Teaching English Online
Teaching English online to students
throughout the world has become increasingly commonplace, and many instructors
currently operate their own “virtual schools” from the comfort of their own
homes. Teaching English online offers many advantages to both students and
teachers, including the opportunity for one-on-one instruction and not having
to leave home for lessons. Having spent some time instructing students online, I
would like to share some of my own techniques and experiences with those who
are interested in this relatively new method of instruction.
An online instructor will need a computer with high-speed internet access, as well as (free) telephony software. I recently downloaded the latest version of a very popular type of telephony software, and a new feature displays the local time of the person you are calling. It also has a useful text-chat box, which I use when a student is unfamiliar with a particular vocabulary word or phrase.
It is also a good idea to invest in a headset microphone; I bought mine at a local electronics store for twenty-three dollars. The sound quality is quite good, and the microphone is equally effective. I have also used my microphone to record voice narrations for virtual lessons.
Your next step will be to find prospective students for your virtual school. A handful of well-known websites allow you to advertise your services in virtually any country in the world at no charge. But you will also be competing with many other online teachers for students, so be prepared to post often in order to find them.
Another option is to post a free profile/resume on one of the many ESL (English as a Second Language) websites that cater to both teachers and students. Some of these websites also include advertisements from students seeking online teachers. Yet another possibility is advertising your teaching services in online magazines locally produced in cities such as Tokyo or Beijing. While these ads are usually not free, you can receive the added benefit of having it translated into the local language.
When placing an advertisement, I always state that the first lesson is free. I use this lesson to find out more about the potential student and conduct a level check.
Here is my typical level-check session:
Tell me about yourself.
What did you do last weekend?
Have you ever traveled abroad? Tell me about your experiences abroad.
Tell me something interesting about your country.
Why do you want to study English?
During the level check, I also like to write down any mistakes the student has made and mention them during the evaluation stage of the lesson. It is important to be honest in your evaluation; discuss what you think are the student’s strengths and weaknesses. The level check can also tell you what the student is interested in learning. One of my former students from Hong Kong was a financial planner, and I used articles from business pages of news websites to design lesson plans.
Another important step in establishing your virtual school is how to accept payment from your students. I use a well-known payment service linked to my credit card to receive lesson fees from students in Europe and Hong Kong. Mainland China, however, is a different story; none of the prospective students I have spoken to there are familiar with the service I use. Using a money-wiring service from a bank is probably a better option for receiving funds from cities like Beijing or Shanghai.
Knowing how much to charge per lesson is also an important consideration for an online teacher. You may prefer to ask a prospective student what his budget is in order to find common ground on lesson fees. A working professional may have no problem paying $20.00 (or more) per lesson, while a university student is usually looking for something in the $10.00 to $15.00 range per lesson. Payment plans can also vary; one of my students chooses to pay after each lesson, while another purchases them in blocks of five.
While most of the emails you receive about online lessons will be legitimate, don’t be surprised to see the occasional scam attempt appear in your inbox. One popular scam involves receiving a (counterfeit) check for lesson fees that is much higher than you anticipated. The scammer will ask you to cash the check and send him the difference before the bank ultimately realizes the check is a fake. I have received this particular email on least two occasions.
Opening your own virtual school and teaching English online is growing increasingly commonplace today. The technical requirements are minimal, and advertising your lessons via the internet gives you virtually unlimited opportunities to reach a worldwide audience. It may take some time to fill your virtual school with students, but teaching from home can be a great convenience for teachers as well as students.