, but more responsibility falls directly on you. Now it's time to start adulting a bit harder (it's 2020 people - adulting is a verb now - get with the times).
It's no secret that applying for a work visa in a country like China can be an intense process of paperwork and authentications and trips back and forth to consulates and embassies. If the thought of applying for a work visa stresses you out, search countries that provide freelance permits or allow you more extended periods of stay on a tourist visa.
If you're studying abroad or working with a volunteer program, there shouldn't be any conflict teaching online. If you work for a brick and mortar school, it might be wise to double-check that your contract doesn't have any clauses that restrict you from teaching with another institution. I've honestly never heard of this being a problem before - but better safe than sorry...or, alternatively, learn to fly under the radar and keep it on the down-low.
It is all about the cost of living to income balance. If you make on average $20 per hour, which is typical for most of the top Chinese online agencies, you need to manage your money carefully.
$20 per hour may seem like a lot if you're a fresh grad, but teaching online does not mean you are working 40 hours a week. It's all about choosing whether you're in it for the lifestyle or the money. If you want to earn big money teaching online - you're going to be putting in serious screen time. If it's more about the lifestyle for you - start getting used to having a budget.
And let's not forget The Man - Mr. Taxman! Wherever you live, you will need to be aware of tax laws, report to your home country, and might have to look into hiring someone to help you manage the whole Income Tax shebang. Freelancing can be a bit of a P in the A when the time comes to pay the government.
Getting a bit jealous when you check Instagram and your friends are all posting pics of their adorable kids painting pictures in class and bringing in gifts on Teachers Day? You won't admit it, but you're a little green about it. While you're sitting at your desk in your quiet apartment (and haven't been out the door in hours), they are working hands-on with their students and having a blast. You may WANT to work in a classroom abroad and have that personal relationship and connection with your students.
GET OUT OF BED AND OUT YOUR HOUSE. Do not fall into the routine of teaching from the bed and only getting up for a sip of water or bathroom break. Working from home or your Airbnb is fantastic, but you have to get out. Go towards the light, outside - where the air moves. Go hangout with or make new friends - even if you can't force another smile after six back to back classes of being an awesome, engaging, enthusiastic online personality.
Without a stable and reliable internet connection, you aren't teaching.
You will need to have a PLAN A, B, and C for those times when the Wifi in the charming Airbnb you're staying at isn't "as advertised." Forget trying to teaching in coffee-shop with public Wifi connections. Online teachers should have an additional source of WIFI or phone or tablet that can generate a Wifi Hot Spot (keep your account topped up, so you don't run out of data!). Sure, you might find a quiet corner of a Starbucks at a quiet time and be all good to go - but what if there aren't any plug sockets nearby? Run out of juice halfway through a class, and you're not getting paid for the session. Before you start your job, make sure you understand the contract for when these things happen and know how to deal with it accordingly.
Technology can be your best friend when things are going well and your worst nightmare when it doesn't. The Webcam won't connect, your audio isn't working, your connection is slow...the list goes on and on (and we've all had the struggles before).
Needing to be animated, exude energy and enthusiasm and engage the excited little faces on a screen can take its toll. It takes a LOT of self-discipline to turn on that camera when you aren't feeling it, but it's worth it. Teaching from home might seem like the dream - but remember you're waking up at work, going to bed at work, eating lunch at work - living in your work-space. It can take a lot of mental agility to separate home and work. One of the best ways to combat feeling trapped is to set up a specific work-space. A designated area of your home (or Airbnb) that mentally puts you "in the zone" when you're working.
Now that I've given you a bit of reality check on some of the challenges of teaching online - it's not just a walk in a Singapore park - let's take a look at some of the genuinely enticing Pro's to teaching through online platforms.
As a freelancer, you can do what you want, when you want — well, almost. Teaching online is a great way to earn a salary and chase the Digital Nomad lifestyle we see popping up all over Instagram. You can usually set your hours, balance multiple jobs, and relax on a beach during your five-hour lunch breaks if that's what you want. You aren't tied down to a desk and can have a lot more "me time".
While some online teaching jobs have a minimum scheduling requirement, others give you full leisure to work as you please. Who knows, if you get enough experience and genuinely want to be on your own, you can ditch the agencies and create your online teaching classroom and curriculum through Skype or Zoom. It's really up to you!
Teaching ESL online vs. in a classroom means that you can hop all over the planet at your own pace. Whether you want to wander the globe from one week to the next, or shack-up in your favorite city in some exotic country, live and volunteer on a farm, or move back in with your parents, you're in control. The only things that you need to take into consideration are time zones and access to reliable WIFI. Even if plans change and you found a dirt-cheap flight to South Korea or you you want to go back home and spend some QT with the fam, it's all in your hands.
Teaching online can be your side gig - and it's probably a good idea to start as a part-timer until you're sure you enjoy it. Depending on where you live, you may make more money teaching English online vs. classroom teaching. In some countries, you could work half the hours as a regular classroom job and still make more money while saving cash for more adventures! If that's the case, you will also have more free time to volunteer, take language or cooking or yoga classes, and write that novel all while enjoying a chill, no-strings-attached lifestyle. Don't assume this will always be the case as it all depends on the cost of living in your destination(s) of choice.
You may have some classes before the crack of dawn, or maybe today, your first class is at three in the afternoon, and you slept in super late after a night out with the crew. It's all good. Get up, grab a coffee, splash some cold water on your face, and put on a clean shirt - you're good to go. Do I need to point out that trousers aren't on the list? This is a huge advantage when you're teaching from the waist up...
...let's just leave it at that, so it doesn't get creepy.
The point is that you're never going to have to leave an hour and a half early to haul ass across town and make it to school on time. You will never have to worry about getting stuck in traffic again!
Although you may love the little kiddos and be excited to decorate your classroom, there are also parts of teaching abroad that can be hard to adjust to. After all, you are immersing yourself in a whole new culture and it's up to you to adapt - it's all part of the adventure. If you are teaching online, you won't have to deal with in-person classroom or school politics that can turn you into a pro at the subtle eye-roller.
You know that sad feeling on a Sunday evening when time seems to move faster than it's ever moved before and you're racing towards Monday like The Road Runner (beep beep!) ?
Well, that doesn't have to be the case for an online ESL teacher. You may opt for a structured routine, or you may want something a little more flexi-time and plan for leniency. Hello, leisurely breakfasts and slow-sipping cappuccino's on Monday mornings...or afternoons...if that's when you decide to roll out of bed.
Even though you aren't in a traditional classroom, you still have the power to make an impact. Whether you're singing the ABCs or having conversational lessons with adults, you're their teacher and have the responsibility of delivering the best possible student experience. Do it and love it and know that the flipped classroom is where it's at these days! If you're EXTRA good, you may get invited to meet your students in person and can prep for even more exciting adventures abroad.
Teaching online and living life as a digital nomad means you've got the world in the palm of your hand. Want to go to Vietnam next week? Book a flight, grab your computer, and go! It's ok to wonder, "are online teaching jobs legitimate" as it can seem too good to be true. But there are thousands of online teachers working abroad and making it work.
Regardless of whether you teach in a classroom or if you want to teach online, the most important thing is to do it right! Go into class, or turn on your computer, and have fun. Enjoy your students, and don't just opt for the job that seems easier. Both options have their own set of challenges, but both can get you an impressive collection of stamps in your passport from exotic locations and truly memorable life experiences!