How to Build a Career as an Online ESL Teacher

If you’ve done so much as dip a toe into the digital nomad community, you’ve likely noticed one prevalent trend– there are a LOT of online ESL teachers out there! Of course, this isn’t a fluke; as the demand for English learning increases around the world, it’s no wonder why full-time travelers are falling into this super flexible and highly rewarding career.

That being said, online teaching isn’t for everyone. It requires training, real-world job experience, patience to spare– oh, and a really solid internet connection, too! (Those of you who have attempted to video conference from a rural area know exactly what I’m talking about).

Here are a few surefire ways to know whether or not you’re a good candidate for online teaching…


You’ve had prior teaching experience

This may seem like a big ‘duh’ to you, but you’d be surprised by how many people who have zero experience with children end up attempting this line of work.

Story time: When I was working as a head teacher at an ESL academy in Korea, most of the candidates that I interviewed hadn’t taught a day in their lives.

Now, it’s important to note that even I hadn’t come in with a ton of classroom experience– and most of my former colleagues were in the same boat, too– but we had enough education and previous jobs that directly dealt with children (i.e. coaching, tutoring, nannying), that we made it work. And, thank God for that. Walking into a classroom full of 20 seven-year-old children who don’t know so much as the English alphabet can be more than a little intimidating.

I tell you this because, speaking as someone who has worked both in traditional classrooms and online ESL settings, I can absolutely say that teaching a near-fluent speaker over the Internet is much harder than teaching a room full of seven-year-old beginners. Shocking, but true.

So much of teaching requires personal connection– and in the case of ESL, teachers need to be highly demonstrative in order to get a point across, something that the Internet, with its glitches and physical constraints just can’t always provide for you.

That being said, online ESL is powerful and it works, but it’s not without its challenges. The more real-world experience you have, the better.

online esl teacher
Element5 Digital via Unsplash

You have the right education

As I mentioned, some companies don’t mind hiring folks who have no formal experience, but almost all look for two things:

  1. A Bachelor’s degree (usually in English or Humanities)
  2. A TEFL/TESOL Certification

The first item is an obvious one, so let’s take a look at the second– the TEFL/TESOL certification. Now, these certifications can encompass many different things; it can be as little as a 40-hour course completed online (TEFLEN has a great one) to a Master’s degree in TESOL. In my experience, a lot of online-based ESL schools are happy with the 40-hour certification, so if your goal is to work, travel, and gain some experience, a lesser TEFL/TESOL certificate should work for you.


You are comfortable teaching both kids and adults

When I first started ESL, I was only teaching school-aged children in a formal, school setting overseas, but once I returned to the States, I began tutoring adults both online and in-person. Though it’s fascinating to work with children, I found that I much prefer teaching adults. It ended up being a good niche for me– the money tends to be better and the students are eager to learn.

Whatever you prefer, it’s important that you diversify yourself as much as possible, especially if you want to forgo the online teaching schools and work for yourself. As far as getting connected with adult students goes, I had great luck with a platform called Verbling. iTalki is also a popular one, but I found their system to be a bit less user-friendly.


You know what you are getting into

With so much growing interest in the digital nomad community, it’s not surprising that a lot of companies are popping up with tempting targeted ads, promising flexible teaching work. There are quite a few reputable online schools out there, VIPKID and EF being two of them, but it’s important that you do your due diligence before you give your personal info and commit. Check out Facebook groups geared towards digital nomad teachers and always confirm the company’s good standing on Glassdoor first. Protect your livelihood and your lifestyle and don’t fall victim to scammers!

Now, if you have solid experience teaching ESL, I suggest opting for a platform like Verbling, where you can create your own lesson plans, schedule, and work completely for yourself. The site does charge a percentage for hosting, but I think it is well worth the cost.

If you’re starting out, I highly suggest building up experience with a school first. They will train you, provide plans, and give you support as you try out this new career. You won’t be making millions, but it will provide what you’ll need to successfully set out on the nomadic lifestyle– money, flexibility, and hopefully, some inspiration.

online ESL teacher
Sydney Rae via Unsplash

Have questions? Or stories to share about your ESL experience?  Drop a comment below and get in touch!

CategoriesRemote Work

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