Intro- My experience teaching English online
A few years ago I began my experience teaching English online. I joined an online teaching platform in which students would book language lessons with freelance tutors at a given price. Anyone from around the globe could register a profile and have hour long sessions with a student from another country. I figured that this would be a dream come true, if I could get paid to work from home. I was so used to leaving my house and traveling a few miles to generate an income. This would be a perfect opportunity to have a remote job and do something that I perhaps would enjoy wholeheartedly. I started teaching online English, but realized through time that this was no dream job. It sometimes became a nightmare and a decision that I would kind of regret.
Problems I experienced
1. Commission system
The very first issue that I came across was the platform’s commission system. I was pretty much aware of what I was signing up for, but assumed that if I taught at a high price the percentage deducted by the company would not be a problem. Yet, nobody was booking lessons with me at the price that I was initially offering them. I was forced to substantially lower the cost of my lessons in order to get students. Once I had regular students I was making way below U.S. minimum wage due to the large cut being deduced. I also had to pay transfer fees whenever I wanted to wire the money into my bank account. Although I understood that this platform needed to make its money I was making peanuts. I earned more than twice as much flipping burgers and pouring milkshakes than I did teaching English.
2. Working for free
What really exasperated me the most was the free trial system. I did not mind the concept of showcasing my skills in order to woo in clients, but two things bothered me: One, the trial lessons weren’t always free for the paying student. The company was receiving a full commission based off the hard work of tutors. We were doing indentured labor for a conglomerate that did nothing but provide us with clients. Never in my life did I make another person richer by working for free. I thought this was completely unethical for any company to do. Secondly, 70% of the students that took trial lessons had no intentions of booking more lessons. You had many students that were there simply to practice for a job interview or wanted to try out multiple tutors. Sometimes 15 hours of my week were dedicated to teaching these type of students.
3. Students were demanding
Another problem that I had teaching on this platform was the behavior of many of the students. These students would want me to go out of my way for them, but when they weren’t satisfied they’d drop me for another tutor. They weren’t paying me the salary of a NYC school teacher, but I had to spend up to 6 hours a day preparing their lessons. The majority of students would disappear from the platform altogether never to be heard from again. The ironic thing was that the company would pocket the remaining balance that was on the student’s lesson package. If a student paid $400 USD for 20 lessons and vanished for several months after taking 2 lessons, the company would reward themselves with $360 USD. Think of all that easy revenue this company generated from the hundreds of thousands of students who did not complete their lesson packages.
4. Too much competition
With over 30,000 active tutors on this platform competition was fierce and staggering. Tutors who joined the platform for the first time became discouraged by the scarcity of available students. Many of them were unaware that they were considered expendable to students. With all the available tutor options for students it was a mission having a consistent core of them. Even when I’d land the interest of one student the platform would encourage him to take classes with other tutors if he was not content. Some of the most highly paid tutors were the ones who were professional teachers in the academic world. Many tutors from impoverished countries would teach for as low as $2 USD a lesson. It was also a race to the bottom for tutors who wanted to attract students. They would deliberately lower their prices to raise them again.
5. Students would not confirm lessons
The way it worked was that after you taught a student they’d have to confirm the lesson. If they did not confirm it on the platform you weren’t getting paid for the lesson. Support would side with the student if you did not have enough evidence to show that the lesson took place. Even if you reminded the student to confirm the lesson in many cases they’d either forget to do so or wouldn’t care. I lost about $30 USD in one week because students did not confirm.
6. Subscription model
When I had about 2 years on this platform they transitioned from a package model to a subscription one. With the former model students could buy 6 lesson, 12 lesson, 20 lesson or 40 lesson packages. They could be able to schedule whichever number of weekly lessons they desired. But once the subscription model came into fruition students were forced to schedule a fixed number of lessons per month. If they failed to use up a certain amount of lessons in that month the company would forfeit 75% of their lessons. It did not matter if students only wanted to schedule one or two lessons a month or could not be present a few times a week, they’d lose their money.
7. Website had glitches
The majority of the time I had to teach I had to do it off the company’s website because of technical issues. The video connection was weak at times and lessons would either have to take place on Zoom or be canceled. I lost several students because of these issues and had to explain to many of them why the digital classroom was not working. So many tutors were teaching outside of the website that the company offered to reward each tutor $20 USD if they taught all of their lessons inside the platform.
8. There was no room to grow
What was a deal breaker for me was that I could not grow as an entrepreneur with this company. I was pretty much limited to following their rules and was stuck making the same amount of money. Even though one of their selling points to tutors is that they were business owners, in reality the company was the one flourishing in the private sector. The CEO of the company had a net worth close to $50 million dollars while I made about $400 USD a month on their website. I could not take students off the platform and start my own online teaching business because that was prohibited. The average student would pay $10 USD a lesson and could not afford to pay me more than that. No matter how much I tried to improve my teaching skills I did not make much of a profit.
Although I mostly covered the cons from my experience of teaching English online I would not say that my time was a complete waste. There were several positive things that I can write an entire article on. One, I was able to connect with people from different countries. I learned about Chinese, Turkish, Ukrainian, Brazilian and Russian cultures. Even in my time living in a melting pot like NYC I did not really venture out to learn other cultures. Second, I made friends with people who I am still in contact with till this very day. Building relationships with people is always something that I look forward to. Third, I was able to develop my teaching skills despite not having much initial experience. Having students put their money and trust into what I could do for them forced me to study ESL education.
Now that you have read about my experience of teaching English online feel free to comment below.