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What It’s Like to Teach Online

What it's like to teach online

“My son and daughter are thriving at this school.”  

“I got bullied so bad at my last school, and I like this new environment.”

“My teachers really care about me here.”

“I love being part of this work family.  I appreciate the flexibility and feel supported by the administrators.”

These are the kind of comments I hear from parents, students, and teachers at my online school.  I started teaching online when I moved abroad.  It was going to take some time to get teaching credentials after moving and teaching online allows me to live abroad and still use my American teacher’s certificate to work remotely.  I am obligated to attend in person PD and administer state tests, but my day-to-day responsibilities consist of logging in to my computer at home and engaging students virtually.

Listen to the full podcast episode:

So… what exactly is teaching online like?

 So many misconceptions and misunderstandings surround teaching online.  While teaching in a brick and mortar school, my colleagues often talked negatively about teaching virtually:  

  • “The kids don’t do their work.”  
  • “You don’t build relationships with the kids.”  
  • “You can’t make as much teaching for an online school.”  

I was understandably skeptical when I started exploring my options.  But I knew someone who taught online after working in an urban classroom, and I was eager to hear his perspective.  

He shared his experience and explained what it would actually be like to work in the online teaching space.  I would like to do that same for you.  

In this article, I will share my experience teaching online and examine the benefits and drawbacks of both full-time and part-time teaching from home.  

If you've ever considered teaching online, or would  enjoy the flexibility to teach while you travel, live abroad, or work hours other than 8-3, let’s explore the possibility so you can make an informed decision.

My Experience Teaching Online

I teach English as a second language part-time and math full-time for two different companies.  

First, let me talk about my full-time position.  I teach high school math to about 150 students.  I have three classes: Algebra 1, geometry, and Algebra 2.  Other than my set teaching times and meetings, I can work when I want.  Some days I start my day around noon;  other times I start in the morning.  ​

During my assigned teaching times, I sign on to my class using my school-issued computer, upload my powerpoint, and welcome my students as they “enter the classroom.”  They can see me over a webcam and hear me on a mic.  I record all my classes so absent students can still access the content.  I decide which students (if any) get mic or video privileges.  I can literally mute students!  

Pros & Cons of Teaching Online Full-Time

  • I have direct control over all the chatter in my virtual classroom. I can allow students to chat with others or just chat with me.  Either way, I can see all the chats in real time.  Students send their questions over chat or answer questions in the chat box.  There’s no shame in asking for help because students can send me a question without anyone else knowing they are lost.
  • I can also send students to a specific website for an activity or online quiz. I can “pass out” worksheets, guided notes, or other resources.  I can also create other classrooms within my larger classroom to allow students to work in groups or differentiate my instruction. 
  • My curriculum is accessible through the online school and allows me to assign tests, papers, etc. to my students.  The curriculum is customizable and, depending on school policy and administrator preference, many teachers across my district make their curriculum their own.  For my purposes, I only had to tweak my curriculum.  
  • Fortunately, all of my assessments are graded and uploaded to the gradebook automatically.  I do not spend my Saturdays grading anymore!  I spend most of time connecting with students by calling families (with my school-issued phone), lesson planning, and tweaking my curriculum to best serve my students’ needs.  
  • I love the flexibility, complete lack of discipline issues, and the efficiency of the technology (recorded lessons for absent students, automatic grading, instant attendance, student activity reports generated by the system, etc.).  
  • A big challenge is that most of my relationship-building with students and families is either over chat, email, webcam, or phone.  It’s difficult to catch students who are struggling because these are the same students who don’t log on consistently and don’t answer their phones or emails.  
  • Another challenge is creating boundaries and balance. It’s easy to feel like you’re always working when working from home. 

Wondering about salary? Pay can sometimes be a bit less than a traditional school (depending on where you teach). However, the benefits are comparable and there are often whole staff bonuses for school performance metrics. 

Teaching ESL Online Part-Time

There are so many opportunities for native English speakers from the U.S. and Canada to teach students in China virtually.  The hours are usually early in the morning because of the time change, but this is precisely what makes it possible to manage along with a full-time job.  

There is also little to no lesson planning, depending on the company you work for.  They provide the software and the teaching material.  

There are important differences between the various companies for whom you can teach ESL online:

  • How you acquire students.  Some companies leave it up to you to advertise your expertise and attract students to “book” you.  Others assign students to you.  
  • Size of your class. Some companies have only 1-on-1 virtual lessons with the student and some have small groups, up to six students.  
  • Age of students. ​​​​You may have students as young as three years old or as old as 18.  
  • Continuity. ​​​​Many companies have you commit to teaching your students for a certain length of time, once or twice a week for several months.  However, others have you teach a completely new group every lesson.

This has been my personal experience:

I teach an average of four lessons in the morning four days a week, starting at 5:40 AM.  No doubt, I had to adjust to this schedule, but it’s fine as long as I get enough sleep.  Honestly, it wasn’t much earlier than I was waking up to go to my brick n’ mortar school building.

Administration is helpful and responsive.  They provide all the training.  They allow cancellations without it affecting my attendance score as long as I give them 24 hour notice.  

My lessons are a half-hour.  I teach 1-6 students at a time, ages 3-11.  I never get the same student twice because I do not compete for students--the company sets my schedule and assigns me my students.  

I do not plan lessons because the company provides all the teaching material.  My job is to make it fun and come alive for my kids.  They encourage lots of energy, smiles, and clapping.  The kids are cute, sweet, and excited to learn.  It’s refreshing and energizing for me.

I get paid per lesson and make bonus money for good attendance, being on standby, and for good ratings from students and teachers.  Being on standby means I make myself available if a teacher is a no show or has technology issues keeping them from teaching.

If I do not log in to my class early enough (3 minutes prior to start), the system automatically gets passed to a standby teacher.  Hours are assigned each week, both lesson times and standby times.  The better your rating, the better chance you have of getting a full schedule based on your availability.  I get paid direct deposit, on a contract basis, and in monthly increments.

Is Teaching Online Right for You?

Now that you’ve heard about my experience, you can see why I’ve become an advocate for online teaching.  I absolutely love it!

If you think teaching online might be right for you, we’ve accumulated some links to help you begin your search if you are interested.  Pray about it, and if the Lord leads, give it a try. You won’t regret it!

Links for Teaching Online

Questions about Teaching Online?

Let us know what questions you still have & we'll try to answer them for you. Just leave a comment below or send us an email to linda [at] teach4theheart.com. 

Teach Online Pin

Disclaimer: This article contains a few affiliate. If you are hired by VIP kids or QKids Funbulous after clicking the link above, Teach 4 the Heart may receive a small referral bonus at no cost to you. Thanks for helping support Teach 4 the Heart in this way.

What to Read Next
    • For the full-time teaching, yes. Most online schools operate on the same schedule as brick and mortar classrooms. For part-time teaching, such as teaching English online, there are actually more available hours to work during the summer because students like to take English classes during their summer break.

  • Thank you both for providing this information. I started out wanting to teach distance education, but I needed classroom experience first. I’m just about ready to start looking for a part time position, so this is great timing.

  • Thank you so much, Sabrina! I’ve been an urban educator (Brick & Mortar) for almost 20 years & left my school last year. I miss teaching but just really needed a change. Your article gives me hope that maybe I could teach again & for that, I thank you!

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