Ajarn Street

Making the move to on-line teacher

Why on-line teaching makes perfect sense

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.

Here's why:

Unprecedented Convenience

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.

The Disadvantages

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.

Convinced Yet?

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.


An interesting article, although it seems to be as much a commercial for the writer’s services as it is informational, but nevertheless the article makes a number of good points.

Although not in ESL, I have been teaching online for around 10 years, mostly as a supplement to other income but my online earnings over the last 10 years have been higher than my other income. Many universities, especially in the USA, have online courses and they often hire adjunct professors to teach these courses. An adjunct’s pay while living in the US or other developed country is nothing special, but it goes quite a ways while living in Southeast Asia. I cannot comment on ESL teaching online, but there are online opportunities for professional educators ranging from working with children being home-schooled to supervising PhD dissertation at US or other developed country institutions which can be taken advantage of while living abroad. Something to think about as a long-term goal for individuals wanting to live and travel internationally.

Living in Thailand while working in the USA (or other developed country) is not the worst option a person can find.

By Jack, In front of my computer (22nd March 2018)

The BKK Post published a news story last year on 'net cafes with virtual office facilities because one had recently been raided by Imm for having a load of falangs on tourist visas working in it, teaching English online to China.

None were prosecuted and a senior police official issued a statement saying that it was an acceptable practice.

Tax didn't even come into the equation because "tourists" are not subject to it.

Case closed.

By Geoff Richards, Outta Udon (23rd January 2017)

In addition to ESL online teaching, there are also many opportunities for more “formal” online teaching in universities and even primary schools. For example, online higher education has become pretty well established and is provided by both totally online universities and as part of mixed programs of online and face to face courses provided by many traditional universities. Almost all American universities provide some courses online. I have been teaching online at a variety of universities around the world for going on ten years now, teaching undergraduate and graduate level courses as well as acting as a dissertation chair and committee member.

Most of the work is part-time and the pay is the same as adjunct faculty members get anywhere in the world, while not high by Western standards it does provide a pretty good standard of living for those of us who mainly live in developing/low income countries like Thailand. While I most often combine online teaching with more traditional employment, I almost always make more money from my part-time online teaching than any full-time job in a developing country (unless when working at a Western University in China or other neighbouring country).

My online teaching has paid for my two children to attend university and paid for the house we recently bought.

Also there are opportunities for qualified teachers working with students in the USA being “home-schooled” although I don’t have any specific experience with this.

I am a little confused by Mark’s questions about whether it “works.” There is extensive research comparing the outcomes of online versus traditional university education, without coming to a simple answer. It seems for some people at some times, online education produces as well or even better results than traditional education, while in other people in different situations the outcomes might not be as positive.

But, if some students think it is worth paying for, then the market says it works.

I don’t have any personal experience in online ESL teaching, but I doubt online ESL teaching, due to the abundance of competition, will ever be a guaranteed path to riches, but I suspect for many teachers it could be a decent supplement to meagre ESL wages and even an alternative for a few people to having a traditional ESL teaching job at a school.

By Jack, Was here, now there (8th January 2017)

This entertaining article comes across as an 'infomercial' that seems to be trying to glamorizing something that probably needs some glamorizing.

The highlights and advantages are expounded upon at some length and the downsides are kind of brushed under the carpet.

The author has certainly covered the bases... except for the most important one: Does it work?

How does learning something through a camera on your laptop really work and can it be an effective way to learn the English language.

I'd be interested in hearing from professional English language teachers. I suspect that it can be a useful tool to 'practice' a language but not an effective way to 'learn' one.

I'm also a bit suspicious of people who say they can make "good money" doing this... which, thankfully, this writer is honest enough to avoid saying!

Has anyone else out there done this in the past? Are there any properly trained, experienced English language teachers out there with an opinion as to the efficacy of online language learning?

I'd be interested in reading the follow-up comments.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (6th January 2017)

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