Teaching English Online: A Primer

Sep 16, 2022


The world of teaching English or tutoring students has advanced far beyond phonics at the kitchen table, or ESL classes at the community college. Not only can qualified teachers pick up extra shifts doing distance K-12 assistive language learning, but it’s become significantly easier to do adult English teaching online. There are over a dozen platforms, apps, and sites you can join to get teaching, so there are lots of options for teachers with many levels of experience.

But, independent of experience, tutoring or teaching English in an online setting may require licensing or showing credentials. Most firms demand a TESOL or higher, while a select few only require a BA/4 year degree from an accredited American university. And depending on the platform you choose, you might even be forced to wear a Uniform. 

Important Note 

Check work requirements! Some tutoring services require US or Canadian work authorization. This is a deal-breaker for some remote workers, so make sure to check the site before joining!

Homeroom Setup (H3)

Online tutoring & teaching demands more from your technology than Zoom. Your Wi-Fi connection might not be enough, especially for HQ video, so grab a network cable to plug directly into your router. Experienced teachers told us the easiest way to disrupt a spectacular class is to watch the inertia melt as your laptop looks for wireless signals.

If you have an old school laptop, a Chromebook/Android tablet, or some other custom set up, it might not be compatible with the proprietary software a lot of these platforms require being installed before you can even start looking for clients. 

One thing all of the sites won’t tell you is that start-up comes with a mostly required, non-trivial amount of upfront spend. This goes to creating your virtual blackboard, collections of visual aids, and decorating your classroom view. A platform will subsidize these costs occasionally, but that is rare, so don’t be surprised if you get “everything you need” from Staples or Amazon and you find you’re $100 or more in the hole before you’ve taught a single class. 

Thankfully, you’re not completely on your own out there. The better sites provide training, both using app-based resources, and general education resources to level up. There should also be general curriculum materials, some digital tools for the teacher, and ways to preview how material you post will look to students before you jump into a session.

When you’ve got everything set up, just be aware it might be days or weeks until you book your first client. Some platforms require self-marketing, maintaining a listing, and handling user complaints. Plus, when you do book a client, you’re not guaranteed that pay. Clients drop, are late, reschedule, or flatly reject certain teachers for bad, sometimes borderline abusive reasons. 

But all of this comes with a huge upside as well. Once you’ve got a small crew of clients, and the money starts to roll in, it’s much easier to hype up your profile, get testimonials from satisfied customers, and flag accomplishments! If you’re able to stand out given your unique experience (maybe you taught English in Asia, or was part of the foreign services), you might hit the jackpot, where word of mouth about you spreads, and new clients start seeking you out!

Red Flags & Warning Signs (H3)

  • You should be paid through a 3rd party payment processor or the service’s ADP/payroll service. If you’re approached to accept payment through non-traditional channels like wire transfer, WhatsApp, alarm bells should go off. 
  • Some tutoring platforms have been known to shorten/edit the name that’s displayed to the eventual students you’re working with. This happens to teachers with “uncommon” names more often, unfortunately. 
  • Conversely, even when platforms get everything right, the students can be all over the place. Clients who threaten to report you or review you badly can create headaches that are hard to fix.

Tricks of the Academic Trade (H3)

Thankfully, after being schooled by a few excellent remote teachers, we collected the best tips for anyone trying to do this seriously. 

  • It’s so easy to burn out scheduling session after session, especially once you’ve built up a small book of clients. Schedule breaks after even 1-2hrs of continuing sessions, lengthening your workday as new clients book and you become more experienced.
  • Conversely, have you only done tutoring or teaching in short bursts? Have you taught 30/60+ minutes in a row before? If not, certain teaching platforms or apps might not be for you, and that’s ok. There are ways to fit al 
  • Site support and community differs wildly from platform to platform. If it feels like a tutoring company isn’t up to snuff, check out r/TESOL, r/OnlineESLTeaching, and r/ELATeachers for advice. There might be half a dozen options for you, just out of view. 


While this feels like all bad things with few highlights, there are few feelings equal to working with someone and seeing them improve over time. It might not be a full time job, but getting extra cash for something you’re already trained in and certified for is a no brainer. As every single teacher we spoke to said, you can’t put a price on seeing students graduate, master language skills, or get a job where they speak English every day. If that’s what you’re looking for, get to it! A world of dropped calls, Zoom blackboard work, and student graduations awaits you!