It's 6.55pm in Phuket. I'm sitting in a coffee shop, watching the world go by and the sun go down, and I flip open my laptop.
My student in Russia
It's 2.55pm in Moscow. Sergey, a 17 year old student about to sit his school leaving exams - exams so important in the Russian education system that success or failure here will shape the rest of his life - has just arrived home and is sitting at his desk giving last week's homework a final check.
At 7pm I call him over Skype and we have a brief chat about his week, about the weather in Moscow, the latest world news, and Chelsea's result last weekend (he's an ardent supporter - in fact, Chelsea lost, so our brief chat runs to ten minutes as Sergey gives some post-match analysis and I feed in useful language like 'own goal' and 'John Terry is past it'.)
We go through his homework as the sun is disappearing below the sea, and he tells me what he's been doing in English at school, I answer any problems he's had with it, and then we work together doing some exam practice tasks for his Russian school examinations.
I'd found a treasure trove of exam prep materials on the Internet, completely free. The hour-long lesson flies by and soon our time is up. But I continue for another 15 minutes because we're both in the flow. Then I set him some homework, arrange a time for our next lesson - usually the same time, same date - and say пока. Then I order another coffee.
Time for a change
Three years ago, I was working at an international school in Moscow, working something in the region of 50 hours a week. I'd also started taking on private students, so several evenings a week I'd set off from my school and trudge for anywhere up to 30 minutes through the snow in temperatures occasionally touching minus 30 degrees centigrade to get to my student's apartment, where the temperatures in the superheated apartment blocks usually touched plus 30 degrees centigrade.
I'd been doing this for over two years. I was exhausted, utterly exhausted.
I knew that this was no way to live life, especially after spending two weeks in hospital with a mild viral infection, so in the summer of 2012 I decided to swap the Land of Frowns to the Land of Smiles. Today I still teach the same private Russian students, except now, instead of trudging through snowdrifts and skidding over patches of ice, I simply open up Skype.
I'm an online English teacher, part of a booming sector of "edupreneurs" - teachers working for themselves, combining their skills and knowledge with technology, to create their own business.
Technology today has levelled the playing field, enabling individual teachers to compete on equal (or better) terms with private English language schools, enabling them to find students from all over the world, communicate with them, find materials and get paid.
Bangkok is perfect
In my opinion, Bangkok is one of the best places in the world from which to operate as an online English teacher. Living costs here are relatively low while Internet connectivity is good. Add to that the large number of coffee shops in the city with good WiFi connections and you really have everything you need.
Personally I prefer to teach from my apartment, but the choice is there. You can even teach while on your travels, from a hotel room looking out towards the mountains or, as I occasionally do, from a coffee shop looking out over a beach.
You can also supplement your income from online teaching by teaching English at one of Bangkok's many English language schools, which has the added advantage of getting you sorted out with visas, work permits, professional development and health insurance, not to mention colleagues with whom you can unload your woes.
Online teaching in Thailand also has one other big advantage: because you can teach students from all over the world, you can teach students where the pay rates for private English tutors are high, such as Japan, South Korea, the Gulf states and Russia.
When you factor in the low cost of living in Thailand, this means you don't need to work that many hours in order to make ends meet, giving you time to live your life more fully: working to live rather than living to work. My Muscovite students pay me three times the rate I'd get teaching English at a school in Bangkok. And with online teaching there's no sweaty commuting. And you can teach in shorts!
How's your online business?
So are you an online English teacher? Where are you based? Bangkok, Chiang Mai, elsewhere? What do you like about it and what difficulties (if any) do you face? Where do you teach your lessons? From your house or apartment, or a coffee shop? And which coffee shops? Which ones have reliable WiFi?
Where do your students come from and how do you find them? What sort of things do you teach? Conversation practice, exam preparation, Business English? Let's start a conversation about teaching English online from Thailand, so feel free to write a comment below.
I'm going to write a series of articles on online English teaching for Ajarn, including how to find students and what to teach them. So please check back. Meanwhile, why not check out my blog