How I Got Started Teaching English Online

Learn what it’s like being an online ESL teacher, how to start teaching ESL online, and what the requirements are to do so.

The beginning of an online ESL teaching journey

Last summer, my career hit an unexpected hurdle. I had been teaching at my local university for two years in the English as a Second Language department. We had a steady influx of students throughout the year and there were a lot of classes to be taught.

However, as the spring semester came to a close, the enrollment numbers for the summer were not looking good. Too many students were taking the summer off to travel, and others were returning home to be with their families during Ramadan. Our department had too many teachers and not enough students to teach!

I was in a panic because I had living expenses, bills, and student loans that needed to be paid. I couldn’t wait and just teach the few classes I was given. I decided to be proactive; I wasn’t going to fight over the few classes available. I wanted to guarantee that I could make it through the summer with enough cash to pay everything and live comfortably.

I decided to rent out my house for the summer and head to South America. Medellin, Colombia was one of my bucket-list destinations, and flights were relatively inexpensive. The perfect weather, liveliness of the city, and low cost of living made it the perfect summer destination. I decided to sublease a room in an apartment for the summer in the center of the city, but I needed to quickly find a way to make money to cover the rent.

As short-term work was hard to find and my Spanish was limited, I decided to enroll in Teaching Nomad’s Learn to Teach ESL Online course.  I have 10 years of classroom ESL experience, but I had never taught online before. This course gave me all the tools I needed to be a successful online teacher and helped me land a job within a week!

After completing the course, I knew exactly what to expect, what tools I would need to be a successful teacher, and the course even helped me create the perfect introduction video to help me land a job! I went through the hiring process for VIPKID and was working within a week.  I made $500 USD in my first month and even more in my second month after I got the hang of teaching English online.

Teaching Chinese students online was a great experience. Here are a few quick takeaways everyone should know about teaching English online:

There are basic requirements to teach online

People who wish to teach online will need a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in any subject and be a native English speaker from an English-speaking country.

Additional requirements could include relevant teaching experience, a TEFL certificate, and a criminal background check.

You will need to meet technical requirements as well including owning a headset and microphone, have at least 4 Mbps download speed, and have 4 Mbps upload speed.

There are peak times in China

Many of the classes offered will be in the evenings in China Standard Time. This is because most of the students you will be teaching work with online instructors to complete their homework. The students I taught all had a book that they worked out of at their public school and completed assignments online with their instructor.

Students will complete their homework after school from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. China Standard Time. You can use this handy time converter to find out when the peak times would be where you are living. For those living in the Western Hemisphere, your classes will all be in the early mornings. Eastern Standard Time is exactly 12 hours behind China Standard Time.  5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. in China means classes start from 5:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.

There are minimum hours to complete

To be hired as an online English teacher, you must commit to at least 6 hours per week during the peak hours for Chinese students. You can certainly take on more classes, but you have to maintain the minimum requirement for lessons each week.

There are rewards and penalties

Teaching online comes with some great bonus opportunities as well as some frustrating penalties. Teachers who go above and beyond can earn a monthly bonus of 5% of their earnings if they have a perfect class attendance record for the month. If you teach more than 50 classes in one month, the incentive increases to 10%.

Teachers can also get bonuses based on ratings from parents. This rating scale is similar to Uber or Lyft where you have a running score of 5 stars. Anywhere between 4.5 – 5.0 stars will earn you an additional bonus of 5%.

Conversely, teachers can face a penalty if they do not show up for a class or have a low rating from the parents. Missing just one class will mean that your bonus is automatically taken away. In addition, not only will you lose the money on the class but $3.00 will be deducted from your paycheck.

It is important to make sure that you are ready to teach 10 minutes before your class starts!

Substitute teaching is a great way to earn extra cash

As much as the online English teaching companies want to have perfect attendance from all their teachers, there are ALWAYS teachers who do not show up. If a teacher does not check-in 10 minutes before the class starts, the class automatically gets offered to their pool of teachers. By knowing when the peak teaching hours take place and being prepared, you can almost certainly pick up extra classes.  

This is a great way to make even more money, on top of what you make from your regularly scheduled classes. By taking the course that I took, you will learn exactly how to teach all different levels and be ready to take on any course that comes your way as a substitute teacher.

Teaching English online is fun and easy

I really enjoyed my time teaching English online. I had classes with some fun and energetic kids who enjoyed having classes with me. They were usually very engaged and motivated to go through their lessons. Many students were eager to show off the work that they completed in school, whether it was a drawing, a song, or a dance that they learned. The students make the time fly by and knowing that you are helping them with their homework and building English skills for their future makes a huge difference.

I was glad that I took the Learn to Teach ESL Online course and I would recommend it to anyone interested in teaching online. It helped prepare me for setting up my virtual classroom, addressing common issues with Chinese students, and finding a job where I could work on my own schedule and make money doing so.

Online ESL teaching jobs


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