My Journey of Becoming an Independent Online Teacher
Yolande (Yo) de Klerk, online educator and content creation specialist, has been teaching ESL, mostly part-time, since 2008. Although language studies have always been her passion, she found herself in the corporate world for many years, working in various countries such as the USA, the Netherlands Antilles, and the UK. Now living in Cape Town with her family, she is back to doing what she loves: teaching English online and creating content.
The past two years have been a rollercoaster ride for everyone, especially teachers in China’s private sector. From bracing a heavy workload in the pandemic to figuring out new paths in education, we have held on to our passion for teaching despite the circumstances. And as I transitioned to the career of an independent ESL teacher, I’d like to share my experiences and tips with fellow educators.
A Surge in Demand for Online Tutoring in the Pandemic
At the start of 2020, many English teachers were working as freelancers, teaching students in various countries through some of the big ESL companies. The arrival of Covid rocked the world. It was an awful time as schools across the globe turned to online learning. In addition, parents were desperately trying to ensure that their children were not falling behind academically, so they signed them up for more online classes.
As an educator, my teaching schedule was jam-packed. Throughout my own bout of Covid, I taught many back-to-back classes, trying to keep up with the demand for English lessons. I felt almost guilty at the time to be benefitting from the pandemic even though that was what the students needed.
On the other hand, as a mother of two children, I was also trying to figure out if their school’s online offering was sufficient. I enrolled my children in private online French and Spanish classes, which was incredibly helpful for their language skills to not become rusty.
An Unexpected Turn for ESL Teachers in China
Fast-forward two years, and a whole lot has changed – the online education industry in China witnessed an overhaul. Teachers who were primarily teaching in China panicked as we saw big companies shut their doors. Many of us lost our source of income overnight, while some could hold on a little longer. Ultimately though, we knew that it was all ending. Teachers had to become creative with finding alternative sources of income.
As a member of many social media groups for ESL teachers, I have been astounded by the grit and determination of teachers who have tenaciously taken on a career in independent teaching. Of course, there have had to be some major changes. But this is what we do, right? We tuck and roll. We navigate the changes, and we make it work somehow.
5 Things to Consider as an Independent Teacher
I started to teach independent ESL classes in April last year. I only had two students, but it was enough for me to dip my toe in and test the water. Oh wow, what a new world I discovered! I was able to be a real teacher again on my terms. I could teach using my own style, and I didn’t have to conform to particular rules and ways of teaching that a company dictated. It was liberating, so I decided to put in some real efforts to expand these lessons.
I was able to be a real teacher again on my terms. I could teach using my own style, and I didn’t have to conform to particular rules and ways of teaching that a company dictated.
Luckily, independent teaching was not an untreaded path. I came across a few experienced independent teachers and mentors who I admired for their strength, courage, high-quality teaching methods, and business acumen. I followed their videos and posts on social media and gained so much inspiration. I am eternally grateful for this.
At a time when I was confused about how to tackle this big project, I received so much support. Of course, teachers and mentors have their own approach, and I didn’t agree with everything everyone said. But I listened with an open mind, eager to take in as much information as I could. Over the course of a few weeks, I put together my own plan on how to kickstart my career as an independent teacher. I had to consider various things:
This was probably one of the toughest decisions to make. I spent hours exploring books and web-based curricula that had been recommended by other teachers. When I worked for an ESL company, they had a structured approach to teaching and learning, which the parents of my students appreciated. I needed to find something that was similar.
The amounts that teachers charge for online lessons vary hugely, and those who target a niche seem to be able to charge more. In addition to figuring out how much my lessons are worth realistically, I had to take into account the time I spend on creating slides, doing administrative work, and more. In the end, it had to make sense for me to do this financially.
Independent ESL teacher groups are always full of questions on how to receive payments. Generally speaking, I need parents to be able to pay easily, but at the same time, I’m not willing to give a high percentage of my earnings to a company for helping me collect payments.
Over the years, I have used most of the big, popular platforms for video conferencing. For business purposes, the features were good and met all my needs. However, when I started to use this for teaching students, I realized there were certainly some shortcomings. I needed a platform that was specifically tailored toward teaching and learning. My research led me to some great online reviews for ClassIn from other teachers, so I decided to give it a go. I downloaded the app to my computer and signed up for a free account at the start. I was impressed. It has proven to be a professional and reliable platform to this day, and my students love it too.
It has proven to be a professional and reliable platform to this day, and my students love it too.
Marketing may be a strange concept for many teachers, but here are the questions we can ask ourselves: If I become a fully independent teacher, would I have enough students? Where would I find them? How do I go about it?
While teachers have different methods to recruit students, the main avenue that has worked for me has definitely been word of mouth. I put a lot of effort into creating a high-quality introduction video with translated subtitles – I explained what I do, my approach to teaching, and what my classroom environment is like. Of course, the video contains all my contact information too for potential students as well as parents who want to recommend me.
We’re all etching out our own paths here. At times, it can feel a little overwhelming, but we don’t have to do it alone. Through the Facebook group I created for ClassIn teachers, I have met quite a few teachers online and personally. In this community, there is a camaraderie amongst independent teachers that I have never experienced before. Sharing resources, tips and tricks as well as a whole lot of humor, we continue to hold each other up down the road of teaching.
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