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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Online teaching for emergency cash

Starting in the late 1990s, teaching English in schools was a viable way of funding a living overseas. A lot has changed since then. Getting a teaching job on the ground these days is difficult. There’s lots of competition, too many teachers and stagnant salaries. In recent years, online teaching has emerged as another option. It pays less but offers more freedom. This article explains the essentials of teaching English online while living in Asia.

Teaching English online by the pool in Asia
Anyone can fund a decent lifestyle in Asia by teaching English online.

Working online is the way of the future. In the English teaching industry, jobs have dried up across Asia. In contrast, the number of online companies, schools and students has increased.

On the downside, online teaching pay is low. On the upside, you can make enough to fund a decent life for yourself in Asia.

Offline English teaching in Asia

The Asia teaching market is saturated: too many teachers, stagnant salaries, and higher expectations. In China, licensed North American teachers are in high demand. Outside of that, options are limited. Expect to compete with many non-natives willing to work for less (Nigerians, Filipinos, Eastern Europeans, Indians).

Teaching in Vietnam school
These are fewer teaching jobs on the ground in Asia these days.

What’s more, fresh graduates from Ivy League colleges are also flooding the teaching market. Many who come from wealthy families. Since they don’t need cash, they work for intern wages at places like this.

American interns in Shanghai
Wealthy Americans in China to teach English for intern wages.

In Bangkok, international school wages (around USD$2500 monthly) have been stagnant for years. In Cambodia, aspiring teachers join a crowded job market with Filipinos, Nigerians, etc. If looking for a teaching job without a degree, expect between $6-$8 per hour. While possible to survive on such tight wages, it will grind you down.

Going broke as a failed teacher

Here’s a warning story. A 48-year-old Englishman came to Cambodia looking to make money — in one of Asia’s poorest countries. He hit some early success that got him boasting online:
Optimistic teacher Facebook posts

Unfortunately he could not maintain his hot streak. One month after his FB posts, this happened:

Arrested for sleeping on the streets and begging for money in Phnom Penh, April 2018

The takeaway here is to avoid shaky teaching conditions. Backpacker teaching is still possible in Asia, but it’s much harder than before. Wages are low, jobs are unstable and you will barely scrape by. On top of that, you’ll be competing for jobs with third-world migrants from the Philippines, India and the Middle East. Many from those groups come armed with real degrees and verified teaching experience.

Teaching English Online in 2020

In 2020, teaching English online to Chinese students is still a viable way to make money. You need to come from an English speaking country, have a TEFL certification and be able to teach kids. On the downside, the work is mundane and the pay very low. Some schools pay as little as $2 per hour. Even worse, it’s a shady industry. Many schools deduct “fines”. Others stop replying to emails and never pay you.

Teaching English online from your bedroom
A simple conferencing studio in your bedroom is all you need to get started.

That said, most of the big companies are legit. If you work, you’ll get paid. The pay is better than begging on the streets, but not as much as washing dishes in Chicago.

Teaching online while based in Asia

Many online teachers base around the Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam regions. Here, you get fast internet, cheap apartments, and easy visa laws.

Relaxing in Bangkok Queen Sikrit park
Siesta time in Bangkok is just after lunch — for those with flexible schedules.

For example, in Bangkok or Phnom Penh, a decent 1-bedroom apartment costs around $400. Add private wired internet for around $250 per year. If you focus on teaching and live a basic lifestyle, monthly expenses can be as low as $800 per month.

In such a case, consider putting aside 25 hours per week for online teaching work. This will fund your living costs plus free up part-time hours to work on other projects.

Chances of getting online teaching jobs

If you have a clean North American accent, teaching experience and charisma in front of a camera, you can find work. With those three qualities, your age or appearance doesn’t matter.

In contrast, if you come across as awkward, poorly spoken or nervous, recruiters will judge based on appearance. the following generalizations will matter a great deal:

  • Attractive young female: 98 per cent chance of success
  • Ugly young female: 90% chance of success
  • Ugly young male: 40% chance of success
  • Fat male: 15% chance of success
  • Old man: 35% chance of success
  • Old lady: 20% chance of success

Where to apply for online English teaching jobs

This list should get you started on an online English teaching job hunt. All companies serve young Chinese students (3-12 years old). Some also offer adult lessons. Few offer full-time hours. The trick is to sign up for a few companies to meet your desired hours. From there, good teachers can build up a following of loyal students. As their following gets bigger and more consistent, a teacher gets more control over their earnings. They can work more to earn more — or do the opposite when they need a rest.

The best time to get teaching hours is on weekends: 10 hours per day is possible. Chinese holidays and school break periods are also good for 5-6 hours per day. During weekdays, most hours are in the evening, between 6 pm to 10 pm Chinese time.

All companies pay referral fees, so most links to jobs contain affiliate links. Ours don’t – these are clean links straight to the employers:

  • VIPKID: up to USD $22 per hour. Bubbly white females get priority.
  • DaDaABC: similar to VIPKID.
  • Qkids: similar to VIPKID, lower pay.
  • TutorABC: similar teaching conditions; less pay and hours.
  • SayABC: startup-like conditions; less pay and hours.
  • Landi English: less pay and hours; pay is docked for tardiness
  • Landi English: rigid cash-penalty conditions (pay is docked for various infractions); less pay and hours.
  • Talk915: $6.50 per hour; easy to get hired; plenty of students.

Regarding a high-water mark, Planet Asia knows one full-timer working for VIPKID. He makes USD$2,200 monthly on a fixed deal, for 25 hours of teaching per week (even if classes cancel). But that’s an exception, not the norm.

Most new teachers can expect around 10 hours per week to start with. The key is to build a following among the students you teach. If you’re good, you can fill out your schedule to a solid 40 hours of teaching per week within a few months.

If you want to dig deeper and get feedback from real people teaching English online, the Facebook group Online ESL Reviews has what you need.

What is online teaching like?

This guy taught at talk915.com (one of the lower-end operations):

“Aside from housing (a quiet controlled space), laptop and wired internet, you need a headset, video cam, and clean background. Skype over wifi was too slow for me. Wired ethernet connection is necessary.

Teaching English to Chinese kid over Skype
Teaching English to Chinese kids using Skype

I made enough to survive, but just barely. But you will risk your mental health. The classes were 25 minutes long. Most of the students are Chinese kids between 3-6 years old, with a few surly teenagers mixed in. Moms often sit in on lessons and flirt with you. It’s a lot of pressure. You get a 5-minute break between classes and then do it again.

Teaching little kids online
Teach little kids while their moms join in to flirt.

To learn more about online teaching burnout, check this Reddit discussion. The OP describes the pain in great detail.

Living and working in Asia

Most of the online teachers that we know live in Thailand or Vietnam. Cambodia is between the two and also a viable option. Living out of a backpack while teaching isn’t feasible — you need a fast wired internet connection.

A fixed digital nomad computer workstation in Cambodia
A digital nomad’s 1-year setup in Cambodia.

Luckily, many apartments in this region are foreigner-friendly. Amenities include things like western toilets, mosquito screens — and free internet, with your own dedicated router.
Once you have a few jobs and are able to count on internet English teaching for a living, consider a yearly visa that lets you stay in one fixed location.

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