Becoming an Independent Online ESL Teacher: Interview With Katie From Abridge Academy

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Katie Prescott co-founded the Abridge Academy to provide teaching resources for independent online teachers. She was very successful in obtaining students using XiaoHongShu a social media platform that resembles Instagram in China.

I caught up with Katie to hear more about her experience teaching remotely and how she found her students.

Introduce yourself and give some background about how you started as an online ESL teacher.

Hi! I’m Katie, and I’m a qualified teacher from the UK. I started teaching online back in 2013 before then doing my PGCE (UK university-led teacher training) and working as a classroom teacher in the UK, China, and now Japan.

Throughout this time, I have continued teaching online both as a part-time job and as my main income during the coronavirus pandemic. This has included maths, science, ESL, and university admissions tutoring.

In 2020, I co-founded a Chinese online ESL program, which reached over 600 regular students. When the new Chinese education regulations hit in the summer of 2021, we then launched the Abridge Academy curriculum to provide high-quality, interactive teaching resources for independent online ESL teachers and develop various Chinese social media marketing courses

Katie has put together a FREE informative boot camp to help you set up your XiaoHongShu and find your high-paying students. Try here.

Can you explain what exactly an online ESL teacher is?

Online ESL teachers teach English as a Second Language to learners online. While many companies will provide teaching materials and tech support, you will be responsible for engaging students in class, presenting new language skills, building students’ confidence to speak in English, continually assessing and adapting your teaching to help them make progress, and providing feedback on their achievements. 

As an independent online ESL teacher, you also have additional responsibilities, including:

  • Marketing and sales to find new students;
  • Managing technology, including booking/payment/scheduling/virtual classroom systems
  • Business admin, e.g., managing finances, responding to customer messages, etc.
  • Curriculum development and lesson planning.

How much can an online ESL teacher expect to earn? What is your recommendation for beginner ESL teachers?

Online ESL teachers can earn good salaries if they are willing to go independent and put in the additional work required. Personally, I average around $50 per hour for my teaching and have earned up to $130 per hour for some niche classes. 

However, if you are starting out, then you would most likely be employed by a mass-market company such as Cambly, earning around $10-$15/ hour. I would recommend not worrying too much about salary to start with instead, pick a company that is supportive and has good training for new teachers, so you can use it as a learning experience for 6-12 months before going independent. 

What do you like about being an online ESL teacher?

I really enjoy the freedom and flexibility being an online ESL teacher gives me. I can teach from anywhere, at any time. This has allowed me to top up my classroom teacher salary, as well as leave classroom teaching altogether and teach online while traveling the world. 

Of course, it can be challenging, too— as an independent teacher, I have to put in a lot of additional work to grow my teaching business, and there is no guaranteed income.

Teaching is a highly skilled career, not a gap year job you can jump into for some easy income so new teachers should be prepared to invest time and money into their training. 

How can a teacher find their first student online?

If you are just starting to teach independently, I recommend first growing your social media profiles. Build up an audience of followers who love you and your content by sharing valuable, educational, and inspirational posts/videos which make them want to learn more.

In time, you can then gently promote your classes to this warmed-up audience to get your first few students. 

Once your social media marketing starts to build momentum, you’ll find your student base beginning to snowball – as your number of leads grows exponentially via referrals.

Don’t be disheartened if it takes weeks or even months to get that first student, but keep working hard, re-evaluating your strategy, and persevere because it will pay off in the end.

What Should You Do if You Are Scared to Go Independent?

If you are scared to go independent, I would recommend not making it one big jump. Keep up your stable income with whichever company you are already teaching with while gradually growing your social media profiles and getting your first few independent students. 

Once your independent teaching brings in a stable income, you’ll find that the only way to grow further is to cut back on classes with your previous company and eventually quit altogether. In this way, you can have a smoother transition into independent teaching without losing the financial stability of your existing teaching income. 

What can a person learn from taking your course? 

Abridge Academy offers a range of courses, all aimed at independent online ESL teachers, helping you develop your Chinese social media marketing skills so you can find your own high-paying students online. 

Our XiaoHongShu marketing course is ideal for teachers with no existing student base, helping you reach totally new leads through China’s Instagram-equivalent app.

You will learn how to set up and optimize your profile, develop a powerful posting strategy, understand the algorithm to optimize your posts, and build your “social media funnel” to convert followers into paying students.

Our second most popular course is the WeChat marketing course, which helps you get started on China’s most popular messaging app.

You will learn how to use WeChat for day-to-day communications with students and strategies to grow your teaching business via WeChat groups, WeChat video channels, and referral marketing. 

Additionally, we run regular free boot camps and workshops in our Facebook group. Check out the FREE XiaoHongShu boot camp on the website.

If you wish to take Katie’s course, you can do so here. TPR Teaching will also be granted a small commission if you purchase through our links, which we use to keep running the website. Thanks in advance!

Thank you very much, Katie! That’s a quick lowdown on teaching online and what you can expect. Sometimes, it can feel easier to start with an online teaching company before progressing to independent online teaching.

No Time For Perfection!

However, don’t let the perfection bugs bite! Unfortunately, feeling the imposter syndrome is pretty normal; you may never feel like you know enough when you start your teaching business, but I recommend just taking the leap and getting startedthe sooner, the better!

Want To Teach Adults?

If you have corporate experience and prefer to work with adults, I recommend James Liu’s Teacher Entrepreneur Challenge. This challenge has really changed my views of teaching and has helped many teachers succeed in charging higher rates by focusing on a niche group of adults.

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Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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