So, you’re super keen to apply for a work from home, online ESL teaching role. You meet all the general requirements, you’re confident you’re suitable for the role, and you were thrilled to hear that there are multiple companies out there that happily hire Australians (read more about that here). Now, the question becomes, which company/companies do you apply for? While it’s easy and seemingly logical to assume you go where the most money is offered, there are actually several other important things to also consider when choosing which company will be right for you. Below I’ve laid out what I consider the essentials for you to weigh up in making your decision.
Something to be aware of when taking an online ESL teaching role as an Australian, is that it’s very likely that your pay rate won’t be in Australian dollars. For example, teachers who work with DaDa have their personal set pay rate in Yuan, which is a monetary unit in the Chinese Renminbi (RMB) currency. While this can seem like a potential issue at first, it isn’t really, as DaDa have the currency converted for you as part of the payment process and it is most certainly AUD that arrives in my bank account from DaDa each month. There is a small conversion fee for this, but given that working online I save HEAPS on travel to and from work, and various other typical work-related expenses, a few dollars a month for the currency conversion doesn’t bother me.
The actual issue here, as I see it, is that as currencies fluctuate, the amount you earn in AUD per month will fluctuate too. In the almost four months I’ve been teaching online, the fluctuation hasn’t been too bad – I think the most the RMB to AUD value has varied has been by about 50 cents (Australian). It’s not great to lose 50 cents off your hourly earnings, but small fluctuations aren’t a deal breaker for me. This potential for fluctuation is certainly something you should be aware of when applying for jobs and negotiating your salary.
This is another key thing to be aware of when considering which online ESL company you want to work for. With most online ESL companies, your set hourly pay rate is only for the time when you actually have a student/students to teach. Time when you are contracted to work but don’t actually have a student to teach is generally called standby time, and you are generally contractually required to sit in front of your computer, logged-on to the teaching portal, waiting for the last minute lessons or trial classes (usually short classes for new potential students who are trying out the company, or trying out you as a teacher) which do pop up. What (or if) you are paid for waiting in standby time varies quite a bit across the different online ESL companies. Some don’t pay you at all for standby time, while a few pay you a percentage of your hourly wage, or a set ‘standby rate’ (DaDa, for example, pay 50% of your regular wage for standby time). This is something you should think about carefully when choosing online ESL companies to apply to. Are you willing to sit at your computer during standby hours that are unpaid if you don’t have a class pop-up? Depending on your personal circumstances, this may be completely fine for you, but this is certainly something to be aware of when considering online ESL companies that might be a good fit for you.
You should also be aware that some companies also have assorted bonuses you can earn, which can be a great addition to your standard earnings. These vary across different companies of course, and are certainly something to be investigated and considered when you are looking at a company’s pay structure and working out what will be suitable for you.
Payment method is another important thing to think about when choosing an online ESL company to work for. Options will vary across companies and can include international bank transfer, PayPal, Alipay and WeChat. Not all of the different options out there are necessarily available to Australians (when I was first looking for an online ESL teaching job, a couple of the payment methods different companies offered required a Chinese bank account, which was not possible for me to obtain from outside of China), and different options charge different fees (for example PayPal charge a percentage fee on each payment, which meant I would lose a big chunk of money every month, so that wasn’t an option I was willing to use. Then there are also the fees some Australian banks charge for international transactions to be considered too. This can generally be worked around though, as there are Australian banks who offer accounts that don’t charge fees for receiving international transactions (Hello ING!). Also, many people in the online ESL teaching community are now using TransferWise, and reporting that it’s a great option for minimising fees when getting paid by overseas companies.
Some online ESL companies offer one-to-one lessons, where as the teacher you will be working with one individual student per lesson, while some offer small group lessons, where you’ll be working with a small group of students, teaching them all concurrently as a class. As a very experienced bricks and mortar teacher and someone who now also has experience in the online ESL environment, I can say that I personally prefer one-to-one lessons in the online ESL environment, I feel each of my students gets the maximum possible learning from each lesson in this manner. I think that ensuring every student has an engaging and academically enriching experience in a small group virtual classroom would be a significant challenge (though I’m sure there are LOTS of awesome teachers out there who do exactly this every lesson!), and I’d encourage anyone considering applying to teach ESL online to reflect on their skills and abilities and choose a job with student/teacher ratios under which they are confident they can give their students an awesome academic experience.
As always, there’s a lot more I could write, but I’ve covered the main points I wanted to share with you about this topic, so I’ll leave it there for now. There’s so much to consider when applying for an online ESL teaching job, and it can all seem a bit daunting at first, but if you put in the effort to find the right company for you, you can have a really fantastic and rewarding experience.
Happy job hunting,