The ESL business is booming; as the $63 billion dollar industry continues to grow, native teachers are becoming more and more in demand. China, especially, with its ever-rising middle class and shifting attitudes to the global market, have more children needing English tuition than they know what to do with.
The internet, it seems, is the answer.
Companies connecting native speakers with this increasing mass of eager students are fervently hiring to fill these gaps in the market. Many teachers unsatisfied, overworked and underpaid in their bricks-and-mortar home-country jobs are realizing that online holds the key to the work-life balance they’re looking for.
For many though, the question is this: is the pay comparable to my existing job? And the answer (for most) is YES. If you’re savvy and organized (and take on board the tips below) it’s more than possible to earn a full-time wage working considerably fewer hours than you’re already on. Let’s explore in more detail:
According to a recent Global Teacher Status Index survey, UK teachers claimed to work 51 hours a week on average. That’s longer and undoubtedly harder than 32 out of the 35 countries who took part in the survey - only New Zealand, Singapore, and Chile beat the UK for the dubious titles of the most exhausted educators on the planet. It’s no wonder that teachers - not only in the UK but across the world - are looking for alternatives.
To show the basics of what you can earn from a very part-time position teaching English online, I compare the hours and the salary of a teacher working a remote position (in this case with Whales English, but there are other schools paying comparable wages) to a bricks-and-mortar UK teaching position. As you can see, the hourly rate is considerably higher online:
*based on $20 an hour (about average for a new-start teacher at Whales, can go up to around $30 depending on qualifications and experience) This includes current bonuses and calculated at the current exchange rate.
The above, though, is just the beginning. With a little planning, a little research and a decent dose of online savvy, you could double this salary and more while still working less than full-time hours. Here are my tips for maximizing your earnings and online teaching potential:
Do Your Research and Be Discerning
Just like in any other profession, there is a dearth of options out there, and there is bound to be a school (or a combination of schools) to suit your hours, your qualifications, and your salary requirements. Hitting those higher figures will, of course, be determined by how many hours you can feasibly work based on your commitments and time-zone, and also how well those available hours can be filled by the school (or schools) you have chosen.
I personally chose Whales English on the basis that they; paid better than any of the schools I’d spoken to, had hours that fit my preferred schedule, and from what I could tell from my online research, most teachers were being booked on a full and consistent basis. This booking rate really varies from school to school and also on the time of year, so try to talk to a teacher currently working to get a good idea of the situation.
Find out too about bonuses, incentives, and teacher referral schemes; these little additions can add a substantial stack of cash to your salary each month, and help you to achieve that full-time salary while working infinitely more humane hours. For some of the bigger companies, some teachers are doubling their income on referrals alone. If you have a vast social network and the gift of the gab, it’s worth taking these higher referral fees into consideration when cherry-picking your school.
Create a Top-Notch Demo and a Killer Teacher Profile
Once you’ve found The School - the one with which the stars perfectly align - it’s time to make that application and try to win yourself that coveted higher hourly salary. It’s not to be underestimated how crucial this stage is, and how prepared you should be to show them what you’re made of.
Read ALL of the materials they send (skimming won’t cut it), prepare the demo lesson within an inch of its life (a material-appropriate reward system really helps), and do your research about what the school is looking for. Many of the bigger employers have hundreds of teachers on Instagram and Youtube showcasing their skills and giving instructions on how to create the perfect demo class. The idea is not to copy but to inspire you to make something special out of the teaching materials.
Once you’ve shown off your talents and bowled them over, either you will be assigned classes by the school or asked to create a Teacher Profile. This usually includes a headshot, a short bio, and that dreaded introduction video. Remember: if this is the way your contract is written then it’s this profile that parents choose from, so be clever when deciding what to present. A professional, but friendly, image and a well-thought-out (and edited) intro can make or break in terms of bookings. Again, scour the internet, brush up your editing skills, and make that first impression count.
Open Up Those Hours
You’ve wowed the recruiters, you’ve honed your profile; now’s the time to finalize the details and sign the contract. Hopefully, you’ve thought about your hours already, but before you sign on the dotted line, there are a few factors to consider.
For those of you in the UK, these decisions are made a little easier - China is ESL’s star recruiter, and their peak hours (6-9pm BJT) translate to a very life/sleep/family-friendly 10am-1pm (GMT). Unless circumstances prevent, making yourself available for these hours will greatly improve your booking rate, and may even secure a more coveted contract. Teachers who can work on short notice during those peak-times are hard to come by, so make the most of your time zone and free yourself up (if possible) for those peak-time hours.
Across the pond in the US, things are a little more complex (read: tiring). Depending on where you’re based (and unless you find work with time zones other than China), you will be pulling early/very early mornings regularly. The East Coast is more favorable, with a 6 am start, whereas the West is 3 hours behind. Californians, that means a 3 am wake-up call, so it’s best to be realistic about whether that’s possible for you, and if so how you’ll make it work.
Many teachers start out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, only to find 3 months later that their enthusiasm and zest for life is dwindling. Teaching children is tiring work, and keeping them engaged during the morning’s wee hours is no mean feat; be realistic about your own energy levels and stamina to prevent from burn out and further loss of income. There are online schools which allow you to set your schedule week-on-week, and these can help to manage your time (and your sleep!) to keep you sane and on top teaching form.
Create Something Profitable to Do in your Down Time
Such is the nature of online teaching, there will be no-shows, unbooked slots, and unexpected periods of downtime. I have seen teachers become irate at the lower rate of pay during these breaks in employment, so it’s best to be aware that they’re par for the course and to plan for them accordingly if you’re keen to secure that full-time salary.
This involves a little foresight on your part; predicting the ebbs and flows of the company you work for (being aware of national holidays and scheduled breaks, for example), and filling the gaps either with other teaching work or other online jobs to avoid wasted time between lessons.
For many of you, this side-hustle will be glaringly obvious. Perhaps you’re a freelance writer, and you know how to wrangle some sentences to make a few bucks. Or you’re a pro at transcription, translation, sub-editing, or some other linguistic service that’s in demand with employers - that’s the way you should go. For those without a clear sense of how to pad out your hours, take a look at your interests. Many people are making money crafting and selling their wares on the internet, or turning their passion into blogs and making money that way.
Diversifying your teaching portfolio (working for more than one school, if your contract allows) may be the best option, though, in terms of really making your income secure and also in helping you to gain more experience and expertise. Work outside of Chinese peak hours is hard to come by, but companies that partner with the government to provide Chinese schools with native tuition do exist, as do companies dealing with other nations.
So do your research, broaden your teaching horizons, and bookend your main hours with some additional income. Chances are, you’ll still be working part-time hours, with zero commute, no office politics, while bringing home that full rate of pay.