Should I Teach English Online?

teaching english online

“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” – Jim Henson

The first thing you need to know if you’re thinking about teaching English online or anything online for that matter is that teaching online isn’t as good as teaching in person. I know “good” is a vague word, and I’ve used it on purpose, because teaching online loses out in every aspect to teaching in person except that it’s A) super convenient (you can literally do it without wearing pants, like I didn’t do this morning), B) You can connect to students all over the world (like oil barons in Kuwait!) and Z) You can do it from anywhere in the world with a decent internet connection. However, letter Z is the only one of these three points that shouldn’t be underestimated. The other two — unless you’re teaching something esoteric like Intermediate Voodoo where it’d be hard to find enough learners in your immediate area — are not considerable advantages and ultimately lose out to the satisfying human contact that comes with teaching in person (prison).

The second thing you need to know about teaching online is what the different platforms are like. I use Skype. Skype is probably not as good as virtual meeting software like Cisco WebEx and Zoom or Blackboard, but Skype is free and most people are familiar with it. Also, Skype has improved over the last few years. It’s now very easy to do things like type text in a chat box, share images and files, and share your screen. This “share screen” function has paid sweeping dividends for me over the past few weeks, because if you open a blank document, and the other person can see it, it’s essentially like having your own virtual whiteboard right there. Granted, the other person can’t draw on it like they can in programs like WebEx, but honestly, if I’m a teacher, I’d prefer my students keep their grubby mitts off my whiteboard most of the time anyway.

The one thing you’ll find with teaching online is that it’s much harder to connect with the student. It’s harder to read facial cues. It’s harder to read body language. It’s harder to read lips. This comes from communicating via video, and that doesn’t even take into account the fact that sometimes the connection is not perfect. You can do everything on your end to assure your connection will be good, but you have no control over your students’ connection. This means more asking to repeat, and it means that you as a teacher must speak even more slowly, and more clearly. This, I would say, is the most frustrating aspect of teaching online. But you can learn to manage it by keeping everything as simple as possible.

Simplicity is truly the name of the game when teaching online, and this need for simplicity will cause you to either, A) lose your mind, or B) become a better teacher. Lately, I think I’ve become a better teacher. Since introducing new concepts online is more difficult than in person, it really makes you become better at “scaffolding,” i.e. where you teach one thing, then practice it one way, then practice it in another way that’s a little more complicated, and then finally in a way that’s almost as complicated as real life. By scaffolding and making each activity progressively harder the students have a better idea of what’s expected of them, and it also cuts down on explanation time because often the new activity is similar to the previous one, albeit with one or two added elements.

But the best thing about teaching online is that you can do it from anywhere in the world with a reliable, somewhat fast internet connection. Which means that you could teach a class one day in LA, then the next day be in Mexico, and then a week later be in South America. And then maybe a couple weeks later you’re in Europe. Or Brazil. Or Morocco. Or China. And then maybe a month after that you get done teaching a class and go to a night market in Thailand and eat sticky rice with mango for 30 cents (I think you get the idea). So if you’ve thought about teaching online, or have thought about traveling the world but don’t know what to do about money, I wholeheartedly suggest taking the plunge. The best part about taking the plunge with teaching English online is that it’s not that much of a plunge. It’s like slithering into the pool from sitting position on the edge. And boy, is the water refreshing.

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How to Teach Online So You Can Travel the World

I’m buzzing right now because I just gave probably the best class I’ve ever given online. Her name was Maria. She’s an astrophysicist and lives in Spain.  When we were discussing the idea of doing classes online I asked her what she might want to talk about and she said, “Astrophysics?” and I thought she was joking. But it turns out she’s actually an astrophysicist, and thus spent part of our lesson today lecturing me on the properties of a neutron star and defining things like compact matter and explaining what a “high mass x-ray binary system” was.

It made me realize that teaching online, if you’re living in a place like Mexico (Note: If you work for the company Appen and you’re reading this I don’t live in Mexico, I live somewhere outside New York City [hence my IP address] and enjoy hiking in the Adirondacks and going into the city for coffee with friends), is definitely the way to go. I’ve always shied away from online classes because I thought they were awful. But the REASON I thought they were awful is because all the classes I’d taught online had either been through A) Open English, a company started by a Venezuelan guy that’s MASSIVE in Latin America but boasts, at least when I taught for them, one of the worst interfaces in the history of the internet, and B) On Skype using my cellphone. In retrospect, I don’t know how/why I ever taught on my cellphone. It was a joke. I would literally write things down on a piece of paper and flip the camera so my students could see what I’d written. In my defense I was (sort of) living in Germany at the time and was very confused. I was trying to answer the question of: What does it mean to be an adult? What does it mean to be self-sufficient? And actually I answered the question quite succinctly and quite easily. Being an adult means buying things like spinach and bell peppers that you don’t really like but you’re know they’re good for you so you buy them anyway. That’s it. Like I said, it’s easy.

So what are your options for teaching English, or just teaching in general, online?

They are myriad, and I shall explain them to you in great (medium) detail:

1. Private Skype classes

Private Skype classes are good because you get 100% of the plunder, but bad because there’s no kind of virtual classroom where you can easily show images or draw or things like that. It’s not a huge problem, because you can still use the chat box to accomplish most of these functions. That’s why the class this morning was (at least in my opinion) so dynamite. The chat box revolutionized things for me. Imagine being able to say one thing, and either type that same thing at the same time, or type something completely different. (You say: “You’re doing a great job, keep it up!” You type: “Your English is terrible. This is hopeless.”)

Also, if you do Skype classes, you (usually) have to find your own students. Where can you do this? Spain has a great website called Tus clases particulares, France has Le bon coin, and if you do a little light research you can usually find a sort of classifieds option for each country. Which is probably something I should do for Mexico, like, two weeks ago.

2. Online Tutoring via a legit company

I’m currently contracted with Varsity Tutors in the US. I’ve done zero jobs for them. They pay $15/hour, but a lot of the classes are for 1 hour and 1 minutes, which means you only teach an hour but get paid for an hour and a half. Twenty two dollars and fifty cents for an hour’s work??? This is unfathomable to me right now. I cannot fathom it. I will not fathom it.

Another similar site is The good thing about these sites is that there are tons of subjects to teach. On Varsity Tutors I’m set up to teach French 1,2, all levels of Spanish, and some levels of English. I tried to qualify for geography but failed the quiz, which caused me to have a flashback to the 8th grade Geography Bee when I got out on the first question because I confused latitude and longitude and then possibly soiled myself. Hopefully Varsity Tutors gets their shit figured out and starts sending me jobs soon.

[Update: Almost as soon as I posted this post Varsity Tutors sent me an email with a referral link. For each tutor I refer, I get $80 (if they get approved for ACT, Algebra 1, Calculus 1, SAT, or Statistics) and the tutor gets $80, too. For any other subject, we each get $40. THAT MEANS YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO TEACH. All you have to do is get contracted and approved and we both get $$$$$$. Here’s the link:]

3. Teach the Chinese

There are a lot, a lot, a lot of rich Chinese people who will pay gross sums of money to have their sucklings inculcated with the fineries of the English tongue. I’m currently going through the hiring process with VIPKid (“Part-time Teaching, Full-time fun”), a company based out of Beijing who boasts Kobe Bryant as an investor. The thing I HATE about these companies is that, since you’re teaching English to children, they want you to act like a clown. They want you to have a “fun background” behind you, like pictures on your walls, and smile a lot. Anyone who’s hung out with me for four seconds knows I despise smiling. So this is a struggle for me. But they pay well, up to $22 or so an hour, so it might be worth throwing self-respect to the wind.

These are all the opportunities I can think of right now. I’m sure there are more. I know there more. Which is why if you know of more, or know of any awesome ways to make money online, preferable cold, unbending US dollars, let me know in the comments.

I leave you with a quote from Good Will Hunting:

“Good day gentlemen and until that day comes, keep your ear to the grindstone.” – Chuckie, Good Will Hunting


Special thanks to Sam Kidder for supporting this this “bljaag.”

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