Honest Pros and Cons of Teaching ESL Online

Honest Pros and Cons of Teaching ESL Online

If you’re thinking of teaching ESL online but aren’t sure you want to take the leap, this post is for you. I’ve been teaching ESL online for 4 years now and these are what I believe are the main pros and cons of the job. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything for you. While I love what I do, I also want to be real about the parts of the job that aren’t easy. Deciding on a career change or switching to remote work, in general, is a big decision so I hope that this list of honest pros and cons helps you figure out if teaching online is right for you.

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Schedule Flexibility

One of the best things about teaching ESL online (or teaching other topics online) is the flexibility to make your own schedule. Usually, with different companies, you simply open up slots on a calendar during the times you’d like to teach. Students or parents can then book those slots and you can start teaching. If I want to take some time off and I see that no one has booked my slots, I can close them. Or if I know I will be traveling somewhere on certain dates, I just won’t open those slots to begin with.

Location Flexibility

This is my favorite perk of the job. Being able to travel for longer periods of time and simply bring my work with me has given me so much freedom. I have taught ESL classes online in three countries and a ton of different cities. I usually bring a map that I can tape to the wall behind me at the Airbnb or place I’ll be staying at, my computer and charger, a few props and I’m all set. You just want to make sure that when you take your work with you, you’ll have good wifi.

Fun Work Environment

Another great perk is that teaching ESL online is super fun! I personally prefer teaching young kids and they are usually so sweet and eager to learn. I have also taught adults and they can be fun to teach too. You get to meet people from all over the world doing this. My students truly hold a very special place in my heart and I love being able to sing, read, play and speak with them in each class.

Little or No Class Material Prepping Depending on the Company

Many companies have their own curriculum and provide you with the materials they want you to teach. Everything is already set up, the classes are interactive and all you have to do is look over them, bring some related props to class and start teaching! Of course, there are other companies that require you to decide what you want to teach based on the students’ needs but for the most part, especially if you’re teaching children, many companies provide you with the materials.

Pro & Con: Payment

The one thing that can be either a pro or a con based on the company you start working with is payment. Every company is different but generally, companies that require you to hold a BA and TESOL or TEFL Certificate, pay more than companies that don’t. Usually, if you work at a company with fewer professional requirements, your title will be ‘Tutor’ and if you work at a company with more requirements, your title will be ‘Teacher’.


No Benefits like Health or Dental

If anyone finds an online ESL teaching company that has benefits please tell me haha. Unfortunately, since you’re usually hired as a contracted or independent worker rather than a full employee, you won’t get benefits like health or dental from teaching ESL online. I’ve personally been teaching ESL online for almost 4 years and none of the companies I’ve worked with have had health benefits. If you can get benefits through a spouse or family member, then this won’t be such a big deal but if you can’t and you really need them, then this might not be the job for you.

No Coworkers to Easily Become Friends With

Some people who work from home have coworkers that they communicate with day in and day out. But when you’re an online teacher, especially for bigger companies, you mainly just send in feedback to either students or parents. With many companies, you don’t hear from the students or parents at all until you’re in the virtual classroom. So there really aren’t a lot of opportunities for you to get to know your coworkers unless you join a Facebook group of online teachers and plan a meet-up.

I would be lying if I said I never struggled with this. As an adult, it can definitely be hard to make friends. Most of the friends I’ve made as an adult were in university or back when I had coworkers at in-person retail jobs. Luckily, now that I’ve been working online for a while, I do have some strategies I use to help make friends outside of my job.

Can’t Easily Work in Coworking Spaces like with Other Remote Jobs

With many remote jobs, like freelance writing, or coding, you can bring your computer to a cool cafe or coworking space and work with other remote professionals. You can sip some coffee and type away leisurely in a cozy coffee shop atmosphere. But with online teaching, you need a very quiet background so that your students don’t get distracted. You can’t be in a noisy co-working space or coffee shop while you’re trying to help your student correctly pronounce the ‘th’ sound in words like ‘math, bath’.

Time Zone Differences Can Negatively Affect Your Hours

The last con is that depending on where you live and where your students live, you may end up working some odd hours. For example, because I’m currently based in Western Canada and many of my students are based in Russia, I sometimes start work quite early in the mornings. Three times a week in the winter I start teaching at 4am and in the summer it’s 5am. I won’t lie, the mornings get to me sometimes, but I do usually take a nap after my earlier classes and to me, the pros of the job outway the cons.

Students Will Sometimes Misbehave, Get Upset, or Act Inappropriately

Honestly, this is true whether you are teaching adults or children. While the vast majority of my students are wonderful to teach, I have had some negative experiences, or just taught classes where the kids were simply having bad days. It happens.

Adult Students Misbehaving or Acting Inappropriately

With adults, the biggest problems I’ve had are inappropriate sexual comments and trying to convert me to their religion, which I don’t think is appropriate. However, these things have only happened to me twice in 4 years of teaching.

Young Students Misbehaving or Getting Upset

With kids, the biggest challenges I’ve faced are having students scribble all over the screen or simply refuse to participate. Luckily, with most companies, if a student is scribbling on the screen, you can pretty easily turn off their mouse. When they’re refusing to participate I will first try to make them feel more welcomed and comfortable in the class and then continue teaching and trying to get a response out of them. I’ve found that if you can make a kid feel more comfortable by doing something funny or letting them draw a picture on the screen, they may open up and start speaking a bit more. Sometimes it just takes a few classes with a student before they really open up to you and that’s okay too.

I’ve also had children show up to class clearly upset or crying about something that happened right before the lesson. Maybe they really wanted to watch a TV show or play with their favorite toy and their mom said, ‘Nope, it’s time for class’. Maybe they’re just tired because they’ve been in school all day and now they have another class to go to on top of that. Whatever the reason is I try to be really gentle and encouraging and say things like ‘I’m sorry you feel upset right now’, and ‘It’s okay to feel sad, but I hope you can still have some fun in today’s lesson’. Usually, once we’ve started singing and I’ve made some goofy faces then the students brighten up. Other times, though, it can be harder to help a child who is dealing with big feelings while teaching them a second language.

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