If social media is anything to go by, the online ESL industry is absolutely inundated with stay at home mums (and dads) who are evangelical about the perks of working from the comfort of their back-bedroom. Having cottoned on to the fact that this industry provides a fantastic way to save money on childcare costs while being present as their children grow, there is no stopping these people from passing on their referral links and glowing reviews of their chosen online school.
If like me, you’re in the midst of impending parenthood (or you already have children of your own) you might be paying close attention to these people, trying to gauge how genuine the reviews really are. Are the schools as flexible as they say? How are these people supposedly making so much money? How on earth is that mother from California with a newborn child pulling her third consecutive all-nighter? And is it really all it’s cracked up to be?
Below are profiles of 4 online teachers (one myself) from different backgrounds and set-ups, with varying support networks and levels of assistance to find out the real deal when it comes to parenthood, pregnancy, and online teaching. I wanted to know how they actually make it work while raising their children, what the job really entails for them, and the advantages and disadvantages of educating on the World Wide Web.
Meet The Teachers
I’m Kirsty; a soon-to-be first-time mum and online teacher living in the UK. My educational background is in linguistics and I’ve spent a few years teaching in classrooms across Vietnam, and around 6 months teaching online. This job came just at the right time for me; I found out I was pregnant not long after I began teaching online, and it’s been a godsend in terms of helping me to manage the morning sickness, fatigue and generally trying to prepare for becoming a mother.
I currently work for Whales English teaching children in China, and for Cambly teaching adults across the world. I have another school in the pipeline to fill my hours around these 2 jobs. As mentioned, it’s been a really positive experience so far with these companies, and it’s allowed me to feel much more hopeful about returning to work once I am ready and able after the birth of my child. It was a little difficult to manage with the sickness at first, but the part-time nature of the job allowed me to get rest as and when I needed it.
I am very thankful that I started this process while pregnant; I would advise any soon-to-be parent to get cracking with recruitment and learning the ropes as soon as you can. I imagine that trying to juggle those aspects while dealing with a newborn would be really very difficult. Do your research about contract lengths and flexibility, and think about how you will manage childcare if and when you decide to return to work. I plan to take a few months off and then ease myself back into it gradually. My husband works from home a lot, so I will have that support, but when he’s not able to I plan to find an in-home childminder of some kind. Being just upstairs will allow me to still feel in control of my child’s care, while still making money for myself and my growing family.
I should imagine that the slightly insecure nature of the job (working remotely always has its risks) will be the main disadvantage, but there are ways you can protect yourself from this, such as doubling up on the companies that you work for and finding other means of income around the teaching work. There are ways and means of getting around these obstacles just as long as you’re savvy and making sure that you are one step ahead of the game in terms of planned changes to your main company.
If you’re pregnant and thinking of online teaching, I really recommend it. I believe it’s a fantastic way to support yourself as your child (or children) grow up; it will allow you some flexibility, and also some much-needed financial reward as your family’s budget becomes stretched for more than 2 people. Get started, get researching, and make the most of the abundance of opportunities there are out there.
Caite is a mum of two young children, presently 3 and 1 years old. She lives with her husband, kids, and dog in England, but towards the end of this year is taking her family traveling full-time in Europe. Her background is in teaching. Prior to working as an online ESL teacher, she studied her PGCE in Primary Teaching. Her priority is to provide her kids with every opportunity, to be able to see the world and experience new cultures first hand. It is of great importance to her that her children are brought up to be open and accepting of difference in a world where people are divided.
Caite decided to teach online when studying for her PGCE; Catherine had to make the difficult decision to send her 5-month-old daughter (at the time) into full-time nursery care. It was the most challenging period, only being able to see her daughter for 2 hours a day whilst studying hard in order to improve their future. It was at the end of her PGCE that she was about to give birth to her second child, and decided she could not send her kids away again just for work. Life is too short and time is limited with your kids; children grow up so quickly. She then found that it was possible to work from home and online. It wasn’t until 6 months later that she plucked the courage and applied for her first online teaching position and hasn’t looked back since.
Teaching online has been the best decision for her family. She has been able to match her income that she would have made as a newly qualified teacher, but instead of working 50 hours a week is only working 15-20. It is great being able to work only a couple of hours in the day and then having the rest of her time spent with her family. She also really does not miss the long commutes and rush hour traffic traveling to and from work, swapping 1 hour each way to 2 minutes.
The downside presently is being that she lives in the UK; peak working time is in the middle of the day as these are the peak hours for China. Catherine really loves taking her family for day trips out and she is unable to do this on the days she works.
For those looking to teach online, Catherine highly recommends considering what you can commit to, the age of your children and support you may require. She highlights she is very lucky in that her husband works night shifts presently, so is able to get up and look after their children whilst she teaches. With her children being so young, she admitted it would be incredibly difficult - near impossible - to teach 3 hours in a row without providing them with her undivided attention.
She says to consider whether you want to work set hours or wish to choose your hours on a weekly basis. It also can vary depending upon where you live. For example, being an online teacher in the UK can be perfect if you have school aged children as you can teach whilst they are attending school. Within the US, you can work prior to your children waking up on a morning. However, for those in PST, this could be as early as 3 am.
Catherine has shared that being able to continue her teaching career online has been completely life-changing. She has been able to be present for all her children’s firsts. She can plan trips out around her work and be wholly present for her young children. She feels very fortunate and has so much gratitude for the ability to be able to work from home.
As mentioned above, later this year, she will be the sole income earner whilst they take life on the road and travel full-time. She would not have the opportunity or be bringing in enough income solely to support her family if it wasn’t for teaching online. Her advice to others considering taking the plunge is to just go for it. What have you got to lose? If you don’t try, you will never know.
Next, we have Abdel who is a single father and teacher (both online and in-class) who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has been teaching for 15 years in French, ESL, and Arabic, and has a Masters degree in Language Acquisition. He has two children: Maria, 11 and Adam, 9.
Abdel is a hands-on father; he ‘showers them with love and affection, and their relationship is a very close and open one. He is firm but gentle. As a long-standing teacher, he really values the effect that a good home life can have; the education they receive there is more important than the one they get at school, he believes.
His motive for moving towards the online teaching world is mainly financial. As a single parent, his salary was not enough to cover the costs and working online has allowed him to increase his monthly salary without leaving the home and inconveniencing his children. Most of the disadvantages he finds working online are to do with him working in a brick-and-mortar school and not so much to do with having children; they are old enough that they can look after themselves while he teaches and they are understanding of the fact that this is his work and teaching online is just a natural extension of his current teaching job.
Younger children would undoubtedly be more challenging, although this will depend on the time difference, he says. His advice is to put your children first; concentrate on their needs and requirements, and find work around that. There are companies which fit most hours of the day, although if you can work peak time in China (6-9pm BJT) then this will help your chances of securing a decent salary. Other options are out there though, so if Chinese peak hours clash, then join one of the ESL online Facebook groups and start researching what’s available to you and your children's' hours.
Jordan is an online teacher and single mother from Northern California who has a 10-year-old boy who she raises herself. Her goals as a parent are to ‘encourage, empower and engage’ and she will push him to try anything that interests him. Having worked as a scientist and a researcher, encouraging her son to question everything and find answers himself is very important to her. Much like other families, they love to run 5ks, travel and eat out together when time allows.
Jordan decided to be an online teacher when her job in the Charlotte Mecklenburg public schools became too much to handle. She says ‘I honestly felt like nobody had the students’ best interests at heart. It was all very political and that was discouraging. I left and started teaching homebound students. I enjoyed it but my son was having a difficult time in school; the same schools I previously taught for. I started researching my options so I could move my family to a better school district and I found an ad for Rouchi (Whales English). Teaching online would allow me to move anywhere and that sounded fabulous!’
The main disadvantage with online teaching, Jordan finds, is the lack of benefits you can claim as a self-employed worker; there are no state healthcare or public retirement provisions like there are for public school teachers. Also, she finds that people are quick to judge the profession, and have little respect for the industry. Her advice on this front is to ‘ignore the ignorance or educate the haters’.
The advantages of teaching online more than make up for these shortfalls, she says. Jordan has plenty of time to get involved in her community and volunteer at her son’s school. She can go on field trips with his class, take him to his extracurricular activities and if she wishes, she’s fully able and ready to go if she wants to start her own business or work another job.
For any parents and would-be online teachers, Jordan suggests thinking of yourself as a brand when you’re first starting out. ‘Why should a child study with you? What makes you stand out from the other teachers?’ This will help you to differentiate yourself from the masses, gain a (hopefully) loyal following and build yourself up in terms of regular students to earn a reliable, secure income for you and your family.