I’ve just finished class with Renata, a pediatrics resident who will go to the United States in July for a one-month observership. We’re focusing on conversation right now, but I’m also coaching her in American culture.
Tonight we discussed how Independence Day is celebrated in the States, and she’s excited that she will arrive in time to see the festivities firsthand.
“Thank you, Teacher,” she says as we log off.
I’ve been teaching English for more than nine years now, and I’m still touched each time I hear those words.
Renata was my last student of the day, so I log out of Skype, walk over to the couch, plop down, and open Netflix.
I’m living in Brazil, supporting myself teaching English. I teach professionals, mostly online. Between you and me, it’s not a bad life.
Most weeks I teach between 20 and 22 hours.
Three mornings a week, I meet my personal trainer at the beach at 7 o’clock. After my workout, we return to my apartment where I give him an English class in exchange.
I have a morning class Tuesdays and Thursdays, a noon-time class most days, and a block of classes each weeknight 6 to 9 p.m. I devote another couple of hours on Friday morning to doing lesson plans for the coming week while listening to oldies on YouTube.
My schedule may seem a bit disjointed to some, but it works for me. It affords me lots of time during the day to run errands, pursue other activities, or simply to loaf. I usually finish my planning work by mid-morning on Friday, which is nice if I want to get away for the weekend.
Currently I charge 70 reais per hour (a bit under US$18 at current exchange rates). I probably should think about increasing my rates, but my income from teaching covers all my monthly expenses and affords me a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. I live in a modern, furnished apartment just four blocks from lovely Tombo Beach, with a view of the South Atlantic.
More than that, I have a super bunch of students, and I truly enjoy what I do. Not everyone can make that claim.
How Did I Get Started Teaching Online?
It was a bit of serendipity…
About 10 years back, after getting hammered in the real estate debacle in South Florida and the subsequent stock market plunge, I did some soul searching and decided that I needed a “do over.” I divested myself of most of my possessions and headed to Brazil. I had visited Brazil several times before this and had had the idea that I could make a living teaching English there.
I relocated to Rio de Janeiro, where I did well. Almost too well. After three years, I had a full schedule and was running around town morning to night teaching students in their homes and offices. I was becoming frazzled, and decided another move was in order.
So I relocated to the small town of Paraty, a few hours south of Rio. Paraty is a lovely colonial city featured in all the guidebooks. I figured that, thanks to the town’s thriving tourism industry, English classes would be in high demand.
This time I guessed wrong. I found few students, not enough to pay the bills.
So I contacted my old students in Rio, asking if they’d like to continue classes with me online. Some agreed to give it a try. About the same time, I met a couple of folks from São Paulo who were visiting Paraty and signed them up as students, as well.
From there, boca a boca (word of mouth) took over, and I added students steadily. Today I don’t have to look for students and often have to turn away students I can’t fit into my schedule.
Although I defaulted into teaching online, I find that I prefer it to teaching face to face.
Teaching English—either in person or online—has a lot to recommend it. Some of the many positives include:
- If you are a native (or near-native) English speaker, you can almost certainly do it. After all, you already know the subject matter cold; you just need to learn how to impart what you know.
- The demand is huge, and it’s only going to increase. In many parts of the world, English teachers—especially native speakers—are in very short supply.
- The earnings potential is solid, at US$15 to US$20 per hour… more if you settle into a good niche. And after you sign up a student, you’ve put in place a steady income for months or even years.
- The cost of entry is low. Traditional brick-and-mortar businesses typically require a heavy investment and entail risk. You can get started teaching English on a shoestring.
- [Shhhhh!] Don’t tell anybody I said this, but it really isn’t that hard! Actually, many classes are a lot of fun. Last week I had music classes with three students, listening to songs and interpreting the lyrics. And I’m currently reading “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” with another student.
To me, teaching online is better still, for several reasons:
- You work from home, so you don’t have to go out in bad weather or deal with traffic.
- Because you have no commute, you avoid transportation costs and you don’t lose time traveling from student to student.
- You can schedule consecutive classes without gaps between them, allowing you to teach more in peak periods. And, of course, that means higher earnings.
- Students like online classes, too. Wouldn’t you prefer having class in the comfort of your own home, in a relaxed environment?
- It’s a wonderfully portable profession. You could teach from right there in Peoria… or from your new retirement home in Panama. As long as you have a reasonably decent internet connection, you’re set.
What Holds People Back?
I can’t say enough good things about the upsides of earning an income teaching English online. Still, many folks are hesitant to try it. Some of the more common reasons I’ve heard are:
- “I’m no good with tech!”
The truth is, you don’t need to be a tech whiz. If you have a computer and know how to use Skype, you’ve already met the major requirements.
- “I’m too old.”
As Colonel Sherman Potter would say, “Horse hockey!”
While some online schools prefer young teachers (especially to teach children), that’s not true of most. And many students actually prefer a more mature teacher, who has more work and life experience to share.
- “I’m terrible at grammar!”
Look, you already know English grammar inherently. What you need to learn is a bit of nomenclature. Work your way through a good textbook such as “English Grammar in Use” by Raymond Murphy, and you’ll feel much more comfortable. It’s also important to understand that most classes aren’t focused on grammar, but conversation.
- “I don’t have a degree or certification.”
While some online schools prefer a degree and/or certification such as the TEFL, not all do. Demand for English teachers is very high, and if you are a native speaker, that may be all that a school or private student really cares about.
- “I wouldn’t know how to find students.”
Few of us enjoy marketing, but remember that the demand for English teachers is huge, and that works in your favor. Prime the pump, and the students will flow forth. Also, you can always begin by working with an online school, which will find the students for you.
When you hear the words “teaching English” you may envision parsing a sentence like your fifth-grade teacher did on the blackboard. But that’s not what you’ll be doing.
Many classes are centered around conversation. I might use a prepared lesson or simply have the student read an article for me, correcting pronunciation and explaining vocabulary as we go. Any topic is fair game, but food, travel, sports, and world affairs are popular, as are hobbies. As students advance, I also like to read and discuss short stories with them.
You might prepare students for work or study abroad. This can involve coaching them in how to take a test, helping them to complete an application or to write an essay, or simply giving them cultural tips, as I’m doing with Renata. (“You must tip so much?! Really?”)
Many students need English for their jobs. They need to learn specific vocabulary and how to navigate specific situations in English. If you have a background in IT, hospitality, health care, engineering, real estate, or general business, you may be able to command top-end rates, as, all around the world, professionals in these fields need English.
When I began teaching English, I never expected to be still doing it more than nine years down the road. But I enjoy it, I’ve found that I’m good at it, and I’m fairly compensated.
Also, I know that I am truly making a difference in the lives of my students.
What more could I ask for?