TEFL teacher Catherine went live on i-to-i TEFL’s Facebook page to share her experiences of getting TEFL qualified, volunteer TEFL and working as an online TEFL teacher. Watch a recording of the full webinar here or read on for edited extracts.
Getting TEFL qualified
I chose the Level 5 TEFL course
I come from an accounts and supply chain background. I wanted to teach and I love to travel so I thought about how I could combine those two. With TEFL, I can travel and teach wherever I am in the world.
As I don’t have a degree and I had no teaching experience, I chose i-to-i’s Level 5 200-hour TEFL course. Level 5 is CELTA/diploma equivalent. The course covers grammar, how to teach online, teaching in-person, lesson planning, and how to teach lessons. It includes two days in a classroom environment. Importantly for me, it also includes where to look for work once you’ve finished your qualification.
The TEFL Course content is not difficult if you put in the hours. It’s about making sure your techniques are correct and you know how to teach. It took me five months to complete but I was working full-time as well. You can complete it a lot quicker.
Classroom experience is definitely worthwhile
For someone like me who was brand new to teaching, it was really good to get the experience of putting what I was learning in the course into action in the classroom sessions – to do a lesson plan and then actually teach it to a group of people and to get feedback. You also get to meet loads of people. You help each other out if you have any teaching queries. You share your material and share your knowledge. It’s a great community.
When you finish the course, you can buy a TEFL guidebook. It has loads of information about things that we learned throughout the course. It’s really helpful as a backup.
Choose the right TEFL course for you
Check out i-to-i’s website for more information on all the TEFL courses. The Level 5 TEFL Course was perfect for my needs but you might only need a Level 3 TEFL Course. The Level 3 minimum is 120 hours and the Level 5 minimum is 180 hours. It goes all the way up to 320 hours if you want to get even more experience.
I’m really passionate about volunteer teaching
It’s great to volunteer as you’re helping people who would not ordinarily be able to afford lessons. I currently work for a charity called Paper Airplanes who mainly deal with students from Syria. It’s an amazing charity.
I found Paper Airplanes through LoveTEFL Jobs, i-to-i’s sister site. There’s loads of work on there. I applied through LoveTEFL and then Paper Airplanes got in touch. We did a video call and then it was a really simple onboarding process.
You get a lot of training
Students in Syria are going through a lot. With Paper Airplanes you get full training about the region. They provide webinars with Amnesty International to build your knowledge about what is going on over there.
It’s a great community. If you have any questions about the teaching or the students, the teachers are always on hand and are really supportive. We have a WhatsApp group to help each other. We share materials, share resources, share experiences.
Paper Airplanes provides the lesson material
We give one-to-one lessons each week for about an hour to an hour and a half. There are also options to do conversation classes with students and group exercises if you want.
Paper Airplanes provides all the lesson material for each term in advance. Even though it is structured, there is quite a lot of flexibility as well. The lesson content is really good because you cover things that are relevant to the student. We cover culture, things in the workplace, at home, medical – things that a student will need to speak about.
I was about to teach English for a refugee charity when COVID-19 happened
I was about to start teaching English classes to a refugee charity based in Manchester. The lesson content was very relevant to their direct needs: shopping, medical, work, that kind of thing.
We had people who were signed on. They were all excited about starting and then COVID happened. Unfortunately, I had to cancel before we set off. I was really disappointed but hopefully next year we can get it up and running.
Volunteer teaching is a great way to build experience
I was still in full-time work and wanted to get experience teaching online. I searched for jobs on LoveTEFL and emailed a few charities. I think it’s a really good way to build up your experience if you are brand new to teaching but also to help out people who can’t afford to pay for English lessons.
I was supposed to be going to China in March
Once I got my TEFL qualification in November, I wanted a year’s experience teaching in a classroom. I got a job in China. I was super excited. I sorted out all the paperwork and booked all the flights. I was due to fly out at the beginning of March and then in February COVID escalated and everything got cancelled. That’s why I’m now teaching online.
I teach English online with PalFish
PalFish is a really good platform if you don’t have a degree. You just need a TEFL certificate and to be a native English speaker. PalFish teaches children in China aged 3 to 12 via an app. Lessons are one-to-one and 25 minutes long. The material is all provided, so there is no prep work at all. All you need to do is know the lesson content.
A lot of the children I have are very young – aged three to six. You have got to keep them involved and enjoying the lesson. In my PalFish area I have all my pictures and animals. I have some cuddly toys. Using toys keeps them engaged and gets them excited. You can be really silly which sometimes gets the kids to open up a bit more.
Sometimes children will jump in, especially if there is a group. You have to make sure you give them all an equal amount of time to get involved so that they are all getting an equal chance to learn. With PalFish they get rewards within the app. Students really like it when you tell them they have got 10 stars!
I also teach English online through Oxinity
I started with Oxinity in June. They are based in Spain. They started off teaching people in person but, due to COVID, they have moved online. It’s a really good platform to work with. You can specify if you want to only teach kids or if you only want to teach adults. You can choose when you want to work. You can choose your own schedule. If you are teaching on another platform, you can say that you are only available two days a week or whatever.
Lessons are 30 minutes or an hour. Sometimes they offer 90 minutes but that’s quite rare.
They provide the lesson material but we can also input on the lesson content. We do a lot of current topics, which keeps the language really fresh. The other day we did about Coronavirus and about the spaceship launch. They provide lots of training, lots of webinars and have good online support and community.
With online TEFL, you’re in charge of your schedule
You can choose the hours that you want to teach so it’s really flexible. The more you work, the more you get paid. With PalFish, you start off at level one but you can work up to level five. If you get lessons all day every day you can make a really good living out of PalFish. You can get lots of bonuses. It is a really good platform.
Oxinity and PalFish have their own systems, so I have to make sure I am not taking any double bookings. If I get a lesson on one platform, then I make sure to close off my booking slots on the other. With PalFish it is really easy to open and close slots on the app. With Oxinity you drop them an email to let them know. Both are really easy.
I don’t have any gadgets to teach English online
I have my laptop, my earphones and, my phone. For PalFish I use my phone because it is all on an app. For Oxinity I use my laptop because there is a lot more lesson material. You probably could use your phone for Oxinity but I think it would be quite hard work with the layout for them, so I use my laptop.
Earning money through TEFL
There are so many TEFL jobs out there
Look at the LoveTEFL site to find jobs. You can filter by whether you’ve got a degree and by location. Make sure your cover letter is relevant to the job you’re applying for. A lot of companies will arrange a video call so they can meet you as a person and find out what you’re like.
I have also have my own website and advertise on Gumtree as well as foreign versions of Gumtree. Facebook has got so many different TEFL groups. Get your name out there and share your website, share your Instagram.
I do a lot of blogging and post on Instagram
On my teacher Instagram, I post different language problems each week. Every day I do an example, to keep traffic. I don’t want to bombard people’s feeds but I do want a presence.
Blogging is a good way to get your name out there. I have started doing weekly blogs. People can get to know you, what you are about. It is great exposure. This week I have also done a guest blog with i-to-i which I am super excited about. I am new to blogging and I was a bit daunted at the start but when you get into it, it’s actually fun. People think, ‘Let’s book a lesson in. She sounds good.’
I offer a free trial lesson
I charge £10 for half an hour and £15 for one hour. Some people charge a lot more but they have a lot of experience. I don’t want to undercut people and I do have to make sure I cover my costs and the time it takes to plan the lesson. If you’re new, you need to build yourself up. Once you’ve got some students behind you, then you can choose your rates.
I always do a free trial lesson with people. I find out about them, their needs, what they want to learn, what are their key areas and then I can plan lessons accordingly.
If you deliver in-person classes for a school, then you probably will be employed by that school. If you teach online you’re generally self-employed because then you can work across multiple platforms. I have got my own clients and I work with PalFish and Oxinity.
You can choose when you want to work, when you want to have time off. The world is your oyster. You can get up early and finish by lunchtime. You can teach all day. You can have a Wednesday off and work at weekends. It does have a lot of benefits.
My teaching schedule is busy
I have my schedule open on PalFish from 8am to 3pm UK time. That is their peak time. 3pm UK is 10pm in China. As I am still quite new, I am trying to build up lessons and build up teaching hours. At the minute I work Monday to Sunday. Once I am fully booked, I will cut down to have one or two days a week off.
Oxinity is five days a week. I can teach from 8am up to 6.30pm UK time. General lessons are Monday to Friday.
I get paid into my bank account and through PayPal
PalFish and Oxinity pay directly into my bank account. Most people who I teach one-to-one pay by PayPal. I also have put a new function on my website so that you can pay directly through the website and that will go through to my account.
I lose a bit of money through PalFish because of fees and exchange rates as they pay from China. Oxinity take a cut of what I earn. If I can get more students to use my website then I can reduce my hours elsewhere and I won’t get fees taken off as much.
I would still like to teach abroad
It would be great to get some classroom experience but with the risks with travel at the moment it is not viable, so I’m sticking to online. Hopefully, I can get some teaching in class next year when it is safe to travel.
If you build up your online teaching, whether it is with a platform or through your own clients, you can then teach wherever you like. I could teach at a school during the day and then have my own clients in the evening. There are plenty of ways to make it work for you.
Get involved in the TEFL world. It’s really easy. i-to-i is really supportive and their online platform for the course is great.
Follow Catherine’s Journey
Interested in following Catherine’s journey? Give her a follow on Instagram or visit her website to learn more about her and her TEFL story.