I never planned on becoming an ESL teacher and it was always supposed to be a side job while I finished my degree. I studied translation and I was certain that I would graduate with a job in the field. However, machine translation software and sites such as DeepL and Lingue had started rising in popularity. I soon came to realize that the chances of graduating with a job in translation would be slim due to that.
Nevertheless, I fell in love with teaching English online a few months after I started, and I soon realized that it was something that I could see myself doing long-term and even turn into a career. I was motivated by the interaction with the students and teaching felt natural to me. I found that teaching English was more rewarding and challenging than translation had ever been.
About the Author: Manuela Stef completed the online TESOL certification course with OnTESOL and she is currently teaching English online with a language school based in Laval, Quebec, Canada.
No Commute, More Income!
The biggest benefit of teaching English online is the opportunity to work from home. This is something that I particularly appreciate during the Canadian winter when I don’t need to drive on the icy roads to get to work.
Job stability and higher net income are also attractive for online ESL teachers. I’m based in a small Canadian city without a major ESL industry, so teaching online allows me to apply for work with ESL companies from all over the world. Furthermore, after taking into account the savings from the commute, I earn more than I would teaching ESL in the classroom.
Lastly, I teach English one-to-one and it allows me to focus 110% of my attention on the student I have in front of me. In return, the students feel more at ease because the class goes at their pace.
The Challenges of Teaching English Online
That being said, teaching online still comes with its challenges. First is the time zone difference. It takes a while to get used to the early mornings and, depending on whether or not you are an early bird, it does become difficult in the long run.
Another big challenge is the language barrier. Most of the online ESL companies are based in Asia. In most cases, students do not speak English when they first start taking online lessons unless they are older, so they speak in Mandarin quite a bit. The students sometimes forget that not all teachers understand nor speak Mandarin. Student misbehavior can result from language barrier issues. If they have something they are trying to communicate in their first language, they become frustrated.
It’s also clear that some students do not want to take lessons and that their parents force them. As a result, when these students are older, they quickly figure out that if they simply don’t listen to their teacher and speak Mandarin or gibberish, there isn’t much the teacher can do.
The Rewards of Being an ESL Teacher
The biggest reward of becoming an ESL teacher is seeing how students learn to use the English language. Sometimes their level is so low that they don’t know the alphabet or how to say anything other than “yes” when they first start. Over time, these students become confident readers and speakers and we, as teachers, get to witness all this amazing progress.
Lessons From Teaching English Online
The greatest lesson I have learned is that patience is invaluable. Because online ESL teachers will have their face right on the computer screen, students can immediately pick up on any signs of impatience. When I have a three-year-old student or a student with disabilities, keeping a big smile on my face and patiently repeating as many times as necessary is the best way to go.
Advice to Prospective Online ESL Teachers
To start off, think about this: how many hours are you willing to put in every month? Are willing to sacrifice some sleep in the mornings because of the time zone difference? Is this not something you see yourself handling well in the long run?
I also suggest learning L1 to make the students feel more at ease. I have learned to ask in Mandarin what students like/dislike doing, eating, and so on. In addition, I have learned to ask for their names and ages. I have also learned to ask, “what is this?” in Mandarin. On occasion, I encourage using L1 in the online classroom because students become more comfortable if they don’t understand my questions in English.
Last but not least, make sure to invest in a TESOL / TEFL certification that will teach you valuable lesson planning skills and ESL teaching methodologies to make your classes interactive and improve student behavior. The online TESOL courses offered by OnTESOL are academically equivalent to CELTA, so you don’t need to spend $2,500 on a TESOL course if your plan is to teach English online.
Recommended TESOL certification package for online ESL teachers: Combine the 120-hour Advanced TESOL with the 20-hour Teaching English Online specialist. Save CA$199 / US$150 on the specialist course for online ESL teachers when you register in the 120-hour TESOL course with OnTESOL!
Applying for Online ESL Teaching Jobs
Use props if you are applying to teach English to young learners! I used plenty of props during my demo lesson because kids like props and potential candidates are usually demoing with a recruiter pretending to be a five-year-old.
Total physical response (TPR)is something that the recruiter pays a lot of attention to during the demo, so ensure to use a lot of it. TPR plays a major role into whether or not you get accepted and which base pay you are offered. Moreover, learn the slides as much as possible beforehand.
Sign up to the OnTESOL Job Board to find recent online ESL teaching jobs.