Online Teaching: 10 Things you Need to Know

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Online teaching is a home working option that appeals to many. I know that from the number of emails I receive from people asking about it! Online education is becoming increasingly popular, as discussed in this recent article from Forbes. 

Teaching from home certainly ticks plenty of desirable boxes as a freelancing option. You can expect a good and consistent level of income once you establish yourself, and the hours can fit around your lifestyle. It’s also one of those things you can slot in alongside other activities as part of a “portfolio career.”

This article looks at some of the practicalities around online teaching. After reading it, you’ll be in a position to know whether it is a good fit for you.

First though, let’s provide an answer to the number one question you probably have:

How Much can you Make from Online Teaching?

The average reported salary for online teachers is $21 per hour, according to figures on ZipRecruiterObviously these rates can vary, with some teachers and tutors commanding higher rates, and some beginners billing less.

There are plenty of online teachers generating a steady full-time income from their work. Furthermore, many do so whilst travelling, living abroad and working flexibly.

Earning money

10 Online Teaching Tips: What you Need to Know

The points below will prepare you for the realities of teaching online, and help you to assess whether you have the skills and attributes to succeed:

1. There’s Plenty of Competition

Online teaching is competitive. There’s loads of demand, as you’ll quickly see if you look at the number of requests for tutors on a platform like Preply. However, there are also a great many people attracted to the idea of a well-paid and flexible freelance life.

What does this mean? It means the people who succeed in online teaching are those who go about everything professionally. They realise that doing this properly means running everything like a real business.

Also, as most platforms use a system of reviews and ratings, you’ll struggle to find clients if your first few reviews are bad.

As some of our other tips here reinforce, this isn’t something to do half-heartedly in the hope of making a bit of extra cash here and there.

2. Take your Tests and Assessments Seriously

I have a rather depressing illustration of the point above: I’ve previously mentioned VIPKid on this site, an online platform for teaching English to people in China. I can see when readers follow my link and attempt to sign up as an online teacher, and get an idea of how far they get through the process.

After dozens of applications, what I see more often than not is people abandoning the process half way through, or failing their tests. Obviously not everybody makes the grade, but if you’re serious about making a career of something, it’s essential to put your best foot forward.

Like so many activities in the world of freelancing, there are many people reading and talking about getting started, and a far smaller number actually putting in the work and effort required to become successful.

3. You Often (but Don’t Always) Need a Qualification

College degree

There are plenty of online teaching platforms out there, so you will be able to find one that’s a fit for you if you look hard enough. Be aware, however, that several require a degree, or a “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” (TEFL) certification.

Before you waste time applying, have a good look at the requirements, so you don’t waste time on a platform you’re not qualified for. Not all tutoring platforms need qualifications, but it’s fair to say that the right credentials will increase your chances of landing the best-paid work.

4. Know that It’s not ALL About Teaching English

While it is fair to say that a lot of online teaching work is centred around teaching English as a foreign language, you can tutor people in any imaginable subject. Skooli, for example, is a site for people who want to teach and learn mathematics.

There’s also a huge amount of variation in teaching English itself. It can involve teaching basic English to children, or business English to executives. There’s even demand for tutors to help with English homework and English literature. Needless to say, there’s also plenty of demand for teachers in other global languages too.

5. Connectivity is Important

Whether you’re teaching over Skype, Zoom, or some kind of bespoke learning system, rock-solid and fast internet connectivity is a must.

This probably won’t be a problem if you live in a permanent home in the developed world. However, it introduces some challenges if you’re planning to become a digital nomad or live out of an RV. Trying to “wing it” through a class on some shared free Wi-Fi or a mobile connection is not a good idea. People are paying for your time, not for looking at a pixellated image and saying “can you hear me?”

6. You’ll Need the Right IT Kit

Similarly, online teaching needs the right kit. Your computer equipment truly is the tool of your trade for this kind of work, so it’s not something you should be trying to do on a flaky, ageing laptop.

Absolute musts include:

A Reliable Computer

I’m a self-obsessed Mac fanboy, but I do recommend something like the latest MacBook Air as a good all-rounder for freelancers. They’re reliable, they hold their value, and they come with good onboard webcams and microphones.

A Good Microphone

You may be able to get away with your built-in microphone, but it’s pretty crucial that your students can hear you properly! I’m a fan of the inexpensive Blue Snowball microphone, which I personally purchased to improve sound quality for video reviews and coaching sessions. It really does make all the difference.

A Headset

Depending on your teaching environment, a headset might be a better fit for you. You don’t need to spend much to get something with noise cancelling functionality. Note that it’s worth looking for a headset intended for Skype / office use, rather than a gaming headset.

Office Software

I will come on to administrative tasks in a minute, but while we’re talking about technical requirements, I’d strongly recommend grabbing a subscription to Office 365, which you’ll find here.

Whether you’re using PowerPoint to help with slides for lessons, Excel to track your income, or Word for general documents, it helps to have to proper programs available. Yes, you can get by with something free – the question is whether you would want to…But I’ll await the usual OpenOffice debate in the comments 😉

7. Setting and Lighting is Key

First impressions are very important in online teaching. Your “learning environment” is what people will see behind you on your webcam, so you’ll want things to look good.

I’m not saying everything has to be staged and contrived, but choosing where you sit and thinking about the impression it creates is certainly worthwhile. Consider things like where the light is coming from, and what people might be distracted by behind you.

Also on the subject of distractions, people paying for your time won’t want to see your children run up to you for a cuddle, or your partner walk past to grab a drink in their underwear (and, yes, these are both real-life situations!) 

Tutor on video call

As we said at the start, the future of your teaching business will be very much dependent on the kind of reviews people leave for you. It’s an awful shame to lose points because a pupil had the sun in their eyes, or were distracted by something else.

8. Don’t Forget the Admin

Online teaching isn’t just about educating people. It’s also a business in itself that you will have to market, manage and administer. You’ll need to do things like issuing and tracking invoices, corresponding with clients and learning platforms, and monitoring your income and expenditure.

It’s not only about actually doing these things, it’s about allowing for the time they take – especially because you won’t directly earn any money for the time you spend doing them.

9. Be Prepared for Strange Hours (and Always be Punctual)

As it’s quite likely you will be teaching students in other countries, you may have to get used to working some strange hours. In China, for example (where a lot of online teaching work originates from), it can be 9am when it’s 9PM in New York. This can make for late nights, and having to work when you may not be at your best (You’ll certainly have to side-step that extra glass of wine with dinner!)

For some, the time differences represent an opportunity, especially if you’re trying to do online teaching as a second job. However, it’s important to know that time zones can create challenges.

It’s also crucial that despite the time differences, you’re always punctual and ready to teach your student(s) at the agreed time. Punctuality is incredibly important in some cultures, and you will get bad reviews if you show up late.

Watch for punctuality

10. Consider Course Creation Too!

If you’re an educator, be aware that tutoring isn’t your only option. While it’s not the subject of this article, it’s worth knowing that many teachers use Udemy, LinkedIn Learning and other platforms to create pre-recorded courses and earn money from them.

While this option means passive income after lots of up-front work, instead of revenue as soon as you start working, it’s an interesting alternative, or a potential complement to your teaching work.

Where Next?

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Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com - Ben is a long-established freelancer with a passion for helping other people take control of their destiny and break away from "working for the man." Prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.

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