The ONLY Things You Need to Start Teaching English Online
So, you’re interested in teaching English online. Maybe you are a bricks-and-mortar teacher who wants to supplement your income with a little side hustle. Maybe you teach ESL in a foreign country and want to make some extra cash in the evenings and on weekends. Or, you have returned home looking for a reliable and flexible revenue source. Maybe you are a stay-at-home-mom and need to be with your children, but still want an income source. Or perhaps you are travelling the world and want to plug in and make money to fund your travels when you can.
Whatever your situation is when considering teaching English online, you have to be thinking about what you need to do to get started. Worry not—we’re here to help!
You May Not Need as Much as You Think
Some online English teachers go ALL OUT—and that’s awesome; props to you teachers (pun intended).
However, there really isn’t a lot you need to get started teaching English online. In this article, we will outline what we believe are the essentials to getting started while still being a quality teacher.
The Absolute Essentials
Obviously there some essential things you will need to start teaching English online. The things that you absolutely cannot do without are:
a computer of some sort, and
an internet/network connection.
In terms of technical requirements for computers, the majority of companies can work with Mac OS or Windows. If you have at least 4GB of RAM and an Intel Core i3 processor or above, you should be fine.
For internet speed, they recommend at least 20 mbps download/upload speed. You can test your internet’s speed here.
While plugging in directly will get you a much faster connection, it is totally possible to use Wi-Fi for most companies.
Some teachers have reported being able to get away with slightly slower speeds, so you could try doing a mock class through your chosen company’s portal to see if it will work for you. We would only recommend doing this if your computer is fairly close to the minimum technical requirements. You wouldn’t want to totally lose out on an opportunity to secure a position because your computer was not capable of handling the online classes.
If you’re a travelling teacher, it might be a good idea to check with your Airbnb, hotel, or hostel before booking to make sure their internet is up to speed. (Ahem.)
A Word About Headsets
In the early days of teaching online, many teachers simply used the built-in microphone and speakers in their computer or tablet to teach their classes. These days companies are getting more and more strict on the headset rule.
While you will most likely have to use some sort of headset in your interview or demo to get hired, you may be able to get away with not using one once you have become an established teacher. This is only really relevant if you plan to teach while travelling and you are trying to absolutely minimize the amount of equipment you need to travel with.
On the bright side, smart phone earbuds with built-in microphones are often acceptable and widely used. This is especially good for people who backpack or who don’t want to invest a lot to get started.
That being said, the headset I currently use (Logitech H111 Stereo Headset) only cost me about $8 USD and I have been using it for over a year with no problems.
There are some pretty advanced (and expensive) headsets out there. These can be very good for comfort if you are teaching long hours. But if you are looking to get started without spending a lot of money, you have options.
Needed for Most Jobs
Obviously no matter where you teach there will be a “background” of some sort. It’s just what’s behind you in the video feed.
What we are talking about here is the need for decorated backgrounds. Many teachers use posters, stickers, magnets, shelves, whiteboards, and other things to create a setting for their “online” class. Some teachers even use greenscreens and digital backdrops. I have to say, some classrooms are truly impressive. But the truth is, you don’t really need much. Most times, a simple and clean background which is free of distractions will be just fine.
I personally had to spend a little money to get an easel and a whiteboard because the space in which I teach is not situated near a wall. It’s a basement room, so it was too distracting to teach in without putting something behind my head.
However, many very successful teachers simply use a plain wall. They position their teaching setup so that their video feed is close-cropped and looks like a professional headshot. This is great because you can basically teach from anywhere and you don’t have to invest money in elaborate backgrounds.
(If you enjoy having an elaborate background and feel that it really adds to your students’ experience, that’s great! We are just recommending the essentials for teachers who want to get started as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Do what works for you!)
Basic Level Props
There are a few basic props that most companies recommend, particularly for your interview or demo class.
a small whiteboard (demonstrating how to write individual letters, spelling words, blending sounds, demonstrating verb tenses),
and a hand puppet (modelling dialog, easing tension with young learners, identifying body parts)
These are pretty cheap and can be picked up on Amazon or at your local dollar store. You might even have them laying around the house.
A Word About Secondary Reward Systems
When teaching English online, most companies have a way to give the student virtual rewards during class. VIPKid and Gogokid use virtual stars in their classrooms. You give the students these virtual stars when they are doing well, or trying hard. The students can then redeem their stars for things like avatars to deck out their online profiles.
A secondary reward system is something physical you have with you to “give” to the student (by showing it to them on screen). Some teachers will show these secondary rewards at the same time they click the digital reward, and others will use them in between the digital rewards.
Since most contracts have changed and now refer to online English teachers as “independent contractors”, some companies are changing their policies regarding secondary reward systems. VIPKid has said that they cannot require teachers to use them, but they encourage them to do so. Gogokid still requires teachers to use secondary rewards.
In either case, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Some teachers will use a different secondary reward for every class (and I applaud them for their creativity and initiative). Personally, I have used the same secondary reward system for EVERY class I have done at EVERY company since I started teaching online. Currently, 99.5 per cent of my feedback scores are “perfect” and I haven’t had an open time slot go unbooked in the last four months.
I use stars printed on colored paper that are glued to magnets (pic at the end of this article). I stick them on my whiteboard background at the same time that I award the digital star in the online classroom. Simple, cheap, and effective.
I also know many successful teachers who actually do not even use secondary rewards. They get great reviews and are booked all the time.
So while we do recommend you have a secondary reward, especially for the interview or demo stage, don’t stress yourself out about rewards. You can make one and use it for everything you do, or you can actually forgo the secondary reward once you get hired (remember Gogokid still REQUIRES you to use one) and focus on other aspects of your teaching.
Check out our Teaching Supplies page for some secondary reward ideas that you can purchase and use regularly. And by all means, you do not need to buy something. You can make something at home like I did.
What We Recommend
There is one more item that we personally recommend. You won’t need this prop to pass your interview or demo, but it’s a solid addition to any online English teacher’s collection.
Cue drum roll…
It’s a toy microphone!
“Why a toy mic?” you say. Well, VIPKid, Gogokid, Magic Ears, SayABC, and Palfish ALL use songs in their curriculum. Having a toy mic makes things fun and interactive. It’s also a very good way to physically demonstrate what you want the student to do. Point the mic at yourself and model the line in the song for them. Point the mic at them and they know it’s their turn to sing.
I also use my microphone with older students. Whenever they have to answer a comprehension or open-ended opinion question, I pretend as though I am a journalist interested in their thoughtful response.
The toy mic usually gets a positive response from students and it is one prop you can use in virtually EVERY lesson.
Quality Minimalism (so you can focus on your teaching)
This is everything that I use for every class I teach. I only use three “props”:
a stuffed animal,
my star magnets.
I don’t even use my whiteboard anymore because I find it more effective to the use the pen built into the online classroom.
I don’t make additional props for each new class and I don’t use secondary reward systems other than the physical stars. And, I use this same secondary reward for every company I teach with. My headset cost me $8 USD. My “puppet” was a plush toy that I had around the house because I liked the TV show (yay, Adventure Time!). If I could have placed my teaching setup somewhere in my house close to a plain wall, I would have done so to simplify my setup even more.
I am always fully booked and I have a near-perfect feedback rate.
I am not saying this to brag, but to give you hope that you don’t need to buy or prepare a bunch of things to get started.
Focus on being yourself, making a connection with the student, and delivering the content well and you will have as many bookings as you want or need.
(Yes, I totally realize we have links to Amazon products in this article and on our website. We have those for the teachers who would rather have it show up on their doorstep than make it at home or visit the local store. I’m somewhere in the middle: I ordered my background and headset from Amazon, but I made my secondary reward system at home. Different things work for different people and we’re trying to help everyone out as best we can.)
Is there anything that we missed in our article? What do you think online English teachers absolutely need to get started? Did you learn anything from our blog today? Let us know what you think in the comments!