Teach online as a student
Being a student is stressful. There's the obvious workload that has us pulling all-nighters as we cram for exams and there's the financial strain that leaves many of us in debt. 

When I was a student, I worked part-time in restaurants and bars to prevent myself from incurring any more debt than I needed to. The combination of the strange schedule that came from working in a bar and going to class in the morning was an extra workload all its own. But as a student, serving work felt like the only work available to me. Certainly, it was the best paying I would find as a twenty-year-old working toward an arts degree.

It wasn't until I finished school and found myself living in Vietnam where I worked online as an English teacher, that I realized how easy it could have been to make money online while I was a student. 

Teach English online

The ESL industry is fixed and ever-changing. One of the most recent changes is the upswing and rising popularity in online learning. As the global economy changes, English language learning and teaching is becoming more important all across the world. This means many adults are self-motivated to learn and parents are starting their children's educations earlier while relying on resources outside of traditional programs that don't always give them the necessary exposure needed to learn a language. Meanwhile, not everyone has access to English education in the classroom. This has sparked a shift in the ESL industry and has seen a rise in online education all over the world.

Where do I start?

If teaching English online is something that interests you, one of the first steps in securing a job is understanding how the industry works. There is an ever-growing amount of companies offering online English education and it's difficult to know where to start.

Once you take the initial step into looking for work, you'll be met with big companies based in China, like VIPKID, which has long been a leader in the online ESL world. There are several rival companies, also based out of China, catering to teaching Chinese children. A lot of them will require North American passports, and more of them will require university degrees. If you do not yet have an undergraduate degree, you will not be eligible for some of these companies. However, if you're a student with one degree already under your belt, start applying.

However, if you are working toward your first degree, don’t let these requirements deter you. It just means you have to dig a little harder to find companies with less strict requirements. These opportunities are there, but generally, the company you're looking for doesn’t have an advertising budget as large as leading companies, so sometimes they are easy to miss. 

Where to apply

Companies such as Cambly or Palfish will hire any English speaker with an internet connection. Cambly is more conversation-based than other ESL companies and they have students from all over the world. Palfish caters to Chinese kids and allows you to teach from your phone. However, it works a bit like a social media platform and you have to promote yourself to get bookings.

Sometimes you will find that just because the company lists a degree as a requirement, it isn’t always the case when it comes down to hiring. SayABC is a popular company and it’s reported that they accept non-degree holding applicants who are passionate about teaching, even though their listed requirements say otherwise. Either way, it’s always worth a shot to apply.

The list of online ESL companies is nearly inexhaustible. Besides the ones mentioned above, there are also dozens of companies based out of China that cater to Chinese adults. You just have to exercise your search engine capabilities. Set some time aside to fall down a rabbit hole and see what you can find. If you're like me and knew nothing about ESL before I got started, you'll be shocked at some of the opportunities you find.

Get a TEFL qualification

Though you may not have a degree, what will help you get hired as an ESL teacher is a TEFL qualification. Getting one will help you be recognized as an applicant serious about their teaching career and is also a requirement for many companies. A large number of online ESL companies are based out of China and last year the Chinese government made it mandatory that all online ESL teachers hold TEFL certification. So before you fill out an application, you should ensure that you have completed a TEFL course and are certified to teach English as a second language. 

The TEFL Org is a fantastic resource for applicants looking to become an ESL teacher. The TEFL Org is the UK’s most experienced TEFL course provider operating in England, Scotland, and Wales.  It is run by actual TEFL teachers. Their knowledge and experience will be invaluable to you as you learn. They will help you navigate the world of ESL and also teach you what second-language learners need from their teachers.

For me, acquiring a TEFL qualification was a stepping stone toward teaching ESL. I knew I wanted to travel and teach English while doing so, but I had no idea how to make it happen. Once I was TEFL certified, I had the tools to apply for jobs and to know what I was doing when I stepped into the classroom.

Being an online teacher

Many of my ESL teacher friends who teach in brick and mortar classrooms tell me they don’t think they could teach online. They say they’d miss the physical interactions and connections with their students. And while I still miss sitting down next to my student and helping them with their work, I have been able to build incredible connections with my students via an online classroom. 

In a physical classroom, you rarely get the opportunity to sit down with one student for twenty-five minutes. With online teaching, you can understand each of your students’ individual needs and teach them accordingly. Not to mention, how much fun some students can be to teach. Even when teaching online is no longer my main source of income, I will continue to do it just because of the relationships I've created. When I have taken holidays and breaks from teaching, I've genuinely missed my students.

If you are studying and looking for a source of income that is convenient and rewarding, teaching English online is the answer. You never know, it might be beneficial to some aspect of your studies. 

We hope that this has given you a guide to online teaching. Good luck and start applying now! 


Sabrina Pinksen is a writer and ESL teacher from Canada. In 2016, she moved to South Korea and has been calling Asia home ever since. She now resides in Vietnam where she writes about travel, ESL, and the experiences of living abroad.

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