How I started my own business teaching English online

Guest written by i-to-i graduate and online tutor Gill

Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening (depending on your time zone). My name is Gill and I am obsessed with teaching English! Unlike some obsessions, this one has been so positive for me and it has improved with age. I have made mistakes along the way, but most importantly, as we tell our students – I learned from them. I’d like to share my online teaching English journey with you and hope to motivate you into joining the best club in the world – the “TEFL Teachers Club”! Here I guarantee you’ll meet the most amazing people, whether they’re students or teachers, you’ll feel supported if you have any questions or problems and you can plan your own direction from a huge selection of routes.

I was born and raised in Scotland, UK. I don’t have a degree, which is the most asked question I get from potential TEFL students. I did a Higher National Diploma in Hotel Management (this is my second obsession, all things hospitality). I owned my own catering business, worked in recruitment and, I can happily say, I am the Owner/Teacher at Alba English Class Online and Homestay.

Where it all started…

After a chance meeting with a colleague in the work tearoom 11 years ago, my life changed. It was his last day at work as he was leaving to go and teach English in Indonesia. WOW! Tell me more! He’d completed an online TEFL course with i-to-i earlier in the year and had used their TEFL job page (now LoveTEFL jobs) to secure an English teaching job. He was so excited and so was I. It all sounded so exciting. I raced back to my desk to investigate this i-to-i and what they offered and before lunchtime I was booked onto their weekend practical teaching course in Glasgow. So excited!

The TEFL Classroom Course

I decided to see what I thought of the weekend course before signing up for anything else. To say the weekend course was AMAZING is an understatement. Meeting like-minded people from all walks of life starting their TEFL journey, doing group activities, practising lesson planning, classroom management, how to teach total beginners, pronunciation… I was hooked! Straight home on the Sunday evening to book onto one of their online TEFL courses. I should say at this time I also started teaching English to 4 Polish students face to face which is where I practised my new-found skills.

I was working full time so my studying for the online course took place in the evenings and weekends as well as classes for my 4 Polish students. At this early stage of English teaching, I realised the importance of being reliable and flexible (more on that later).

Gills classroom students

The Online TEFL Course

My i-to-i online TEFL course was divided into modules with a good introduction, relevant reading and a practical report/essay/plan to be done at the end. I had the constant support of a patient online tutor for my endless questions and found them most helpful at the end of module activity when they advised how I could improve on what I had written and give me praise for some of my ideas. It was great to have that support available to me any time and their advice was priceless. I covered many topics including lesson planning, classroom management, grammar, pronunciation, motivation, mistakes and corrections and something I hadn’t really thought about enough – cultural awareness. I completed this in February 2011. Yippee! But I wanted some more information and I signed up to do 2 extra modules: the teaching One-to-One and the teaching Young Learners specialist courses (they now also have a teaching online specialist course). There were lots to choose from, but I felt I wanted more practice in these and completed these in the next 4 weeks.

Online courses

The Specialist Courses

I chose to do 2 specialist courses – Young Learners and One-to One Teaching. Young Learners: I have always had an affinity with children and wanted to learn more about this age-group and how to teach them English. The course expertly detailed what skills I would learn and how to use them in a teaching role. I learned 2 important words – FUN and PRAISE. Make everything good fun to do and always praise (even if it needs a correction). The absorption skill they have and how they can instantly repeat is quite spectacular. I learned that as a classroom or online teacher, you must leave any inhibitions at the door and roll up your sleeves and get stuck in! I have lost count of the times I have sung Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes but every time I do it, I smile. I hum The Rainbow Song as I walk round the supermarket and again, I smile.

One-to-one: This course taught me why this type of teaching is so efficient and to me it is the purest form of teaching. You have nowhere to hide and you connect with a student like no other way. You learn why students use this form – flexibility, they are shy, time constraints, they are unwell and most of all, convenience. You learn how the student has your attention 100% and the importance of lesson planning and again, being flexible to their needs. If they are struggling with a topic, take time to repeat and practice. To start with it feels like a shoot out in a western movie, waiting to see which one of you draws first but once you get into the swing of it, it will provide a very rewarding result for both you and the student.

Finding my first teaching English online job

 Done the studying, got the certificates, what do I do now? Head to the i-to-i employment pages (now LoveTEFL) to see what’s what. To be honest, I had scanned them during my studying period but didn’t want to tempt fate by applying for anything before I passed my course. Although there’s a great selection for overseas, that wasn’t for me as I was still working full-time in Scotland. Although I still had my face-to-face Polish students, I needed something for the evenings and weekends, that’s when I found out about teaching English online! I did lots and lots of research on this as it was fairly new then and even I wasn’t sure of the concept. It was done on Skype – ok. A good internet connection was needed – ok. Headphones and microphone needed – ok. TEFL certificate required – ok. I saw jobs for Russian based online schools and emailed my new teaching-focused CV to them all. I was interviewed and had my first trial class within 24 hours. Phew! They were starting me on General Conversation classes. I found a great web page with hundreds of ESL subjects and questions, so I started there. My first student was a lovely Russian lady called Vera who was as nervous as me, but I put on my hospitality smile and my teaching lipstick and off I went into the unknown. Vera was with me for 6 years so I must have done something right. I was nervous at first as I didn’t speak any Russian, but I didn’t need to! Although are coming to classes to learn English getting them to teach you some of their language is the best ice-breaker and always good fun for the students.

The Russian online school gave me more trial students and before long I was rushing home from work 5 nights a week to do 3 hours of classes, with a few on weekend mornings also. Then disaster struck – I was made redundant for the 3rd time in 5 years. No more full-time job. AAArrgh! What will we do? My husband wanted an adventure and with my newly found TEFL skills and growing confidence, we rented out our house in Scotland and moved to Spain!

Gill on video call with students

Teaching English whilst in Spain

I kept my Russian students on the journey over and continued the teaching English online when I arrived. One exceptionally hot summer afternoon in Spain, I went back on the i-to-i employment page and started to look at TEFL teaching in Spain. Done mostly in Language Academies from 4pm-10pm, I thought this would be a great experience to teach English in a classroom and learn how that differed from online. I emailed my CV to several academies and received several interviews. I accepted a job with Star English Academy, owned and run by Caroline Nixon and Michael Tomlinson who are the authors of the Cambridge English Kid’s Box series of learning books. I am forever indebted to Caroline and Michael for their guidance, training, advice and experience they shared in the 2 years I was there. Superb! I also continued with my online Russian students and picked up some private face to face students. This was a valuable lesson for me as I learned here the importance of having several money sources from my online English teaching. The best advice I can give you is – don’t rely on one source as that may diminish or even disappear. Get and keep as many as you can e.g. work for a school, get private students, do some face to face, copy-reading – the list is endless.

How I turned teaching English online into a full-time career

After nearly 3 happy years in Spain with nothing but sun, sun, sun, it was time to return to Scotland and the rain, rain, rain. It was a difficult settling in period for me and keen to use my new classroom teaching skills I learned from the best teachers in the business, no-one wanted an English Teacher in the limited language schools we had in Glasgow. I was gutted and completely demotivated. What now? I gave myself an official company name – Alba English Class Online. Alba is Gaelic for Scotland and it’s also the first letter in the alphabet for search results! I also started a Facebook page to post out some English learning information to students and teachers. I threw myself into my passion and obsession with English teaching and headed for world domination, only kidding. I took more classes from the Russian online school who were delighted as my reputation was good and consistent now due to those 2 magic words again – reliable and flexible. I worked on ways to adapt some of the classroom skills I had learned into the online classes. I used more props including my trusty Harry Potter and used him like a sort of “3rd party” in the class, emailed and attached worksheets, used music in my classes. It was great fun and feedback from the Russian school and students was great.

How I built my business up

Now I needed more students to make this financially viable – Marketing. I started to use other online teaching platforms such as Preply and italki for private students. I have come to realise that these are a necessary part of the sector I work in and help with expanding your student database and getting your name out there. I also got accepted to work for Eigox, a Japanese based online school. This suited me due to the time difference and the students filled my mornings/lunchtime slots in my schedule. Through seeing my other marketing, the owner of a Language Academy from Brazil contacted me to ask if I could do some speaking tests with her students. So, every quarter for the last 4 years, I have been doing speaking tests with Brazilian students. Back to those multi-sources again I spoke about earlier. Business grew and I was a busy bee!

2 years ago, we moved from the city to the Scottish countryside (yes, I did check the internet strength before we bought the house). My online business is completely consistent thanks to a good strong database of students and lots of referrals by word of mouth. I have about 30 weekly students taking 1-3 classes per week, about 10 who pop in and out depending on their work/family life. This is a fair amount to do lesson plans for and to organise in my schedule and back to the magic words of reliable and flexible, does present some hair-pulling moments to be honest mainly due to time-zones. You must be mindful of these or you might struggle to keep students. You will not become the fantastic and successful teacher you should be and can be if you don’t put the effort in. Students work hard for their money to pay for your classes so make the effort and make it the best you can – no excuses! It’s important to be prepared for the students’ mood, technical failures (list too big to print) and no-shows or cancellations. I was too soft with this in the beginning, but now I have an easy policy that everyone gets on their first class. I have to admit, I have kept all my resources over the years so bringing a lesson to life is a lot easier now than in the early days.

We finished our home renovations and started to make plans for my next idea – Homestay courses. I have always loved hospitality, I live in the beautiful Scottish countryside, I teach English – why not combine these elements? Lots of research, meeting Homestay experienced people for advice, getting a webpage designed, I finally launched and became Alba English Class Online and Homestay. English students from any level coming to stay with us, immersed in everyday English, combining classes and excursions and a 24-hour Teacher for 7 days. We managed several students staying with us before the travel restrictions prevailed, but we are all ready to go again when the restrictions are lifted. Having international students coming to stay is very special and the exchange of cultural information is a privilege and honour.

Gills homestay in Scotland

My advice for anyone looking to start teaching English online

I enjoy helping others where I can, and I offer a 1-hour session to potential students thinking about studying or those finishing up and wondering what to do now.

In our world of endless technology, marketing is very important to me and I work with social media that works for me. I also have to remember that my role is to teach English, not to spend all day on Instagram or Whatsapp. I have chosen a Facebook page for my online classes and a webpage to market my Homestay courses. I join Facebook groups that are active and positive, and I write comments and contributions that are motivating and encouraging. This also promotes my business and “gets my name out there”. Do your own research and join what works for you. I like “Innovative Teachers of English” for general teaching comments, lesson ideas and resources, new contacts for your business.

Use your everyday life as a source of lesson ideas. If you have a hobby, love of music or live in a beautiful location – take photos or videos and make lessons round that. I regularly post pictures of my baking/cooking and in return receive recipes and pictures from students and teachers around the world.

Work online? Work in a classroom? Private students or on your own?  Remember I said about multi-sources of income, well that’s what I advise. Play to your strengths but keep variety. It’s good for you as a teacher to stay fresh and creative but also increases your skill level.

I get asked if I feel lonely teaching English online and not physically meeting real people. I balance my internet people with my real people and enjoy meeting them when I’m not working. I would say mostly I feel humbled by doing a job I love and asking for peoples’ hard-earned money for doing it.

I had the idea to give something back and I created my 2020 Challenge. (It actually started in Nov 2019 as the demand was so high!). Each month of 2020 I was going to offer 1 hour of my time free to an English Language school anywhere in the world to give the students and teachers the chance to speak with a native English Teacher. The response was overwhelming, and I now do 2 or 3 a week. I cannot put into words how many amazing teachers and students I have met over the last 6 months doing conversation classes to exchange information and cultures. The look on a students’ face when they get to use their hard-earned English skills on a native person, I understand them and answer them back – WOW – mind-blowing. I have created and nurtured great relationships with teachers and will continue to do so.

Someone once said that if you find a job you love doing, you will never work another day in your life. This is so true, and I feel I have found mine. This way of working and style of life is not for everyone but if it is for you, welcome to it and enjoy your experience.

How to teach English guide

Learn more about Gill

Are you interested in learning more about Gill, her journey and the services she offers? Follow her page on Facebook to find out more >> Alba English Class Online and Homestay

Related Articles

Girl happy after receiving TEFL certification

Want to learn more?

For more info on teaching English online, simply pop your details in below and we’ll get in touch very soon!

Follow Us

FIND US

i-to-i TEFL
Suite 2, Chantry House, Victoria Road,
Leeds,West Yorkshire, LS5 3JB,
United Kingdom

i-to-i TEFL is a part of Teach and Travel Group Ltd.
Registered Company No. 7935847.