Start teaching English online

A guest post by TEFL.org

Photo of a young woman on a video call with her teacher. Text: Consider your goals & preferences to find the best job for you.

Teaching English online is an attractive employment option for so many reasons. The flexibility of online TEFL teaching means that you can do it as a part-time job and fit it in around other work.

If you gain the right qualifications and experience, it’s possible to organize enough teaching work for it to be a full-time job. 

Some teachers are interested in online TEFL as a way to make a bit of extra income from home, whereas others use it as a way to gain experience before launching into teaching English abroad.

Whatever your reason, this guide will provide you with details on everything you need to start teaching English online. 

What Qualifications Do You Need?

A few online TEFL schools will hire teachers without any experience or teaching qualification. They are generally best avoided. Schools that are happy to hire unqualified teachers might not have a professional approach to their lessons or pay a decent wage. 

To get hired as a TEFL teacher, you need at the very least a 120-hour Online TEFL certificate from a reputable, accredited, and trusted TEFL provider such as TEFL.org. This course is an industry standard to give you the basic information you need to teach.

Your tutor will guide you through topics such as classroom management, different teaching styles, and teaching methodology. Courses can also include modules on different themes such as teaching grammar, young learners, or large classes. Studying online is convenient, flexible, and affordable, making it a popular choice.

While the 120-hour course is a good minimum, it’s by no means the only option. If you think you’d rather study in person, try a combined course of 140-hours that includes a 20-hour face-to-face intensive weekend. That will give you the edge as it will include classroom experience. 

There are now also virtual classroom courses for teaching English online. They offer the camaraderie of a classroom course coupled with the convenience of studying at home. 

Boost your employment chances by undertaking a higher qualification. Get a level 5 qualification, or extra modules such as specialist modules on teaching online or teaching Business English.

Once you’ve got your TEFL qualification, a world of opportunities will open to you. Many online teaching jobs also require you to have a degree, but they’re not usually fussy about what your subject of study was. If you don’t have a degree you can still find online TEFL employment, but choices will be limited. 

Some jobs stipulate that they’ll only hire native English teachers. Others might prefer certain accents, so be sure to check the details when applying for TEFL jobs. Aside from that, a TEFL certificate and a degree are the only qualifications you need to teach English online.

Consider Your Goals 

Online teacher + student looking at a screen showing her. On a blackboard: Irregular past participles: 1. regulars end in... 2. irregulars may... Uses: 1. in perfect tenses. 2. as adjectives

Once you’ve got your TEFL qualification, the next thing is to start applying for TEFL jobs. Here are a few questions to ask yourself first to make sure that you don’t waste your time applying for jobs that aren’t right for you.

- How many hours a week do you want to teach online? Really thinking about the number of hours is important. It's not enough to consider if this is a full-time venture or a part-time gig. Most online TEFL schools will have minimum weekly hours for their teachers. These are rarely negotiable. 

A usual standard is around 8-10 hours per week minimum. If you can’t commit to that, don’t apply to a school with those hours listed. A school with lower hours will usually ask for a commitment of 4-5 hours per week. 

There are some schools that don’t ask for any minimum commitment. There are also platforms where you can choose your own hours. However, jobs without a minimum weekly schedule also don’t guarantee that you’ll have any teaching work at all. It’s important to get the balance right!

- Who do you want to teach? All online TEFL courses teach English to those who speak English as a foreign language. However, the experience for the teacher will vary greatly depending on whom you teach. There are several aspects to consider:

Age – do you want to teach kids, teens, adults, or a combination? 

Proficiency – would you be happy teaching beginners, (CEFR level A1 and A2)? Or would you be more at home with intermediate students (B1 and B2) or even advanced learners (C1 and C2). 

Class Size – Do you fancy teaching one to one, small groups, or whole classrooms of learners? 

Nationality – would you particularly like to tutor Spanish speakers, or tap into the huge Chinese market? Working out who you want to teach will enable you to apply for jobs that target your ideal student.

- What do you want the job to involve? You might think that teaching English online is all about 'teaching', but it can involve more. For some jobs, you ‘turn up and teach.’  You log on and lead the student through the material provided (often a PPT.)

However, some companies expect you to plan your own lessons and provide your own materials for classes. This can be a great experience for those who want to build their lesson planning skills.

For some jobs, you will sit in front of your laptop with no other props. Others, particularly when you’re teaching kids, need props. You might need to use a physical whiteboard on the wall behind you. You might also need puppets and toys to encourage kids to get involved, or realia for use in the lesson.

Get Started Teaching English Online

A successful job interview is the start of the journey, not the end of it. Successful teachers need to be well-prepared and to approach their learners with confidence. If your job requires you to plan your own lessons and make materials, you don’t have to go into it alone. There are plenty of professional resources online which can help you.

Games aren’t just for kids. Knowing a few TEFL games for adult learners can help you prepare good icebreakers and conversation starters. From printable games to guided conversation, there are plenty of options for keeping things fresh. (You don't need to rely on 'Hangman' at the start of each lesson!) 

Free or inexpensive ESL worksheets can also be a lifesaver for new teachers. They can help you guide your students towards understanding whatever language point you’re studying. 

Will you teach conversation classes (which seldom have writing activities to complete)? Check out some materials anyway, for ideas to spark conversations in your classes. (One idea in demand among adult learners: Making Small Talk.)

You can also find complete lesson plans  online. They're helpful when you’re starting out and need guidance on how to structure a lesson.

Even if you’ll work for a school that provides all your content, as a newbie teacher it’s worth the time to do some research before you start teaching English online.

There’s nothing worse than standing in front of a class (even if it’s virtual!) and feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing. Read up on teaching methodology. Watch videos of example lessons, create an idea bank of games and conversation sparks. You’ll feel so much better prepared for that crucial first lesson.

Summary

To start teaching English online, all you need are a few qualifications and the enthusiasm to learn something new. This is a career that many people enter on a part-time basis and then expand to become a bigger part of their lives. By opening doors to future TEFL employment opportunities, teaching English online is so much more than a way to make a bit of extra cash.

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