Teaching English Online — Everything You Need to Know

Every year more than 1.5 billion students take some sort of English class. Most of you will find that unsurprising given the abundance of traditional ESL jobs, but what you might not know is that the ability to work from home, or telecommute, has risen nearly 80% since 2005. Where these two figures meet has created a new and fast-growing industry — teaching English online.

What Is Teaching English Online?

In a nutshell, teaching English online is simply giving lessons virtually, or over an internet connection as opposed to in a classroom. With a few differences (which will be explained in more detail below), the classes follow the same format and retain the same goals — to improve the abilities of your students. And while this type of learning wasn’t possible just a few years ago, recent technological advances have resulted in eLearning being predicted to earn more than $240 billion dollars by 2023.

There are two main types of employers when it comes to teaching English online — those that provide you with students and those where you create a profile. The former is just what it sounds like; you interview based on your experience and the school determines who and what you will teach. VIPKid is probably one of the most popular companies for this style. The latter is more of a free-for-all, anyone can create a teaching profile on one of these sites and students ‘shop’ for the best teacher for their needs. While having the school provide students is much more stable, teachers with a good profile (positive feedback, free demo classes, multiple pictures, detailed information) can often make more money over time since you usually set your own rates.

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What Are The Benefits for Online English Teachers?

If you’re like many of the classroom teachers that I know, you’re probably wondering why you should switch to online teaching.  The cliche answer is that it depends on what you’re looking for, but I’ll break down three of the biggest benefits I’ve noticed so far.

  • More Time and Greater Flexibility: Teaching online means no more commuting, fewer inflexible schedules, and the ability to work from anywhere there’s internet. Long gone are the days of cursing the traffic on your way to work, instead you can teach from your home office or hotel room. Also, since many employers allow you to set your own schedule, it’s unlikely you’ll be locked into anything too inconvenient.
  • Extra Money: Teaching English online is even an option for those who don’t want to abandon the classroom completely. Since the world is your classroom, most teachers have no problem finding students willing to learn on their schedules and many make a good bit of extra money doing so.
  • More Independence: Assuming you commit yourself to teaching online full time, you’ll likely find yourself with more freedom when it comes to materials and lesson plans. This can be a curse to newer teachers, but even those with less experience can appreciate the chance to get creative with their lessons and curriculum.

teaching english online

What Are Some of the Drawbacks?

Unfortunately, it’s not all peaches and cream when it comes to teaching English online. The environment is quite different than in the classroom and there are some definite hurdles that teachers might have to overcome.

    • Technical Difficulties: Forget about broken projectors and slow smart boards, online lessons are easily derailed by faulty microphones, slow computers, or spotty internet.  And if you don’t know how to troubleshoot them on the fly, your whole lesson might be at risk. Don’t worry, we’ll take a look at how to combat these later on.
    • Lack of Communication or Motivation: The fact that you might be thousands of miles away from some of your students is going to affect how you communicate with them on all levels. How you interact with different learning types is going to need to be reconsidered when you’re unable to break off and provide some 1 on 1 help.
    • Unusual Schedules: While most teachers have no problem finding a schedule that works for them, others might be frustrated that they are now working odd hours. If your potential students are on the other side of the world, make sure you are ok with working an irregular schedule in order to accommodate them.  
    • Hourly Pay: Almost every job is going to pay you hourly, which is great if you are just trying to earn extra money, but stressful if you are transitioning from a full time salaried position. However, there are plenty of schools to work for so if you are concerned about money feel free to teach for more than one!

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How Can You Get Started?

It’s best to start with an Online TEFL Certification course so you can be fully prepared for both the online learning environment and how to best teach your classes. Then, the process for finding and applying for online teaching positions is the same as any other ESL job: find a job, apply, interview, and hopefully receive an offer. Many of the same sites known for classroom positions are also advertising for online teachers, so simply start browsing, find one you like (and that you are qualified for), and submit your CV or application.

Almost every position will pay hourly (even full time ones) and offer anywhere from $10-$22 per hour. While more senior and better paying positions do exist, they are not that common yet. The requirements for most jobs are also similar to those you would find in a normal teaching position:

That’s not to say a non-native speaker with no experience can’t get a job, but it’s not what most online schools prefer and the pay will reflect that. Also, due to the virtual nature of the job, expect schools to ask some questions about your computer and internet:

  • Internet speed
  • Computer type, age, available RAM, processor
  • Ability to troubleshoot any issues that arise during a lesson
  • Email availability throughout the day

These may seem trivial to you, but make sure you know them (as well as any others mentioned in the job ad) since employers need to make sure your computer is compatible with their software.

If you’re looking for some jobs to apply for now, or just some more information, check out these well-established schools:

What Are Some of the Main Differences Between Online and Classroom Teaching?

teaching english online

Do not make the mistake of thinking that the transition from physical to virtual classroom is easy. Yes, the subjects are the same, but the environments are completely different and require a different approach.

    • Focus on Verbal Communication: Teaching from a computer can pose challenges to teachers who are used to using the whole classroom to get a point across. You are now restricted to a much smaller space and people who are more animated might find it hard to adjust at first. To compensate, focus on your verbal communication and consider typing up and displaying your talking points so students can follow along. If you’re teaching a lower level class, it’s a good idea to save some images to refer to while you teach.
    • Modify Your Rules and Policies: A new teaching environment brings a new set of challenges and questions. Make sure to spend some time during the first class or classes explaining how work will be assigned, how it should be turned in, how to ask a question, and how to contact the teacher if needed. Making sure the students understand your expectations of them will reduce the questions and wasted time throughout the term.
    • Prepare for the Worst: While not ideal, there will likely come a time when you or a student has an issue that prevents them from attending class. It could be technical or personal in nature, but you need to have set guidelines on how to inform the rest of the class and minimize everyone’s frustrations. For example, if someone has internet trouble and is unable to attend class, they should send you an email as soon as they are able. In addition, if you teach 1 on 1, set a time limit for how long you will wait for a student to log on for their lesson. Having these clearly written out and explained will not only prevent headaches on how to handle issues, but also arguments arising from missed classes or work.

Despite the popularity of teaching English online, the industry itself is very new with schools still figuring out where they fit in the market and how best to utilize willing teachers. Because of this and the differences between teaching online vs. in the classroom, it is my advice that interested teachers start small with a part-time job to test the waters before diving in. Hopefully some of the advice in this post can help guide you and I’d love to hear any thoughts or questions you might have in the comments!


Quincy is a former teacher and the founder of ESL AuthorityImages from Pixabay.