Teaching kids English online: a look behind the scenes

Meet online teacher Kathleen Primeau, a painting enthusiast, novice ukulele player and avid traveler. 

Kathleen has a multitude of teaching (and life) experience. But right now, she teaches kids English online. 

She holds a Bachelor of Education from Nipissing University. She has taught English abroad in the UK and Canada’s most remote areas – the Northwest Territories.

A while ago, Kathleen decided to return to her home province of Ontario. While she was on the lookout for a permanent teaching position, Kathleen was supply teaching and teaching ESL students online.

Today, she’s here to tell everyone what it’s like to be an ESL teacher online. From the hiring process to lesson prep, scheduling and more! 

We were super excited to sit down with Kathleen to find out all about what it's like to teach English online with VIPKID!

Photo of man teaching kids English online.

What first attracted you to teaching kids English online?

Two things initially attracted me to teaching English online.

  1. I could work from home, which would eliminate the cost and stress of a commute.
  2. I wanted to set my own schedule, seeing as I was supply teaching and looking for a full-time teaching job all at the same time.

Overall, it looked like a great way to supplement my income while finding my feet after moving back home.

How did you hear about the opportunity to teach kids English online?

I saw an ad for VIPKID on Facebook one day. It popped up and my first reaction was, “is teaching online really a thing I can do?!”

This led me to a Google search, where I discovered some really informative Youtube videos from other teachers working with VIPKID Videos like the one below gave me the push I needed to apply!  

What was the application and hiring process like?

For me, the application and hiring process was fairly quick. 

The process consisted of two interviews. All of the interviews are conducted online, through their online portal, which is very similar to using FaceTime or Skype.

In each interview, I had to perform a teaching task using the materials VIPKID provided.

In my first interview, I taught a mini-lesson to my interviewer, who pretended to be a five-year-old English language learner. The lesson lasted around ten minutes total, so not too tricky.

In my second interview, I was asked to teach a full, 25-minute class to demonstrate how I work with students. 

A VIPKID teacher mentor conducted this second interview. They had extensive experience teaching online and now mentor new VIPKID teachers.

Overall, I think the way the interviews are conducted helps you figure out if teaching online is something you will enjoy or not. I found it very helpful and I really connected with the VIPKID team.

I really appreciated how they give you lots of information, tips, and support throughout the entire hiring process.

What is the schedule like for teaching online?

Once you’re hired, and you’ve set up your online profile, you’ll be able to access the online scheduler. 

It’s simple and intuitive to use. Most platforms make it super easy to understand time differences to narrow down the best times to make your teaching schedule open.

One thing to keep in mind is that it can take up to a month before you get your first class scheduled. 

In my case, it took around three weeks before I got my first student, but from that point on, it picked up and I was getting at least eight (or more) classes booked every week.   

Photo of woman teaching kids English online.

What did you need to get all set up with a virtual classroom of your own?

To teach with most online teaching platforms, you need a computer or laptop, headset and access to a good internet connection. 

These are the bare necessities you need to start teaching online.

VIPKID will also give you many great tips and advice on how to be an effective online teacher. 

They offer lots of suggestions on everything from your clothing and free teaching props to your lighting and workspace setup.

Although their suggestions aren’t mandatory by any means, they certainly do help you become a more successful teacher.  

Those tips are a must when you’re looking to build up a substantial student base at the beginning!  

How often do you work and what’s the pay like?

When I first started teaching English online with VIPKID, I opened up most of my morning schedule (between 5:30 - 10:00 am). 

In the beginning, I was only getting one to two classes a week. Luckily, the number of classes started to pick up fairly quickly around the one month mark.

VIPKID’s online scheduler uses a color code system to indicate peak demand times for online teachers, so you can easily open up your timetable during those times if you want to maximize your earnings.

In terms of pay, this is usually established in your first interview. 

In general, (based on your job performance and experience) you can expect a base rate of around $14 - 22 USD for one hour of teaching.

Most teachers are at the higher end of this range since the pay includes showing up to classes on time. 

Also, VIPKID is constantly offering incentives and bonuses, so a teacher’s actual earning potential is much higher!

 

Any favorite online teaching props, tools or resources you’d like to recommend to aspiring online teachers?

 

Absolutely! I keep a teddy bear and some cheap (and goofy) dollar store props close at hand! 

These are really great to use at the beginning of lessons to grab your younger learner’s attention and help shy students warm up to you a little more.

Do you have to do much lesson prep?

Lesson prep is super simple and it’s another thing I love about teaching online.

Most online teaching companies provide a specific curriculum they have developed. 

All you have to do is teach by following a PowerPoint lesson while video chatting with your student. 

All you have to do is review the lesson beforehand.

I typically make a few notes. And sometimes, I’ll write things out on a whiteboard or piece of paper beforehand. 

I also try to find real objects to use in my class instead of pictures. 

These are easy things that only take a couple of minutes, especially once you become familiar with the lesson styles and formats.

Photo of someone teaching kids English online.

What’s your favorite thing about teaching online?

For me, the very best thing about teaching kids online is the students.  And getting to stay at home is the cherry on top.

While one on one with a student and seeing them improve their English skills is really rewarding! 

Being able to help kids learn English while still in my pajama pants (which they can’t see, of course!) makes it all the better!

What are the top 3 things about teaching kids English online?

1. Being able to work from home. Or wherever I might be on a given day!

2. The flexible schedule. I could get my teaching out of the way before noon and free up the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted. Pretty awesome, right?

3. The students. Not only are kids adorable, but they’re also very self-motivated.

How have you found the experience of teaching students online vs. a physical classroom?

Let’s start with the obvious. Teaching online one on one is different from being in front of a classroom full of kids. 

If you have some classroom experience though, it will certainly help you in the online teaching environment!

One great thing about online teaching is that you work one on one with a student and at their appropriate level.

One slight con you might encounter is a student that has no interest in the lesson. 

In instances like these, it can be a bit of a challenge to keep them engaged and learning

On the flip side, this is a great opportunity for you to hone your classroom management skills.

Luckily, that doesn’t happen too often anyway. Overall, I found that my young students tend to be quite enthusiastic!

 

Photo of students online with teacher teaching kids English online.

What’s the ONE thing you wish you’d known before becoming an online teacher?

Remember that you are teaching kids who are across the world! 

You need to research their holidays and time zones as these will impact the number of bookings you can get at certain times.

And it helps to be culturally aware, so you can better understand their social norms, etc. 

What advice would you give someone just starting out with teaching online?

Give it a good month before you decide whether you like it or not. It’s definitely worth it. 

And don’t fret if you feel like you royally screwed up a lesson! 

It probably wasn’t as bad as you thought and at least you learned something from it that you can apply to do better in a future lesson.

My best advice is to practice, practice, practice! 

The best way to get better at delivering your lessons is to practice saying them out loud. 

Teach to the mirror, teach to your old stuffed toys, teach to your pet – whatever you need to do to get more comfortable!

I also recommend you record yourself teaching on your phone. 

Doing this will boost your confidence AND your teaching skills, which will make your online teaching experience so much smoother and more enjoyable.

Finally, don’t forget to laugh! A VIPKID lesson, although it’s packed with plenty of learning, shouldn't feel like a slog for you or for your student. 

Most online teaching companies want you to project energy, excitement and happiness – which is contagious for your students. 

And don’t be afraid to get silly; your students will love you for it!    

Take the leap and become an online English teacher today. 

First, we want to give massive props to Kathleen for sharing her perspective on teaching online with VIPKID. 

If you’re here today, chances are you’re debating teaching online. 

We hope you found Kathleen’s story insightful and feel inspired and ready to teach online

Get out there and look for an online teaching job today!