By Sabrina Pinksen
In December 2019, my life took some unexpected twists. I found myself on an island in Thailand, scraping together the last dollars from the bottom of my bank account in order to rent an ant-infested room in a compound on a hill. Outside my door, a horse was grazing in the grass. I could see the ocean from my balcony.
I was supposed to be in Australia, starting a new life. But after three months of traveling, I had blown through my savings and I needed to make some money quickly. I had spent the past four years teaching English to students in Asia but I had expected to leave the career behind me.
For the previous year, I had been teaching English online. In September, I said good-bye to my students, letting them know I was signing off from teaching forever. We said our heartfelt good-byes. Some of us cried.
But fast-forward to December and I realized life had other plans. As soon as I landed on the island and got myself a room and a wifi-connection, I logged back onto my teaching platform and made myself available for classes.
I sat, biting my nails, praying my students would find me again and my schedule would fill up. Truth be told, I was panicking and thinking I might have to return home to Canada.
In two days, all my classes were booked and I had an income again. I was more grateful for the opportunity to teach online than I ever had been before.
Teaching English Online
I had always known that online ESL companies existed but it took me a long time to apply for them. The idea of it intimidated me. I was comfortable in a classroom but I had begun to dislike my last in-class job. I was living in Vietnam, teaching in the public school system and I had more students than I could handle. I didn’t feel like I was teaching them anything of value, nor did I get the chance to build real connections with my students.
Once the summer ended and it was time to go back to work, I realized I couldn’t bring myself to go back into a classroom. But I was not ready to stop living abroad.
It finally occurred to me that I should apply for an online company. I sent out applications to three companies, had three interviews booked, and got hired by the first one. I had a fully booked schedule in a matter of weeks. I couldn’t believe it was as easy as that.
Get a TEFL qualification
One of the most overwhelming things about getting started teaching online was the sheer amount of online ESL companies. It felt impossible to know which companies to apply for and what the requirements were across various platforms. I didn’t know where to start.
If you’re fresh to ESL, the best place to start is by getting TEFL certified. Many companies require them. China, one of the biggest players in the online ESL industry, recently passed a law making it mandatory for all online teachers to have a TEFL qualification.
A TEFL certification will prepare you for teaching, but it will also help you familiarize yourself with the world of ESL. It is an excellent stepping stone into an industry that can sometimes be overwhelming.
I recommend The TEFL Org as a certification provider. They are the UK’s most experienced and accredited TEFL course provider and they are founded and run by real-life TEFL teachers. Their first-hand experience will be invaluable to you as you begin the journey to becoming an ESL teacher.
Travel and Teach
I spent a year teaching online from the comfort of my apartment in Vietnam. Technically, I knew I could teach from anywhere but the idea of teaching while traveling intimidated me. I was worried about wifi connections and setting up classrooms and it sounded like a hassle I didn’t want to deal with.
But then I found myself broke on a beach with no other options.
There were some days when sorting out the logistics became difficult. As you can imagine, wifi on a remote island isn’t always secure, especially when you’re broke and living as cheaply as possible. This led me to rely on hotspots and I quickly learned how difficult it is to obtain a phone plan with unlimited data.
There were a lot of frustrating conversations with various people working at phone stores. But I always managed to make it work.
I spent a month on that island in Thailand. I went to the beach every day and taught from my room in the evenings. I was fully living the life advertised by digital nomads and I was shocked at how easy it was to achieve. I wasn’t surprised to find that it was as fun as it looked.
All You Need
I realized that I don’t have to stress about teaching and traveling. It’s easy to do it from anywhere. Now, I’ve taught all over Thailand and Vietnam. I check into Airbnbs and private rooms in hostels and throw my headphones on, my laptop propped up on a pillow, and I’m ready to go.
Data plans are generally cheap, reliable, and easily accessed in most of the countries where I’ve traveled. It’s wise to have a hotspot backup in case WiFi isn’t always reliable.
You might have to get creative sometimes.
One evening, I had to teach my classes in the lobby of a resort. There were tourists naked from the waist up walking behind me during my lessons.
It turned out I had a lesson about flowers, grass, and leaves. I took my laptop and we ran around outside the lobby, pointing to all the flowers and leaves I could find in the tropical outdoors.
The hotel staff clapped for me after each lesson. It made for an interesting day.
It turned out, all my worries about teaching online while traveling were unfounded. There’s always a way to make it work. And the freedom it gives me is unlike any other job I’ve had.