What it's Like to Teach English Online: An Online Teacher Reveals Her Secrets!
Working as an ESL teacher can be difficult if you live in a Western country and you haven't undertaken a certain path during your university studies. As far as Italy is concerned, if you want to teach in a public school, you need to hold at least a Master's Degree in pedagogical studies and/or educational sciences. No matter how good an English speaker you are, you are required to own those specific degrees. If you want to teach in a private school, you have to take into account the fact that they prefer to hire native speakers â which is totally licit, to a certain extent. In addition to that, if you have no experience whatsoever in teaching in front of a class, you are basically hopeless. At that rate, you have two options: waiting for a stroke of luck or looking for something else.
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Asia is a wide pond of opportunities in this sense. On the other hand, Asia is not just round the corner and deciding to move there can be a hazard. I have found my equilibrium, for now, in teaching English to Chinese kids remotely. I have sent applications to several companies and at the moment I am working 14 hours a week during peak time, that is, 7 pm to 9 pm Beijing time, Mondays to Sundays. I only teach kids and the number of students per class can vary from one to five. Of course, teaching kids is not mandatory if you want to teach online - you may also end up having one-on-one classes with adults.
The demand strongly varies depending on the country you teach in. For example, if you want to work remotely for a Japanese company, you will find that the majority of online schools hire ESL teachers who are willing to teach adults, business English to Japanese businessmen and university students especially. On the contrary, if you want to work remotely for a Chinese company, you will most likely end up teaching kids. As a matter of fact, many Chinese families are nowadays willing to invest in extra-curricular English classes for their sons and daughters, so as to enhance their possibilities to study in prestigious foreign universities or work for international companies. It is easy to understand that different skills and teaching materials are required for these two different types of students.
Here is a list of the pros, cons and "must have" qualities concerning ESL online teaching. Please bear in mind that I am teaching Chinese kids at the moment, therefore my observations mostly stem from this experience.
Flexibility. Most companies do not hire full-time teachers, meaning that the amount of hours you teach every week allows you to work for someone else at the same time. For this reason, their contracts are rarely binding in that sense, so if you end up working for another online teaching company it will not be seen as "unfair competition".
Material. Most companies do provide readymade material for their teachers. You do not need to produce it yourself, you only need to check it before the class and prepare some useful props and/or pictures.
A different type of experience. Since it is a relatively new business, not many experienced teachers can say they have been working as online teachers for the Asian market.
Fast skills enhancement. Teaching online is different than teaching in a classroom, especially if we are talking about kids. Catching and keeping their attention throughout the lesson can be difficult and requires you to be extremely creative. The supervisor will acknowledge your efforts and you will feel like you have been learning something new every day.
Company support. Perhaps I have been lucky, but the company I'm working for provides 24/7 support to their teachers, especially during classes. If you face any issue, you can contact them immediately and they will reply to you as soon as they can.
Teaching time. Of course, it depends on the time zone you are living in and the peak hours during which you are required to be available, but you need to bear in mind that you might end up working at 5 am or 11 pm. However, companies state what their peak hours are in advance, so you usually have the possibility to make your considerations before applying for the job.
Flexibility. While it can be a pro, it can be a con as well. Sometimes you will not be able to teach the same amount of hours each month, resulting in a non-fixed wage.
No direct contact with the company. And, with this, I mean that you are not physically in the same place. If you face some issues, you need to communicate through a laptop and, sometimes, it can lead to misunderstandings.
Strict leave policies and tight competition. These schools receive a lot of applications every day, so they usually never run out of new teachers and substitutes. It might sound harsh to hear, but the world is not going to end for them if you decide to leave or if they are forced to fire you. For this reason, my suggestion is: always do your best and always be proactive. For example, if one day you are stuck in bed with a high fever and you cannot get up and teach a class, you need to take into consideration that the company might not believe you. It is not the rule, of course, but it might happen. So, since you are working from home, you might consider the idea of making an extra effort and teaching your classes as well, even if you would prefer to stay in bed.
The "social" aspect. There are people who are totally fine with working alone from home. As far as I am concerned, I sometimes miss commuting to work and having a chat with my colleagues during the coffee break!
Punctuality. Enter the virtual class five minutes in advance... it will be appreciated! Many companies will send you warning letters if you enter a class with a delay of one minute without a good reason.
Creativity. Okay, perhaps this point mostly refers to teaching children. You need to be funny and creative at all times, otherwise, they will get bored â they might decide to leave the class and give you negative feedback. Companies tend to be on the students' side, so you need to be careful during your performances. You need to bear in mind, though, that most companies record the lessons. It might sound annoying, while it is actually a great help for the teacher â in case a student gives you negative feedback you can discuss it with the company, referring to the recording.
Clean and bright environment. Some companies do not pay too much attention to that, but some others do. Teaching classes in front of a window, with the natural daylight, is optimal, but if you teach during the dark hours of the day or at night you should make sure you have a bright white artificial light in your room.
Smile, always. Even if you are going through the worst day of your life, you need to smile. Especially if you are working with kids. Take a deep breath and focus on the lesson. Singing songs with kids is good medicine, after all!
Excellent internet connection and laptop. Most of the times, companies will let you know the minimum requirements your laptop must have in order to be able to teach for them. If you do not own a proper device, they will most likely decline your application.
It goes without saying that some of these observations are also applicable to teaching in general, both online and on site. One final consideration I would like to make is the following: seeing online teaching as a long-term and fixed employment can be difficult. As I have mentioned, it is a relatively new business and most of these Asian schools are still trying to find their equilibrium themselves. This does not mean that it is impossible, though!
As far as I know, there are teachers who manage to make a living by teaching online. Like every other job, you need to work your way up the ladder and it is not going to be as easy as some might think. However, I believe that if you are interested in online teaching, you should at least give it a try. As I said, teaching English online is a great alternative way to find your path in the world of ESL teaching.
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