The Pros and Cons of Teaching ESL Online

The Pros and Cons of Teaching ESL Online
Being able to effectively work remotely is a skill in its own right. Image from Unsplash
Jane Thoma profile
Jane Thoma September 24, 2019

With an estimated billion (yes, billion) people learning English worldwide, you'll have an endless supply of teaching opportunities at hand. But you'll likely need certification first—and maybe a plan for tax season.

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No matter which social circles you run in, you’ve probably heard someone sing praises of working as an online ESL teacher. These jobs are flexible, let you create your schedule, and offer comfortable pay. Add on the benefit of working from home, and it’s a big part of why the field makes for an attractive full-time job or side hustle that doesn’t require you to drive strangers around or deliver pizza.

As an online ESL teacher, I’ve worked for an online teaching company for the past year to supplement my full-time job. It’s been an enjoyable experience, but stressful at times. Like any field, there’s a lot to consider before deciding whether the responsibilities of teaching remotely will work for your needs and interests. Use these factors to help make the call on whether the role is right for you.

The cons of teaching English online

1. Teaching qualifications can vary widely

Despite what you may have read online, online ESL teaching jobs are not easy for native speakers to land outright. While some platforms do not require certification, companies that pay well look for candidates with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, TEFL or CELTA certification, and some teaching experience. Generally, if a candidate passes a company’s initial screening, they must demonstrate desirable teaching methods and skills through a video or online interview.

2. Issues with teaching equipment can slash your income

ESL teachers depend on their laptop (or desktop computer), headset, and any other software to function successfully. If anything goes wrong, teachers can lose out on pay for a lesson to an indefinite amount of time, depending on how long the issue lasts and the cost of resolving it. If you run into a power outage, extreme weather, or any situation that causes connectivity issues, you may be marked absent for a lesson and incur fines until you can provide sufficient proof to your employer that the problem was out of your hands. If your computer, headset, or any other piece of equipment breaks, you’ll typically be responsible for replacing it out-of-pocket.

3. Employee benefits don’t exactly come with the job

If you decide to work for a company based out of a region where English is not the native language, you may experience difficulty communicating with any local staff who don’t have a great command of English. In which case, you’ll have to be very simple and clear in emails, and sometimes go back for an extended period, rephrasing your message until it gets across.

Additionally, though you may work for a company, you are technically a freelancer. This means that you’ll need to handle your finances so that you will have enough to cover your tax expenses, whether filing quarterly or annually. ESL teaching jobs generally do not offer maternity or paternity leave, company-sponsored healthcare, as well as 401(k) plans and unemployment benefits.

4. The lack of physical presence can be taxing

Working from home can be ideal for some, but it offers up many challenges for teachers. Your students may be logging in from a public space or as they travel. They may also be equipped with any number of distractions—toys, friends, pets, or even overeager parents. The inability to interact with them in person may require you to move and speak exaggeratedly, and use many visual aids on your end. This can be very strange to get used to at first, and downright tiring if you are under the weather, already working another job full-time, or the introverted type.

5. Your internal clock may take a hit

As an online ESL teacher, you’ll have opportunities to instruct students all over the world. If you work for a company based out of Asia, you may have to teach in the middle of the night or very early in the morning. Your students may cancel lessons unexpectedly due to illness, travel, holidays, or a variety of other reasons, which can be frustrating when you’ve already adjusted your sleep schedule to accommodate them.

The pros of teaching English online

1. The job outlook is solid

Countless companies have been created to meet the incredible demand for children and adults to participate in lessons with native English speakers. Jobs can range from less formal—where lessons arranged over Skype and paid through Paypal—to work with very large, established companies that have their own teaching platforms and employ thousands of teachers remotely. According to PayScale, ESL teachers pull in an average hourly pay of $20.41 with the potential for higher pay through an increase in experience and skills like curriculum and test planning, and early childhood education, among other areas of expertise.

2. Small class sizes boost student learning

Classes are often one-on-one, which is a perk for both teachers and students. This approach generally makes lessons easier to manage, letting you focus on a student’s specific needs and encourage them to communicate often. It also creates an environment in which you’ll be better able to gauge their progress and personalize students’ lessons and assignments to their interests and learning styles. Not to mention, you’ll virtually eliminate a student’s chances of being overstimulated or distracted by their peers.

ESL teachers can also pursue group instruction, which may be a preferable option for professionals with significant experience in the field. These classes benefit students who want to learn in a more social environment and stay motivated with the support of classmates.

3. Provided software makes it easy to start

Because this field is so large, companies provide teaching platforms for ESL teachers to utilize. They make instruction easy through active learning tools like multimedia flashcards and games like “fill in the blanks” and interactive features like customizable slideshows, chat and translation apps, and video conferencing. These platforms also typically provide 24/7 support, which is a benefit in the case that any technical issues come up.

4. Freedom to choose where, when, and how you work

Depending on where your students live, you can pick which hours work well for you to supplement a primary source of income, work-full time, or even work while traveling. Since this is a remote job, you only need to have your equipment with you, a quiet and well-lit space, and a decent network connection.

5. You’ll have a leg up for whatever comes next

You can and should use your online teaching experience to add new skills to your resume, cover letters, and any interviews for future employment or grad school. Being able to effectively work remotely is a skill in its own right and can help better position your candidacy for any roles that require travel. You’ll also demonstrate your ability to learn different software systems with ease, and have the professional skills and empathy that’s necessary to interact with people from other countries, cultures, and backgrounds.

If you’re interested in teaching in a classroom, you may need further certification, licensing, or education, depending on the state you choose to work in. No matter which qualifications you’ll need to seek out in this case, know that your online teaching experience will offer a headstart on developing your ability to manage a classroom, working with a diverse group of students, and embracing change in a constantly evolving field.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: ESL / ELL / TESOLEducation & Teaching