Is teaching online worth it? What are the specific pros and cons new teachers need to be aware of when it comes to securing a teaching job with an online teaching company?
Here at Teach and GO, our content is maintained and updated by a paid team of remote teachers who help write the content found here. We’re going to pool together our collective knowledge to help give you a high level over view of the honest pros and cons of teaching English online. While on YouTube and within various Facebook groups you may see people raving how online teaching is the greatest thing ever, it’s not for everyone.
Overall teaching online is worth it if you’re willing to gain experience and transition to having your own students. While the opportunity is not the same as it was a few years ago with the rise of VIPKID and other platforms, there is still the potential to build out a respectable business around teaching online.
Online teaching pros and cons
So in this content we are going to cover the specific aspects of this industry as it relates to the work involved and the honest pros and cons to help you make a decision if teaching online is worth it long term:
- Work from home
- Teach abroad as an independent contractor
- Lessons and material are made for you
- No minimum or maximum hours
- Set your own schedule
- Teacher pay and salary
- Various levels of experience required
- Technology required
- Teach your own students
Work from home
With online teaching you work from the comfort of your home. Most online teachers setup an office of some sort to double as their online classroom. By working from home, you can keeps costs low as you don’t need to travel anywhere. This can also allow you to be more available to family members and be more efficient with your time.
Pro: No commute
Online teaching is very convenient as you simply teach from your laptop in the comfort of your own home. In addition, the dress code for teachers who work for an online platform is to wear a t-shirt, have some props as well as understand the lesson material.
You don’t have to commute anywhere either obviously which makes it a wonderful and flexible side gig that you can do before or after your day job. Last, it is an excellent stay at home mom job.
Con: Time zones and work hours
The cons of working from home as an online teacher are that you will typically have to wake up early if you’re based in the US and Canada as most online teaching companies serve the Chinese market.
You’ll also need to invest a little in props as well as develop an online teacher background and you’ll need to get some good video lighting. Nothing too expensive, but keep in mind that though you’re working from home, their are some small associated start-up costs (that you can write off as an American) as opposed to paying to commute.
The most annoying aspect however is being available when your students are available which could get confusing if you have your own students from multiple countries around the world.
Digital nomad: Teach online abroad as an independent contractor
One great thing about online teaching is that the hours are much better abroad in countries like Spain, Thailand or Vietnam than compared to parts of the United States. We have various guides on how to go abroad and teach English (check out our guide on the best countries to teach English abroad).
Once you’re setup with a platform and you have a stable income coming in, you can move to a lower cost of living country as an expat and have a decent income coming in. Also, you could use online teaching as a way to supplement your income as an ESL teacher in Thailand, China or Vietnam.
Pros: Better hours
Instead of early mornings, you’ll be teaching afternoons or evenings online. Not only can you provide a better teaching experience for your students, you can also teach more hours than you could in the United States or Canada. Making it a more enjoyable experience for you and your students.
In addition, you can have a job as an ESL teacher while also maintaining an online teaching position with a company like VIPKID for example.
The main con is burnout long term. While most of our remote teachers prefer online teaching in general to having an ESL position at a school – it’s not a viable career option. It’s a good side income and nothing more.
We also have had teachers who grew tired of the solo experience of teaching from home all the time and wanted to get a job at a school again to have that social experience.
Last, is lack of control over your bookings. Two of our writers are teachers who were doing full time hours abroad in Spain with VIPKID for two years straight only to have their booking and pay decrease as competition grew due to the pandemic. Leaving them in the situation of needing to secure a job to maintain their lifestyle.
Lessons and materials are made for you
Fun fact, this is how we came up with the name Teach and GO. We liked that as an online teacher you don’t have to do anything other than understand the lesson material and teach class. You literally just teach and go, no tests, quizzes, parent teacher meetings, no homework.
Pros: Teach and go
No lesson planning, no grades, no homework no nothing. You just teach and go. One thing that is fantastic about online teaching is that you can teach back to back classes without any lesson prep once you understand the lesson material.
All online teaching companies employ professional instructional designers who create compelling, effective online lessons. They do the proverbial heavy lifting so you as the independent contractor don’t need to do anything other than show up and provide an outstanding experience for your students.
Cons: You get too comfortable
While it is nice (and easy) to have the material developed for you, long term it’s a great skill to learn how to do yourself. If you take the time and do the difficult work of preparing your own online lessons you can charge a much higher hourly rate for your time.
A next level for online teachers is to move away from online platforms and instead supplement their income by teaching their own lessons on marketplaces like Fiverr, Outschool or by creating their own courses.
No minimum or maximum hours
When VIPKID first started they required a minimum of 7.5 hours a week. You’ll still see some online teaching position require a small minimum amount of hours, but in general most companies allow you a lot of flexibility. Teach 25 hours one week, take the next week off. You’re an independent contractor not an employee.
Pros: Flexible if you have job
A lot of us are actually professional teachers. We work abroad at international schools or in the USA as teachers at elementary or high schools. We simply don’t have 4 hours a day, everyday to teach. Thus having no minimum is wonderful as we can teach on the side when it is most convenient for us.
Cons: Risky as a full time gig
A lot of people are looking to online teaching to be their full time income. The golden age of online teaching was 2015 to 2019. That’s when the demand (and pay) was high for online teachers as most did not know about this opportunity available.
As the industry become saturated with more and more teachers, it got a bit harder for teachers to get fully booked like they used to do. Also, with the increased amount of teacher, that pushed wages down. For example, VIPKID changed their pay to better reflect the market.
Set your own schedule
Another benefit of online teaching that is often pushed is the ability to set your own schedule. While this is true if you’re teaching on iTalki or Outschool, it’s a bit misleading if you’re working with an online teaching company.
Pros: Set your availability
You can set what day you want to teach English online as well as the space of time you’re available to teach. You just open slots and the parents book you or your teaching company will book hours based on your availability.
Cons: You need to be free when your students are free
The period of time to teach English online is usually 4 pm to 8 pm Beijing time as most companies are based around the needs and demands of Chinese students.
So while you can set your schedule to some degree, you’re limited in what times you can teach. Also, unlike being a freelance web designer where you work on your projects when you want, with teaching you have to teach at the time you’re booked.
Teacher pay and salary
With teaching online you can make a lot of money per hour. There are numerous teachers on Outschool, Fiverr and iTalki that are making $30 to $50 an hour. Those who continue to work with online teaching companies can expect to make anywhere between $12 to $19 an hour depending on experience and the online teaching company.
Pros: A decent hourly wage
A good hourly rate that is worth your time. Work from the convenience of your home and make a great side income to help pay off debt. Online teaching is a wonderful side gig and depending on where you teach.
Cons: Lot’s of low paying companies
The pay for online teaching companies has decreased as the saturation of online teachers has increased while still maintaining high expectations for any potential independent contractor like a degree, experience and being a native speaker for a $10 an hour position.
In addition, these companies tend to have a strict cancellation policies for class and will deduct pay if you miss class for technical reasons or because you are sick. Overall, there are some great companies out there, but there are a lot of companies that are trying to take advantage of professional teachers.
Various levels of experience required
You can find online teaching opportunities that require no experience and no degree. See our guide on the best companies where you can teach with no degree. This is great because talented, motivated people can start earning money and helping people.
Pros: Earn money online with minimal skills
As college cost soar in the United States, getting a degree is a costly option if there is no clear return on investment. It’s excellent that there exists opportunities to work and earn a good income that don’t involve working for minimum wage or going massively into debt.
Cons: A degree is usually required
Most online teaching companies require you to have a degree. This is because of specific legal requirements that ESL teachers have to meet. Online teaching companies are still the most easiest and lucrative way to earn money as an online teacher.
Also, most online companies that say “no experience or degree required” typically pay the same or even less than minimum wage. See our iTutor review to learn about how this conglomerate pays so little.
For online teaching, some basic technology is required. Fast, reliable internet. A modern laptop, a quality pair of headsets, maybe a microphone and a webcam. For most teachers, you’ll probably already have the required technology. If however you’re still rocking gear from 2016 it may be time to upgrade your tech stack.
Pros: Straightforward requirements
Most of the technology required you already have. In general, most teachers simply opt to buy a new pair of headsets that have a microphone, but it’s up to you and what your needs.
If you’re setting up a home office and don’t want to use a laptop, then consider an all in one desktop for online teaching. In general, the tech side of things is easy and start-up costs are low.
Cons: Lack of internet access
Technology not working is normally the biggest stressor when teaching online. Your internet suddenly stops working and you have class in 5 minutes or one of your pieces of technology suddenly has an issue and so forth.
As you have to teach when you are booked, this makes it imperative that your technology and internet work when it has to or you’ll have to face the consequences of a missed class like reduced pay, penalties and potentially being fired.
We had an online teacher who’s power plug for their laptop broke last minute, requiring them to drop everything and rush to the store so their laptop would not die in the middle of class.
Teach your own students
You don’t need to work with an online teaching company. However it’s a great way to get your start and learn the process for how to conduct an online class. As we mentioned, most teachers tend to get comfortable working for a platform like VIPKID. However, if you’re willing to form your own lesson plans and recruit your own students you can make a significantly higher income.
Our personal favorite platforms to teach online are iTalki, Outschool and Fiverr. These platforms are simply marketplaces where they have students you can potentially recruit.
Pros: Higher income and more flexibility
Going this route long term allows you to charge $30 an hour or more. You also don’t have to teach children based in China. You can have a wider variety of students from adults looking to learn business English to students based in other parts of the world so you’re not always teaching early mornings.
Cons: A lot more upfront work
As you’re going on your own without a company doing the lesson planning and tech stack for you, you’ll need to sort this out yourself. You’ll need to setup a process for scheduling students, conducting the class itself as well preparing the lesson material. This is a tremendous amount of work if you’re starting from scratch. However, long term we believe it’s the most viable option
Conclusion: Is online teaching worth it? Yes and no.
Teaching online is now a developed market with numerous pros and cons. No, online teaching is not worth it if you’re going to be working for a company that want’s to pay you $10 an hour. But a company that will give you $16 or more is something to consider, particularly if it’s a side gig in addition to a job.
Long term we suggest you learn how to get your own students as you can charge a higher rate and have more freedom and flexibility as a professional online teacher.