Teacher Feature: Living in The USA and Teaching ESL Online

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

In this interview, we’re chatting with Nicola, an American teacher living in the USA while teaching English online and travelling around her home country!

Nicola has taught English from her laptop while on an east coast USA road trip from Florida to North Carolina, camping in the north Georgia mountains (while using a wifi hot spot), and while on a trip to Nashville.

In the (hopefully near) future, she’s planning to do a Florida Keys road trip while teaching.

Learn about what it’s like to be an online English teacher, what a day in the life of a teacher looks like, how much the salary is, what qualifications are needed to get hired, and the pros and cons of the job and lifestyle.

Here we go!

1. Thanks for allowing us to interview you! Please tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Nicola and I’m an online English teacher from Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve been teaching online since 2017 and in that time I’ve become totally fascinated with all things related to online education. 

Nicola Teaching English online
Nicola teaching online from her virtual classroom

Because I love the sweatpants-wearing freedom of teaching online, I now create helpful guides and classroom resources for aspiring virtual teachers. I also write about digital nomad life on my travel blog, www.seenicwander.com. 

When I’m not teaching or blogging, you can find me befriending lizards in the park, wandering through obscure little museums, or whipping up a batch of my famous guacamole. 

2. What made you decide to become a teacher? Did you have any prior experience?

Before I started teaching online, I worked as a science teacher in a small town back home. My students were amazing and I loved teaching. Plus, getting to make fizzy explosions with Alka-seltzer and vinegar all day was pretty cool. 

I’d always loved exploring new places and I knew that long-term, I wanted travel to be a big part of my life. So I started researching ways to combine my two passions: teaching and travelling. 

Of course, I stumbled upon post after post (some of them on this very blog, now that I think about it!) about how to start teaching abroad.

After reading what felt like 15,000 blog articles about teaching abroad, I decided it would be the perfect fit for me.

I enrolled in an online Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course with International TEFL Academy while I was still teaching full-time and finishing up my graduate degree in teaching. 

It was a lot of work, but I learned so much in my course. And, that’s really saying something because at that point I already had years of classroom experience! Have a look at this review of International TEFL Academy for more.

While I felt pretty confident about lesson planning and classroom management, I enjoyed learning more about how to create lessons specifically designed for TEFL students. 

The TEFL program required that I complete 20 hours of hands-on ESL teaching experience so I found an adult English as a Second Language (ESL) class in my community.

I reached out to the instructor and he agreed to let me observe some lessons and even do some practice teaching. 

teaching from the road
Teaching online while on a road trip

In that class, I met a woman who wanted more one-on-one practice. We agreed to meet at the local library once a week for tutoring and quickly became great friends. We even met a few times after I finished my 20 hours of student-teaching, just for fun!

Because I was balancing taking the TEFL course with my normal job, it took me about four months to complete everything and earn my certification.

When the time came for me to start applying for teaching jobs, I had several years of in-person teaching experience as well as my TEFL certification. I also had a graduate degree in education. 

My background qualified me for a lot of teaching positions, but most online teaching jobs don’t require the level of experience that I had.

A TEFL certificate, degree, or experience working with children in some capacity is often sufficient. And actually, there are some online teaching companies that will hire you even if you don’t have a university degree

3. How did you find an online English teaching job?

At the beginning, I planned to teach English in a classroom abroad. I didn’t even know online teaching was a thing until I discovered it by chance! 

The school year ended and I knew I wanted to start teaching abroad in the fall, which gave me a few months to figure out my next steps.

Luckily, the International TEFL Academy was very helpful and warmly responded to my (seemingly) thousands of questions.  

As I “researched” places I might want to go by binge-watching episodes of House Hunters International, a friend casually suggested that I try teaching online as a summer side hustle

I had never heard of teaching online before and I was skeptical at first. It sounded way too good to be true! I spent several days reading everything I could find about online teaching to make sure it was legitimate before finally taking the plunge. 

At that point, teaching online wasn’t as popular as it is now. There wasn’t nearly as much information out there about online teaching and I didn’t realize that it could be a long-term job. 

I just figured it would be a fun way to get more TEFL teaching experience under my belt and pad my travel savings account for my big move abroad. 

I applied to VIPKID, decorated a tri board with felt shapes to be my classroom background, and started teaching a few weeks later. 

online english teacher
Nicola teaching online with VIPKID

But it didn’t take me long to realize that online teaching was my bread and butter. I absolutely loved working from my computer and the fact that I could roll out of bed, brush my teeth, and be at work 5 minutes later.

The fact that I didn’t have to do any of my own lesson planning meant I could focus on my favorite part of the gig — teaching my students. After the summer ended, I decided to keep teaching online as my main job, and the rest is history. 

Even though I didn’t end up following the path I thought I would, I’m so happy I found an opportunity to work as a teacher with plenty of time to travel. 

4. Did you need to have any qualifications to get a job teaching with VIPKID?

To teach for VIPKID, you’ll need to be a native English speaker from the USA or Canada, excluding California. You’ll also need a bachelor’s degree in any subject and at least two years of experience working with children in some capacity. 

VIPKID does not require formal teaching experience. Having it is a plus, but you can count things like tutoring, mentoring, babysitting, homeschooling, and camp counseling as experience working with children. 

VIPKID is unique because, at this time, they don’t require a TEFL certificate. Having one will save you time during the hiring process, but it’s not a firm requirement.

If you don’t have one, you will just have to complete additional TEFL training modules during the onboarding process. 

However, the vast majority of online teaching platforms do require a TEFL certification so it’s worth looking into getting one, especially if you’ve never taught before. 

I’m a native English speaker from the USA, with a bachelor’s degree, experience working with children, and a TEFL certificate, so I checked all the boxes with VIPKID and was able to secure a job. Click here to learn more about my experience working with VIPKID.

5. What does a day in the life of an online English teacher working from the USA look like?

I live in the east coast time zone and the majority of my students live in China, so my mornings start pretty early! I usually get up around 5:45 am and start teaching at 6:30 am. 

I have back-to-back half-hour classes until 9:00 am Eastern time, which is when the VIPKID platform closes classroom hours for the night. I work that schedule every morning Monday – Friday. 

Even though the early mornings are an adjustment, I love taking care of work at the beginning of the day so I have the rest of the day to pursue other interests. 

Sometimes, I’ll also work Friday or Saturday nights. These nights correspond with Saturday and Sunday morning in China, so there’s a higher demand for classes because students aren’t in school. 

teaching onlnie Nicola interview
Teaching in the morning means getting your work done early and having the rest of the day free!

If I do a night shift, I’ll start at 8:30 pm east coast time on Friday or Saturday. I’ll usually do 6 classes back to back, ending at 11:30 pm. If I’m feeling really energized or want to make extra money, I’ll sometimes go even later. 

The most classes I’ve been able to do in one sitting is 12 (6 hours) but that was pretty exhausting. If you choose to do late nights on Friday and Saturday, make sure to keep the following morning free so you can sleep in!

6. How much does an online English teacher with VIPKID earn per month/per class?

Pay with VIPKID can vary depending on your credentials, amount of classes taught, and time with the company, but in general most teachers make between $7-$9 per 25-minute class with the opportunity for bonuses.

These bonuses include a slight increase to class pay depending on the length of time you’ve been teaching with VIPKID and how many classes you’ve taught in a particular month. 

Classes are 25-minutes long so you can teach 2 classes per hour.

Remember that you don’t have to teach two classes per hour when you are first starting. Some newer teachers prefer to do just one class per hour and take a longer break between classes until it starts to come more naturally. 

teaching abroad
Nicola travelling around Vietnam

I’ve created the example scenario below to explore how much an online teacher could work with VIPKID when they are newly hired. Your exact situation will vary based on personal factors, but this will help you get a baseline of what you can expect to earn. 

For a teacher who is first starting out, it’s common to get a starting pay rate of $7.50 per class. According to the new VIPKID pay system, they would receive an additional $0.80 per class for their first 20 classes, then an additional $1.20 per class for classes 21 – 40, and so on.

To keep it simple, let’s say this new teacher earns on average $8.50 per class ($7.50 base rate plus the additional incentive amount) or $17 per hour. 

If that teacher were to work 15 hours per week (3 hours per day, 5 days per week, for example), they would earn $255 per week or $1020 per month. 

If that teacher were to work 25 hours per week (let’s say 4 hours in the morning Monday through Friday, then an extra five hours on Friday nights), they would make $425 per week or $1700 per month. 

Keep in mind that the longer you teach on the platform, the higher your base rate and bonus amount can go. Many teachers who have been with VIPKID for a while and teach frequently earn over $20/hour. 

Of course, teachers are free to work more or less than this if they want.

Some months, I’ll take entire weeks off at a time. Other months, I’ll do overnight teaching sessions on the weekends to earn some extra money. The flexibility is an awesome part of online teacher life!

7. What are the pros and cons of teaching online while living in the USA?  

The time zone difference is the biggest pro and the biggest con of teaching online while living in the states. 

On the negative side, USA-based teachers who are working with students in China will likely have abnormal teaching hours. Teachers must get up very early or work late at night to accommodate their students’ schedules on the other side of the world. 

If getting up early isn’t your cup of tea, it will be hard to make significant income as an online teacher living in the USA while teaching kids in China. 

teaching and travelling

That being said, there are other companies out there that don’t cater to the Chinese market. If you were teaching for a non-region specific company, the hours wouldn’t be so extreme. 

Funny enough, the time difference is also one of the biggest pros.

Now that I’ve gotten used to it, I really like getting the bulk of my work finished early in the day. It has given me time to pursue new hobbies and interests that I wouldn’t have time for otherwise.

Even though I go to bed at embarrassingly early times, I really like having most of the daytime hours free. 

Additionally, if you’re planning to teach online on top of your normal job, you can easily do so without having to change your regular schedule. You can schedule classes before work or on the weekends to add an extra income source without changing your usual work routine. 

8. Any final advice for an aspiring English teacher? 

There is a lot to love about online teaching. It’s fun to connect with students around the world, the pay is competitive, you don’t have to commute, and you can work from home or anywhere with good WiFi.

One of the best parts about being an online English teacher is flexibility. With this job, your schedule and workload can really look however you want.

Most platforms do not have set schedules and they do not require that you teach a minimum number of hours. This is great news for aspiring online teachers who maybe aren’t ready to make the jump. 

Because you usually aren’t locked into a set schedule, there’s no harm in applying and trying out online teaching with the platform of your choice.

Sign up, teach a few lessons, and see what you think! I bet you’ll love it, but if you don’t, all you have to do is stop scheduling classes. It’s low risk and you could end up with a new remote job that you love!

Nicola in Nashville
Nicola in Nashville — combining work and travel

Whether you’re looking for a work-from-home-job, a fun new side hustle, or a job that will give you more location independence, teaching online might be a great place to start. For me, online teaching was a great way to combine my two passions: education and travel. 

To learn more about teaching, have a look at our detailed articles:

Note: The lead image in this article is courtesy of Shutterstock. Learn more here.

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“Living in The USA and Teaching ESL OnlineTeaching ESL Online To Students in China“Living in The USA While Teaching English Online


Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

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