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The Pros & Cons of Teaching English Online vs. Teaching In-Person

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Teaching English online is the hot new thing.

It’s the first thing everyone hears about when they start that search about working online, becoming a digital nomad or simply sustaining themselves while traveling longterm. Most people, myself included, have used it as a stepping stone into building an online career. Don’t miss this article to building your own online brand!

I never imagined 3 years ago when I signed my first contract with VIPKID that I would slowly turn it into my main income but here I am! 

When I first starting teaching online, I was also teaching at a hagwon (private school) in Korea. VIPKID was just a side gig and a means to grow my travel fund. I worked only when we were planning a trip and didn’t worry about it otherwise.

I did the same when we moved to Ho Chi Minh. I worked at a preschool in Saigon and again used VIPKID only when I wanted to. Now that we’re living in Da Nang, I no longer teach in-person and teaching online has become my main source of income.

I taught in person in the U.S, Ecuador, Korea and Vietnam for over 4 years and loved it more than I thought I would. To my surprise though, my new schedule doesn’t have me itching to get back into the classroom. It’s left me wondering- which is better? 

Whichever route you choose, you'll still need a TEFL certificate.

So, have I preferred online or in-person more?

I always enjoyed teaching in a classroom but I don’t see myself going back to it. I didn’t quit my last job because I wanted to but instead because an ankle injury forced my hand. Initially, I was really sad about leaving my students and succumbing to a life online. 

Most of you reading this might not relate to this one but before I became a “digital nomad,” I did not want to be one.

I crave human interaction and liked spending my days with my young students but my ankle didn’t leave me much of a choice. To let you in on a little secret though- I love my new online life.

I love not putting on pants if I don’t want to, I love finding new cafes to write from and I love spending my evenings in the comfort of my own home teaching my students through a computer screen. 

If you’re hoping to move abroad but not sure if you’re ready, find out if moving abroad is right for you. Spoiler- I was forced on a plane the first time I solo traveled at age 18. I found out that sometimes you need a push to make a big change. Find out now how that happened and how it’s affected my life since then!

Let’s take a look at the pro’s & con’s of each and answer the big question, which is better? 

For online teaching, I’m going to focus everything I say on VIPKID since that’s the platform I work for. Other companies vary a bit in their structure and scheduling so just keep in mind, this is VIPKID specific.

Still looking for your ideal online platform? Check out this list of 11 legit online teaching platforms with their requirements, payment and scheduling all outlined.

a screenshot of the VIPKID virtual classroom
Getting paid, even if the student isn't in the classroom yet!

Teaching English Online Pros:

There's a lot of reasons teaching English online is beneficial but here are my top 4 pros.

+Location independent

You have the freedom to teach from wherever in the world you’d like, so long as you have a stable internet connection and you keep in mind Beijing time zone, since most online teaching platforms are for students based in China.

+Set your own schedule

With VIPKID, you open your classes when you’re available to teach and are never tied down to hours you didn’t open yourself. It gives you the freedom to teach when you want.

+No pants/make-up

Getting ready couldn’t be easier! Throw on a shirt, put your hair in a ponytail and you’re good to go. They’ve even added filters to your camera so if you’re looking rough you can pop on a filter. 

+No lesson planning

I did enjoy making my own lessons when I taught in person but again, for ease purposes, it’s amazing not having to do any prep work. The system tells you which lesson to teach each kid and you follow along. After class, you need to write a quick paragraph to send to the parent about the child’s performance but that’s it. 

Teaching English Online Cons:

-/+No set paycheck

It’s hard to know how much money you’ll make each month as your schedule isn’t set in stone. This can be hard in the beginning especially when you might not get as many bookings. It’s also a bit of a pro though because on months you need that extra income, you can hustle. 

-Low human interaction

Teaching kids online isn’t the same as in-person. Sure I give virtual high fives but that’s not the same as actually giving the kid a high five. For a person like me that feeds off other people’s energy, it can get lonely spending all day in front of the computer. 

-Hard to meet people

If you’re traveling or living abroad while teaching online, it can be harder to meet people. You have to teach from home since you need a quiet environment and need to put yourself out there since you aren’t given coworkers. 

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Teaching English In-Person Pros:

+High human interaction

Interacting with your students and getting to know them is one of my favorite parts of teaching in-person. Online you end up teaching a lot of kids only once so it’s much harder to build a connection with them. 

teacher getting hugs from students while in pirate hats in guri, korea
A glimpse into my classroom and wonderful students in Korea

+Cultural exchange

When you teach abroad in a school, you’re automatically invited into their community. You have plenty of people to teach you the native language, share local food with you and teach you about their customs and holidays. 

+Easier to make friends

When you move to a foreign country and you start working at a school, you’re introduced to all the teachers already working at the school. That gives you new friends right away without really having to search for them. 

+/- You have your own class

In some cases, you have a set class, in other schools, you bounce around to a few different ones.

Either way, when you’re in person, you’re stuck with those kids sometimes all day. For me, this is a positive. I love having my own class and building a strong bond with them but if the students are difficult, there’s no way around it.

Online, even a “bad” kid, you only have to teach them for 25 minutes and you move on. 

Teaching English In-Person Cons:

+/-Set schedule and paycheck

It’s nice to know how much money you’ll make each month but on the flip-side, there’s no room to make extra one month if you need it. It's also harder to travel and squeeze in vacations when you're locked in to a schedule.

-You work long hours

I’ve worked in some schools where I was required to be there 40 hours a week but was only actually teaching about 20 hours. Those extra 20 hours could really drag by. Without a teacher’s lounge or a good space to pass the time and work on other projects, I was left with constantly feeling like I was wasting time and in the way. 

-Difference in teaching styles/classroom management

Countries have different teaching styles and classroom management approaches than you might be used to. Some countries love flashcards, others love games. Some are strict and others want the kids to play. There’s usually a learning curve adjusting to the new school and their expectations.

teaching holding a student at a field trip in guri, south korea
Having fun with my kiddos on a field trip

To be honest, when I started writing this I didn’t know how it would come out.

Now reading back over it, I’m torn.

It depends on your priorities which is best for you. Do you prefer flexibility or cultural exchange? A set schedule or working when you want? 

If teaching in-person sounds like a good fit for you, check out our guides to teaching English abroad here. We cover how to get hired anywhere from Prague to China, Spain to Myanmar and a lot of other countries in between.

For those of you hoping to teach online, learn more about VIPKID in Part 1: Getting hired and Part 2: Lifestyle of a VIPKID teacher. 

So, what's it going to be for you? Are you going to teach English in-person or online?

Better yet, if you're not sure which is best, do what I do for 2 years and try out both! Move abroad and teach in the country of your choosing and test out VIPKID on the side. In my opinion, there's no better way to decide what you want than that.

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