(Interview originally appeared on the Two Sigmas Blog)
Today we catch up with Catherine, an Online English teacher working for Whales English. As an ever-expanding company who recruit qualified new teachers on a rolling basis, Whales is a fantastic option for those wishing to make the move from classroom to online, or for those just wanting to change professions for more flexibility and freedom.
Catherine tells us about her experience with the company so far, and gives some sage advice for anyone feeling compelled to give this work-from-home lifestyle a go with Whales English:
Who are Whales English, and what is good about working for them?
Whales English (WE) is an established online ESL company, specialising in providing Chinese students with the opportunity to be taught English online by a native English speaker.
There are two main courses provided by WE, which focus on either reading or speaking. The materials provided are fantastic and extremely thorough.
I have personally been teaching with WE for two months and find the company extremely refreshing. Not only are lesson materials thorough and content engaging for students, they also provide additional materials such as videos and audio to use alongside.
The most important benefit I have found teaching at Whales, are the teacher coordinators. Each teacher is assigned a coordinator who looks after your schedule and your general wellbeing within the company, and liaises with the parents on that side of the operation. Without my coordinator, I honestly do not believe I would have gained a full schedule as quickly or had such positive feedback from my students.
Please tell us a little bit about how you got into online teaching
I have been teaching ESL online now for 14 months. Prior to teaching online, I was completing my PGCE in Primary Teaching with Maths Specialism.
When I begun my PGCE, my daughter at the time was only 5 months old. I had made the decision to go back to University for her so that my husband and I both had stable careers for her future. But it was a lot more challenging than I initially planned.
Having to leave her with someone else first thing in the morning, not collecting her till the end of the day and then continuing to work late into the evenings and every weekend. This was not what I had envisioned when becoming a mother.
Lo and behold, during my PGCE training, I was expecting my second child. It was at this point I looked into whether there was a way I could work from home around my kids. This is when I learnt about the opportunity to grow a career through teaching English online. I begun teaching ESL online in December 2017 and haven’t looked back.
Teaching online has changed my life completely. Being able to choose the hours I work around my family. Only having to commit to a few hours a day, leaves my remaining time to focus solely on my children and be present in their lives.
What was the interview and on-boarding process like with Whales English?
The application and on-boarding process with WE was set out really clearly and quite a quick process for me. Initially, you are required to complete an application form on their website.
I highly recommend using a teacher’s referral code as that way the teacher can track your application progress and personally coach you throughout. I had a wonderful teacher who was super supportive and helped guide me at each stage to make me feel more at ease with my application.
The second stage is your interview. If they accept your application, you will be invited to attend an interview via email and pick a time slot through Calendly. Once your booking is confirmed, you are emailed with an invite to join a meeting and this will take you through to your interviewer.
When you have passed your interview, WE will send you lesson materials, which you need to take the time to learn and practise teaching. They are looking for a number of things during your demo such as TPR, using a reward system, and the use of positive encouragement and correction. The demo lesson is around 15 minutes with a staff member pretending to be your student.
After this, there are two stages of training to complete. The first stage focuses on trial lessons, which is what you begin teaching once hired. For the trial training, you are required to watch the videos, practise and prepare all four trial lessons, of which you will teach one during your next interview. It’s a really relaxed call and the focus is to support you and give you a good start with the company. A bonus is that you are paid $15 for this training lesson.
Once you have completed the trial training and passed, you are actually hired with WE and start to gain trial bookings on your schedule. Following this, you are asked to complete the regular class training. For this, you will be sent a google drive link with videos, lesson content and files supporting you in understanding the structure of regular lesson materials, how to teach them and the learning expectations. When you have finished going through these materials, you can then be signed off to teach regular classes.
What is your best advice for prospective/new online English teachers?
Do your Research
Not every online ESL company is the same nor provides you with the same opportunities. I have worked with a number of online companies, each had its pros and cons. However, I did find that some were able to fill my schedule and others were less reliable. For me, this is a big factor I need to consider, as teaching is my main source of income.
When looking at teaching online, ensure to check what the company’s requirements are e.g. if they require a degree or native English speaker. Also, whether they only have fixed hours available a week or can offer you a flexible schedule. This is a huge factor for you as you need to find a company that matches with your availability.
Teaching children online can be challenging at times, but it is also extremely rewarding. For children, online lessons might be late at night for them after really long days of school and other extracurricular activities. Some days they may be tired, others they may have lots of energy. Kids will be kids.
But when you show your passion and enthusiasm for what you do, it really helps and rubs off on them. Your students can see your energy and that you truly want to be there teaching them English. If they can see that you are enjoying the lesson, they will be more willing to participate and will also enjoy learning with you.
Being able to think on your feet will really put you in good stead for teaching English online. As I said, classes can be unpredictable at times when teaching young children especially.
Sometimes if they are tired, you might need to break up the lesson content further, adding in physical actions to help keep them awake and increase their energy levels. You also need to be prepared to use props in order to support what you are teaching and make things relevant to real life to help with their understanding.
What is one of the most poignant moments during your time teaching online?
It is really hard to narrow down one particular moment in my online teaching career that stands out the most. I personally adore all of my students and they each bring something different to our lessons.
My favourite feedback I have ever received was from a student’s parent when I was leaving an old company. This student had signed up to be my student from a trial class and I had taught her twice every week for a number of months.
Her mum attended every lesson with her and I had built a really close, professional relationship with them both. This particular student made me laugh every lesson. She had such a sarcastic sense of humour and always attended classes with a short, sharp, but funny manner. I had previously thought she only attended classes out of requirement rather than enjoying our lessons, even though we had lots of laughs together.
When I told them I had given in my notice with that company and unfortunately could no longer be their teacher, I received some really heart warming comments. My student’s mum informed me that her daughter had hated learning English. She didn’t enjoy it or want to learn, until I had started teaching her. She said that she had progressed so well and had fun in our classes together and was really going to miss our lessons.
This is the sort of feedback that you receive when you are a passionate, caring and hard working online ESL teacher. It is why I love what I do. Not for the money, but for the relationships I build along the way and the impact my lessons have upon my students. To be able to change a students view from hating learning English to enjoying her classes, is the icing on the cake for an online English teacher.
If you want to find out more about what I do as an online ESL teacher and some top tips to start your own online teaching career, you can find me at www.caiteelizabeth.com