Tess trained as a TEFL teacher in her 50s, after 20 years working in France, five years teaching in a UK secondary school and, most recently, a consulting role in Brussels. She now teaches English online from her home in England. Tess went live on i-to-i’s Facebook page to talk about teaching online at 45+. Watch a recording of the full webinar here or read on for edited extracts.
In 2017, I was consulting in Brussels and thought, ‘What am I going to do when I finish this?’ My partner and I both wanted to travel when our kids were gone. We had been talking about living abroad for six months each year.
At the ripe old age of 52, I decided to do i-to-i’s Level 5 TEFL certificate course and in November last year I joined Whales English. Now, I am teaching online full time. I teach children as young as three and my eldest student, who is fantastic at English, is 12.
HOW TO FIND AN ONLINE TEACHING JOB
Create a brilliant TEFL CV
If you want to teach online my biggest piece of advice is to create a really good CV. Keep it concise, to the point and have a really clear layout. I see a lot of CVs that are not relevant to teaching or are too long or are not specific enough.
It is really important to keep the English simple. In my company, the hiring team is Chinese. I have had PhD applicants who have listed all their research papers and have used very complicated English. The Chinese team find that difficult.
You also need to demonstrate that you have the skills to teach English online. If you have got teaching experience or experience working with kids, then put that into your CV. If you have not taught children before, then show you know how to use the techniques you need in an online classroom – scaffolding, modelling, TPR, props. You might have worked in a playgroup, so you know how to entertain children, how to calm them down and how to help them read. Say what you can do and be creative in how you express yourself.
Research online schools
It is really important to do your research before you decide who to work for. There are so many different schools and you want to find one that suits you. I personally just teach two kids at a time but Whales do some classes where there are six in a lesson. Quite a lot of companies, like VIPKid, are one-on-one. SayABC have four or six children in a lesson.
You need to think about how many hours you can put in, your time zone and your commitment when you are looking for the right company. Whales, for instance, requires eight hours a week minimum at peak times. I am in the UK. I teach four hours a day during the week, from 9am to 1pm. If you are in the States, it is much earlier in the morning.
Whales also asks you to commit for a minimum of 30 weeks and you teach the same kids every week. I like the stability of knowing exactly what I am teaching, who I am teaching and getting pretty much the same pay every week. Is that what you want? Maybe, maybe not. Different schools have different requirements. Some are far more flexible.
Qualifications for online TEFL jobs
Most of the Chinese schools require their English teachers to have a degree but it depends on the companies you apply to. For my company you also need to have one year’s experience of teaching but it can be as a coach or in a summer camp. It does not have to be formal teaching.
For Whales, you have to have a degree. You have to have a TEFL, CELTA or TESOL. You have to come from the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, you have to be a native English speaker, you have to have a year’s worth of experience with kids and you need to commit to the minimum number of hours.
If you have not got teaching experience, you can either apply for a school that needs less experience or try to get experience in a classroom or working with kids.
TEFL jobs for South Africans
There are three schools that I know have hired South African TEFL teachers: Cambly, Landi and Magic Ears, although Magic Ears may not be recruiting South Africans right now.
If you are the type of person who can put together your own curriculum, market yourself and find a way of reaching students, it is also worth looking at becoming an independent teacher. Being independent will give you the freedom to teach when you want, to teach who you want, to teach a curriculum of your choosing and to set your own prices.
If you put ‘ESL teaching online’ or ‘online ESL teacher’ into Facebook you will find a ton of groups. There are people who advertise help for independent teachers and can give you support if you are setting yourself up. The obvious downsides to it is that you need to do all your own prep and you need to market yourself.
Other online teaching options
I know TEFL teachers who also teach with Outschool. It was set up for home schooling parents in the States a few years ago and it has exploded over lockdown. You don’t need to have a degree. You don’t have to be a native speaker, although you do have to be from certain countries. You just have to teach.
It could be an opportunity to write your own lessons and set your own price. You could potentially design a lesson that you teach over and over again. You could charge $10 per kid and make $50 from one half hour lesson if you have five kids in it. It is another opportunity for working online.
Top tips for finding online TEFL jobs
My top tips for finding online TEFL jobs are:
- Work on your CV and sell your teaching skills.
- Do research to find the schools that suit you and your needs.
- Check your internet connection. If you can’t provide stable internet, you are going to really struggle. Most schools ask for a minimum of 20 mbps upload and download.
- Use a cable rather than wifi for your internet connection. It is a lot more stable.
- Don’t buy lots of props when you’re interviewing. Keep it simple. Be yourself. Remember that most of these schools just want to see who you are as a teacher. Are you going to be someone they want to put in front of their kids and the parents?
- Go onto YouTube. If you are new to TEFL teaching, there are so many amazing channels out there with everything you could possibly want to know about online teaching.
- Remember that you don’t need to have everything when you start. I taught in my bedroom with a tiny desk on an ironing board with a box on top. You really can start off with very little. You don’t have to spend a fortune.
TEACHING ENGLISH ONLINE
How to teach online
When you teach online you need to be very good at not saying very much. It sounds a bit odd! You need to keep teacher talk time down and have the student talk time up.
You need to use TPR (total physical response) to help with instructions and learning vocabulary. You use your body and props and get the student to repeat and replicate what you are doing. If you use TPR well, you can cut down the amount you speak. It is great fun but it is not natural for many people. I did lots of research on YouTube before my interview because I had no idea what TPR was.
Something else you have to do when you’re teaching online is keep smiling. It is very important that you look happy and your face is animated. In a classroom, you can hide behind a computer or a desk. Online, you are always on show.
I also get the kids to talk to each other. It takes the pressure off me and it enables higher student talk time as well. You can train even the little ones to say: ‘Hello, how are you?’ ‘I am fine, thank you.’ My older kids go off and discuss topics. I have to set timers for them to be quiet!
Keeping kids engaged
Keeping children engaged takes a lot of energy, a good curriculum and good lessons. When you start teaching online, it takes time to build up because it is quite hard to do.
The amount of planning time I need to do depends on the grade I am teaching. My beginner learner lessons take hardly any time at all. There is no homework and almost no prep. My Grade 4 classes take a lot more time but I am paid more for those lessons, so there is a balance. You do get very good at doing your preparation quite quickly as otherwise you could spend hours planning.
I have a lot of props in my classroom. My toucan comes out and gives me a hug. I have kids that love robots so I have my little rubber robots. These kinds of things are good for younger kids and even some of the older ones like something silly from time to time.
The key thing to keeping them engaged is getting to know them as kids. You can pick up on their moods. You learn what they like. There are lots of tricks that you learn.
Teaching reluctant or shy students
You need to be very warm and make your classroom a very safe place where we laugh and we encourage each other. I get the students to work together a lot. That helps when you start teaching.
For the shy students, you need to give them time to decide that they are ready to speak. I have kids who really like writing on the screen. If they are reluctant to speak, I can ask them to circle things rather than getting them to read immediately. You can praise them and that helps them to feel confident.
When they are reluctant, it is more a question of finding out what it is they engage with, what do they find funny. If you can get a child to laugh or enjoy themselves, they tend to forget to be reluctant.
The other thing I often do is to get into my classroom a bit early. I will have two or three minutes to talk to them before the class starts. I can find out how they are, if anything important has happened, if there are birthday celebrations. Building rapport is important.
Challenges of online TEFL
It is not easy to find online TEFL jobs at the moment because of the amount of competition. There are tons of people looking for work. Finding a company that suits you and getting the pay that you deserve is quite challenging. However, I have had 17 people recruited this month for Whales.
When you start, it seems quite overwhelming because you do your trials training and you have to do regular class training. You have also got to know the platform, whether you are teaching through Zoom or whatever platform your particular school uses. It took me about a month and a half to really settle into online teaching and not feel like I was being an idiot and getting it all wrong.
Sometimes I miss the classroom. Sometimes I miss people. I think at the moment we are in such a strange situation that half the time we don’t see people anyway. I am really lucky because the community I have and the work I do means I am always in contact with people.
WORKING AS AN ONLINE TEFL TEACHER
Online TEFL as a career
I think online TEFL can be your career. When I started teaching online a year ago, it took me a while to fill up my slots. You start by teaching trials, so you get used to using the platform. You have to practice all your TPR, your listening, all the stuff that you never do unless you are online. Then you can open slots to do the regular classes and start to get weekly lessons. They are what will give you security as far as income is concerned.
To be successful, you need to have a great teacher profile or intro video as the parents look at those videos to choose you as a teacher. At first, I opened up 15 slots. As my 15 slots filled up, I decided to open up at the weekends and they got filled up too. After a month or so, it was far too much. I now teach 20 hours a week, Monday to Friday and from time to time at the weekend.
Online TEFL job salaries
Whales are one of the better paying schools. They pay between $18 and $26 an hour and then there are bonuses on top. Everyone starts on trial lessons and they all get $18. Then you can be offered slightly different rates, depending on the grade of class you teach and also how good you were at interview. If a student cancels 24 hours before a lesson, you do not get paid. If they don’t turn up at the very last minute, you do get paid. If they cancel within 24 hours, you get 20 percent of your pay.
When I started, what I earned was very low because I was hardly working at all. My first pay cheque was $300. In my first year, I made just over $29,000. I am anticipating my second year to be around $43,000. It is important to say that I don’t just teach for Whales. I am their top recruiter. I am a mentor for teachers who struggle with the English starter class. I have done videos for them because I have my own YouTube channel now. You can also do evaluating. There is a lot of stuff you can do to add to your basic pay.
If you do just teach, earning between $1,800 and $2,000 a month is doable. In certain countries that will go a lot further than in the UK. I am not very well off but I can pay my mortgage and I can live. Some other companies do not pay as much. You can only really work out the sort of income you can make when you have looked at the companies you are thinking of applying to.
You get paid per class in dollars. I have set up a TransferWise borderless account that I get paid into, so I don’t have the conversion fee that my bank would charge. I convert my pay in TransferWise and then I put it into my British account.
What I love about teaching online
I love the flexibility of teaching online. You really do have the freedom to work as you want. I hope to travel again soon. Costa Rica is a place I would like to go, I adore South Africa, maybe South America, back to Europe. I am not going to stop teaching online. That is what I want to do and it is absolutely great.
As long as I have an ethernet cable, some light, my laptop and a couple of trusty props – my rabbit tends to come around with me quite a lot – I can go anywhere. I have taught in a tiny little AirBnB in Paris. I have taught in an office when I was in Belgium. I have taught from a hotel room in Cape Verde where I had a chair on the coffee table to get my computer at the right angle. It is fantastic because you really can go anywhere.
I love the fact that the kids I teach are amazing. They share things with you. They come in and chat with you before class starts – all about their school and what they are doing. They show you a favourite toy. The kids are wonderful.
You don’t have to be a whippersnapper to do this either. Whales has got a lot of teachers over the age of 45 and I have had quite a lot of referrals of people in their 50s. The important thing when you do online teaching is to have lots of energy, be super positive, be dynamic.
I have suddenly found at the age of 52, 53, a completely new life. That is why I think doing TEFL is so brilliant. You get the freedom to do new things and go new places.
FIND OUT MORE
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