Back in the day, before online English teaching jobs were a thing, adventurous types would show up in schools around the world with their backpacks on, ready to teach.
In those days, ending up working for a dodgy school was a big deal. You’re in a new country, you don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language or know the culture. And now you’re stuck!
At least when it comes to online teaching, you don't have to relocate. But it sucks to find yourself working for a company that doesn’t pay you on time, or has an unfair lesson cancellation policy.
The TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) industry is not well-regulated and there can be some horror stories regarding bad schools. But you can avoid being another anecdote if you know what you’re getting yourself into and use your smarts to avoid bad online schools.
In this post, I’ll guide you in your search for places to teach English online with 5 ways to find trustworthy online English teaching jobs.
#1 Online English Teaching Platforms
If you’re ok with freelancing and don’t need a job (with regular pay, benefits and holiday time), consider teaching on online platforms like Verbling, iTalki and Preply.
These platforms have an application process – you’ll need to create an account, an intro video, a profile and upload copies of your teaching certificates if you have them. Once you’ve been accepted, you can start teaching but they won’t guarantee you a certain number of hours or rate of pay.
The way it works is that students browse the profiles. And if they like your intro video, they might book a trial lesson with you. If that goes well, they may come back and book a series of lessons. If you don’t want to work with them, you don’t have to.
#2 Long-Established Companies
One way to give yourself a better chance of finding a trustworthy job is to search for teaching roles with long-established companies in the field.
Some big names in English language teaching are organisations like the British Council, International House and Bell. These educational institutions don’t use discriminatory language in their job adverts such as “native speakers only”.
The British Council is a registered charity in the UK, a public corporation and an executive non-departmental public body. So you can be pretty confident that they’re not a fly-by-night school, here today and gone tomorrow!
Traditionally, these companies have operated language schools around the world with an in-person teaching model. Since the pandemic, the situation has shifted fast and they have pivoted to more online options.
For instance, English First, which usually recruits teachers to work in Asia, pivoted to online lessons during the pandemic. The company has been around for 60 years. However, they’re not recruiting online teachers for the moment although you can fill out the application form in the meantime.
Berlitz is an American language company founded in 1878 with schools around the world. On the recruitment section of their website, you will now find online posts, including ones for remote English instructors.
#3 Online Companies
In the last few years, online English teaching has really taken off and lots of companies have sprung up. However, you will need to be careful and do your due diligence before applying.
The “pay” can be rather low and you’re usually not recruited as an employee – you’ll be expected to register as self-employed in your country and bill the company as a freelancer.
Given the rates at some schools, when you do the math on that, the “job” might not look so attractive. It might suit you only if you want to do teaching as a side-gig, not a full-time job.
A lot of English teachers based in the US found themselves out of work when the Chinese English tutoring market for kids collapsed in 2021 due to reforms introduced by the Chinese government.
So working for a company is no guarantee of stable employment. And most online teaching companies don’t offer holiday or sick pay – you’re a freelancer remember, according to them. That said, several are well-established and legit – they're not going to fold overnight or anything.
Be wary of people singing the praises of online teaching companies – some companies offer a referral bonus if people recommend them to their friends. If someone is giving a company 100% glowing reviews and encouraging you to sign up, they might be using a referral link.
If you want an overview of the different online teaching companies and whether or not you should work for them, onlineteachingreview.com.
#4 ESL Job Boards
You’ll find several TEFL job boards following a quick Google search. But, are these jobs vetted by the sites that let employers advertise there? Dave’s ESL Café has come under fire for allowing scams to be posted on the job board.
Here’s some advice on avoiding scams, including online.
I’m going to reiterate my advice about going with “brand names” in the industry. IATEFL is the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, founded in 1967.
On their site, you’ll find a jobs section as well as career guides for members on topics such as becoming a freelancer or getting into materials writing. You can also learn about how to get into teaching English as a second language.
If you don’t want to look on TEFL specific job boards, why not also search on sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster etc. You can search for “online English teaching jobs” and see what comes up. But follow my tips in the next section to make sure the job is trustworthy.
#5 Create Your Own Job
If all this sounds a bit depressing, I get it. The industry isn’t all bad, but a lot of teachers do go down the freelancing route due to how they’re treated when working for schools.
If you want to teach English online, then going it alone can be an option. You’ll be able to set your own rates and choose who you want to teach and how.
But you’ll need some time to build your client base, so it could be helpful to work on online platforms or for an online school in the meantime. If you're interested in this pathway, discover 8 ideas to find students when you work independently online.
7 Tips For Finding Trustworthy Online English Teaching Jobs
Ultimately, if you want to find trustworthy online English teaching jobs, you'll need to do your due diligence. Here are 7 tips to give you the best chance of avoiding dodgy online schools.
#1 Do Your Own Research
This goes for any job in any industry, but check out reviews of the company on sites like Glassdoor. Google them and see if any red flags come up. And ask around, which brings me to my next point.
#2 Talk To Other Teachers
Networking with other teachers is key to staying sane when you teach, especially online. And that goes for job searching too. Ask fellow teachers which companies they’ve worked with and how it went. Word of mouth works – people will tell you which online language schools to avoid.
#3 Use Your Instincts
If you get to the interview stage and something feels off, listen to your gut. If the interviewer doesn’t answer your questions properly, then consider that a red flag. You’re interviewing them too!
#4 Go With Big Names
This is no guarantee that things will work out. But generally, if you apply for a job with an established brand, then there’s more chance of things working out. It’s also more likely that there will be systems in place to handle problems if they occur.
#5 Ask Your Tutors
If you’re doing a teacher training course, then your tutors will probably bring up the job search towards the end of the course. They might know who is hiring and where you could work as a newly qualified teacher of ESL. Ask them and ask other trainees.
This is why it can be especially useful to do your teacher training in the country where you’d like to teach. As you’re there, you can ask people about job openings and do your research on the ground. Speaking of which.
#6 Go Local
If you live in the country where you’d like to teach, then start making connections with the teaching world there, even if you want to teach online. You might want to join a teaching organisation such as TESOL France, TESOL Spain, IATEFL Poland or IATEFL Hungary. You can find more teachers’ associations here.
They will publish information about teacher training events and conferences and may also publish job adverts. You usually have to pay a membership fee to join (it’s certainly the case for TESOL France).
But if you’re serious about teaching in that particular country, it makes sense to start building your network through a reputable organisation.
If you’re already in the country where you’d like to work, then you can start knocking on doors and contacting language schools. You can also get to know other teachers and ask them about the schools and employers and figure out who’s legit and who to avoid.
With the pivot to online teaching, some companies that used to offer lessons in schools or in-company (training people at their place of employment), are switching to online instruction or offering a mixture. Companies are even requesting online instruction for their staff.
#7 Don't Expect Miracles
Some online English teaching jobs require no teaching experience, no degree and no teaching certificate. And surprise, surprise, when this is the case, the pay and possibly the conditions are more likely to be poor.
For instance, one of the better online language schools I came across (although I haven't worked for them or vetted them in any way), VivaLing, requires a minimum of 2 years full-time experience, a teaching certificate and/or educational degree and a native or near-native level in the language you want to teach. But the “pay” is $20 per hour and you need to work a minimum of 12 hours per week.
Meanwhile, if you have no degree, no teaching experience and no certificate but you're a native speaker, you can teach for Cambly, but you'll get just $10.20 per hour (that's not salary by the way, so you might end up earning below minimum wage in your country) and you have no guaranteed hours.
That said, Cambly is a long-established and legitimate company so if you wanted to get your feet wet in online teaching, it could be a good place to start. But I'm not sure you could call it a “job” – it will be a side-gig for most people.
Final Thoughts On Online English Teaching Jobs
So there you have it, your guide to finding trustworthy online English teaching jobs.
With the collapse of the Chinese ESL market, online English teaching jobs are not quite what they once were. Some people were doing full-time hours for the Chinese companies.
These days, you'll have to diversify your income by working for several companies or having a mix of your own students plus students from online English teaching platforms. This makes sense as in either case, you're freelancing, and not getting paid a salary.
Your best bet, long-term, is to create your own job by working independently and finding your own students. This will allow you to set your rates so you can earn more and work with the students you want to teach.