It wasn't too long ago that I was finishing up an online lesson from a coworking space in Bangkok (don't worry, I used a private room lest the other workers be subjected to my lesson for free) and started thinking about how I got there.
Cliche, I know, but as someone that taught in both Korea in China, it wasn't the easiest decision to leave traditional classrooms in search of greener pastures. Those greener pastures, it turns out, were virtual classrooms, and while the demand for English teachers isn't changing (there are predicted to be 2 billion English learners by 2020, after all), the way lessons are taught is evolving.
If you need proof that teaching online isn't just some futuristic concept brought on by the fall of Skynet, consider this: VIPKID, a Chinese online learning platform, just raised $100mil in funding. So, just because you aren't ready to leave the classroom doesn't mean your students feel the same.
Luckily, I did feel the same, and thus began my adventure into online teaching. As I write this I am transitioning away from teaching entirely (greener pastures syndrome, I suppose), but I still think moving online is both the future and a smart move for teachers.
While some teachers might define convenience as being able to work in your underwear, the truth is that online lessons afford a sense of convenience to both teachers and students that is unmatched when compared to the classroom.
For teachers, simply imagine removing your commute entirely from your job. How much time would you save? What about the ability to work from anywhere? Or the chance to teach in addition to another job?
If you think those are appealing, students have it even better. Some of my students had their lessons from some unconventional places including a cafe and even an airport while waiting for their flight. While the most common place to have a lesson is in the comfort of one's own home, having the ability to learn wherever is opening up education to people that never even considered it.
Take a student who has other responsibilities like a full time job or a family to take care of. They are now able to get lessons on demand as opposed to basing their schedules around a traditional class. This also results in a huge benefit to teachers as you can literally work as much as you want, whenever you want.
An Easy ‘Next' Step
There comes a time for many teachers where change is in the air. Maybe you're looking to change cities or countries, or maybe you're one of the many gap-year teachers. However you define yourself, change can be difficult and overwhelming for anyone that's not a ‘jump-and-a-net-will-appear' type person.
Teaching online helps mitigate that feeling. For people looking to move back home, it can provide a part time stream of income until you find something else. If you're retired, teaching online allows you to stay in the game without having a full course load. And if you're a professional teacher looking to make a career jump, having online classes to fall back on can help make that jump less scary.
This is far from a comprehensive list of the benefits of online work, but it should help get the wheels turning. Take me for instance, I knew that I wasn't a career educator but also that I wasn't fully ready to leave teaching behind.
Not a lot to go on, right?
I ended up using online classes as a bridge between traditional teaching and my next journey. And it worked - I taught as much as I wanted (usually) and devoted the rest of my time to personal projects and career development.
A Safe Bet
I've had my share of crappy coworkers and while I will never condone "job jumping", I also know that not all teaching jobs are created equal. The internet is filled with stories of people flying halfway around the world to jobs that don't live up to their expectations, or worse, don't exist. To anyone that has ever had one of those crappy or misrepresented jobs, you can take solace in the fact that it's far less likely to happen with online schools.
To start, online teachers are not bound to their school with a visa or housing - if the job isn't what you expected, you can quit and move on without issue (or red tape). In addition, the issue of job availability as it relates to location is completely removed from this equation.
Imagine if you're a teacher that has fallen in love with a city but are hesitant to teach there due to the abysmal job opportunities. Unless that city doesn't have internet, that is no longer a problem.
This is not to say that all online schools are beacons of transparency or that there are no quality jobs at traditional schools, only that your level of risk for taking a job is far less online than offline.
Unfortunately, it's not all peaches and cream when it comes to teaching online and there are some definite things to consider before taking the plunge.
The one that might concern you the most, especially if you're an experienced teacher, is that there are not a lot of high-paying jobs. Yes, there are some specialties like test prep and corporate tutoring, but the majority of jobs top out around $20-$25 per hour. Furthermore, if you're used to having your housing provided for you, I'm afraid that's off the table as well.
The other issue is the whole legality of working online. The fact is that most people who work online from various cities and countries do so on tourist visas, something that is not quite legal. I am not here to debate the ethics of teaching online, but I don't want you to think there is some loophole that teachers are exploiting. I highly advise you to take the law and taxes into consideration if you're thinking about working online in any capacity.
Virtual teaching is not for everyone and teachers that make the transition usually have a few habits they need to restructure in order to be effective online. Still, if you're one of the many teachers looking to make a change or just earn a bit of extra money, I highly recommend giving it a try.
Quincy is one of the founders of English Online Hub, a site dedicated to helping people find online teaching jobs. If you're interested in teaching online you can browse their job board or get advice from other teachers on their blog.
At the moment he is back living in China and in constant pursuit of strong coffee and IPAs.