Every year there are more and more companies sprouting up in the TEFL industry that offer opportunities for teachers to teach online. I’ve known a number of teachers over the years who have done this either as a full-time job, or to supplement their income. Personally, I have mixed feelings about this budding industry: whether it works and whether it’s really a good situation for the teacher. This post is going to explore the pros and cons of online teaching, whether it’s right for you and how to make it work with your schedule.
Why People Choose to Teach Online
One obvious benefit of teaching online is that it can be done from home. Who doesn’t like the idea of completely getting rid of their daily commute and having the ability to teach with a nice hot cup of tea next to them. Feeling tired between classes? Take a nap on your couch. Unhappy with the temperature? Turn on the AC. Hungry? Eat some leftovers from your fridge (probably not during class though…).
Also, you aren’t tied to one particular country or city. All you need to do is assure that you have a good internet connection (this can be more stressful than you might think while travelling). In general, the largest benefit to online teaching is freedom.
Another benefit is that you get to create your own schedule! Actually, that’s only partly true. Most companies, at least the ones that pay well, require you to make yourself available at agreed upon times. Also, you’re somewhat tied to the market of these companies, if there is a predominantly Asian customer base, and you are located in South America, you may have some issues making your schedule work.
Many people also decide to teach online because they think it is easier. I’m not completely sure that I agree with this, but there is an argument to be made here. Many online companies provide you with lesson plans and very specific things that they want you to teach. Because it’s so prescriptive, it does cut down on lesson planning, however, it may lead to difficulties in executing the lesson if you don’t quite understand the lesson plan or don’t like the method that’s been chosen for you.
Some Negative Aspects of Online Teaching
I’m sure there are plenty of people teaching online who would disagree with me, but I don’t believe there is any way to teach someone through the medium of a computer that can offer the same job satisfaction as teaching in a classroom. One of the reasons that I love this job is watching students tangibly learn something and grow as language learners. I love creating lessons that are fun for the students and myself. I love the human interactions that are inherent in this type of learning. I just don’t see how talking to a computer can offer a teacher the same feelings as leading a classroom.
Other issues that online teachers have when teaching young learners is classroom management. That’s right, you might be asked to teach small groups of children, likely family members of different ages and levels. Though I’ve never taught this type of online class myself, I have colleagues who have. In a classroom, there are a lot of tools that a teacher can use to get students back on track and behaving appropriately. If it’s just my face on a computer screen, I don’t see what would stop the children from simply closing the laptop. “No Minh, don’t shut that computer! 5, 4, 3…”
Similarly, when teaching adults, or any age group, non-verbal communication is an essential skill. Though gestures are possible through the medium of online teaching, they are extremely limited by the fixed camera. If you were to look at my notebook after teaching a one to one lesson, you would see a large number of simple sketches, diagrams, notes and other items that were used during the lesson for concept checking or conveying meaning. There is no denying that online lessons remove some of the helpful elements of non-verbal communication.
Can Teaching Online Be a Good Side Gig?
For most online teachers, it is not their primary source of income, but something to supplement their normal teaching job. If you’ve got a morning free and would like to save some extra cash for your next holiday, why not teach a class while you enjoy your morning brew?
There are a few complications to consider before taking on extra classes online. The first of which is that it might require some initial expenses. If you already have a decent computer with a quality webcam, your wi-fi is set up and offers a consistently high quality connection, then the expenses are minimal. You may want to spend a bit of time and money to make your office/filming area look professional, but that can be done without spending much money. Also, though some companies will require you to have a computer as it is necessary for the lesson format, others allow you to teach simply using your phone.
Another thing that might get in the way of this being the perfect side gig is your commitment to your school. At most centers, your schedule will change on a regular basis. You may be asked to take classes during what was once a free morning and now you’re double booked. Trust me, your full-time employer will not look kindly on your predicament when you turn down a class during a regular working day, when you say you you’ve got a different class to teach. You may even find yourself no longer being offered new classes.
Generally though, teaching online classes part-time can work. It just requires you to be a bit more organized with your time, and to keep an open dialogue with your employer. If your employer can’t offer you enough teaching hours, then it seems only fair to supplement your income in other ways. Just make sure that you don’t end up teaching more than you can handle. Though you may not be busy at the moment, in a month’s time that could all change.
Despite my best efforts to write a balanced discussion of the good and bad points of teaching online, I think that my bias against online teaching has shown. Online learning is the future and these types of courses continue to improve year to year for both the teachers and the students. In some cases, for students living in remote areas or with busy schedules, learning online is the only real solution. Having said that, I don’t think they are a good replacement for brick and mortar schools.
Maybe I’m just old-fashioned. Maybe it’s because I am the owner of an English center and don’t want to lose all my clients to online learning solutions. Maybe it’s just for the selfish reason that teaching lessons face to face is more enjoyable and rewarding. If you are an online teacher and have strong feelings about it one way or the other, please comment on this post below. I’d love to hear from you even if you strongly disagree with anything that I’ve stated.