Text in progress. / Sharing my current draft. Read it here first before I publish it on Medium.
I passed my TEFL certificate with flying colours (I accidentally got a 97% pass rate) and now it is time to find a teaching platform to offer English & perhaps German language lessons on. Which of the many options should I choose. My first obstacle is that I don’t hold a passport from a primary-language-English-country. (Excuse the awkward way I just phrased that.)
Here I’ll share my experiences applying as a tutor to teach English online with several companies. (Italki, Preply, Verbling, LivXP, Wyzant, Craigslist)
My first love is Italki.
I have taken over 60 language lessons with a total of 8-9 different language tutors, some professional, some categorised as ‘community’ teachers. Having had only positive experiences on the Italki platform this is naturally the first place that I applied to become an English teacher on.
Italki application process: Check if the language that you would like to teach is open for new applications. English is often not open. I have waited a total of about 2.5 month before I was finally able to apply. I am currently waiting for my application to be reviewed. The platform is EASY to navigate and clear. My single small complaint would be that I didn’t notice a section to upload my certificate but I found in FAQ that once the application is submitted you can not add your certificate. Ahem.. Glitch. I am not sure if this is my glitch or Italki’s glitch. But I’ll deal with it. It may mean that I need to reapply at a later stage, which could mean waiting another 1-2-3 months before I get to onboard to Italki. (But I am an Italki fan girl so I will just keep trying until I am in.)
Tip: use any waiting time to pre-write all the application categories and make your introduction video. The delay may be disappointing but it is an opportunity to fine tune your application text and review your video a few times, and perhaps re-film it to make sure your application is as strong as it can be. There is so much competition!
(Spoiler: My video is SO bad, I am cringing so much every time I even think of it.)
A downside of Italki, what’s not so good on italki: It attracts a high number of students who only take one single single class with tutors.
My suggestion for language learners: Book at least 3 classes with a teacher to try them out. After just one lesson you really can’t tell if you will get on well with the person you chose. One of my teachers was a bit cold in the first lesson and it took me time to warm up to her. Now I am a loyal student and have booked at least 12 classes with her to date. Getting into tune with a teacher / tutor
The second platform I applied to is Verbling. The application process is smooth, clear and straightforward. Unfortunately I don’t think I heard back from them. I think this could be because I chanced a portion of my application: Their English teaching applications were also closed so I swapped some words around and applied to tutor German language instead. But obviously my video is geared towards tutoring English. Well. Perhaps I should not be surprised that they are ignoring me.
Time to go back to the drawing board and prepare a more focused application for Verbling. I hear that their payout structure is fair and clear and one of my language tutors prefers to teach on Verbling as she says the platform attracts more students who take multiple classes than Italki does.
I have quite a bit to say about Preply. I applied on the same day as I placed my application with Verbling and Preply were quite responsive and made a good impression during the application process. I made some mistakes in my application: Having uploaded my video to my personal Youtube page, which I am also using to build a portfolio of videos for my Art and creative producer career. Preply requested that I upload my introduction video to a separate youtube page that doesn’t link to a professional account nor offers a way to contact me outside of the Preply platform. This is absolutely reasonable. So I re-uploaded my video to a fresh Google account.
By the way: Sorry Google, you have to deal with SO many burner accounts for platforms like Preply, which require their applicants to open these otherwise dormant accounts. I am just thinking about the amount of additional digital data spaghetti that is created as a result. And all of this needs powering.. I digress.
Then I must have accidentally mentioned Italki in this introduction video and Preply asked me to remove the reference to Italki. Blast. I slipped up. I was all set to check if I can edit OUT the Italki reference in iMovie, when suddenly a few days later an email from Preply confirmed that they have approved me onto the platform after all.
This caused some excitement and I immediately launched to completing my teacher profile. While I was filling it in I received multiple messages and class requests. Things are looking good. Until I realised that a lesson price had been pre-set at a price point that I didn’t agree with. It took me a while to find my way to this page. One of my prospective students had already booked 6 lessons with me at this price.
The more I looked into the platform the less I liked the system by which they operate. I don’t get a say in the pricing of multi-lesson-packages. Students can book 10 lessons at a set discount price, and I can’t opt out of this. To this date I am not sure how payment on 10 packs of lessons work. Do I get paid after each lesson or only after students complete all 10? That’s something I could figure out. It’s not entirely a deal breaker but I do prefer to have the option to choose what packages I offer.
Italki let’s teachers set lesson package offers, both number of lessons and pricing of package discounts. I prefer this.
Preply’s payment structure, it’s not exactly secret but I didn’t realise when I signed up that Preply does NOT pay teachers for ANY first lessons with EACH new student. Remember how in Italki many students only take one lesson? The teachers I have worked with report that the majority of their classes are with students who only book a single lesson. This is alarming. Preply wouldn’t pay for ANY first lessons. But it also expects its teachers to teach a FULL hour for first lessons AND instructs teachers on how to up-sell lesson packages.
How to get paid on Preply? I can’t actually tell you. After cycling through their interface for a good while I didn’t see a place to add my payment details. This is something I would love to be able to find as quickly as the ‘add your profile picture’ button.
My next concern is that Preply takes 33% of teacher’s lesson fees. I am not sure if they charge students a booking fee in addition to this. This 33% eventually drops to 25% but not until after the teachers have given a lot of lessons. I am not sure how they justify this but it you read the low ranging Trustpilot reviews you’ll see how these two policies combined create a lot of disgruntled students and teachers alike. Students are upset because teachers finish lessons 5-10 minutes early (to make it in time to the next underpaid lesson on which they need to over-deliver to retain students.) Teachers are upset because their first lessons aren’t paid. Then there are some reports of teachers who did ok on the platform and finally reached the 25% percent (getting paid 75%) rate and at this exact point Preply mysteriously decides that their profile doesn’t meet their standards and suspends their account without paying out their remaining $500 pay.
All this sounds alarming but also unsurprising. I have heard similar experiences about other teaching platforms (one that only accepts native English speaker passport holders.) A person was with a platform for 2 years, did great and from one day to the next their account got flagged, coinciding with when they had reached a milestone that was financially beneficial to them. I have heard these reports multiple times from multiple platforms and keep them in mind as a word of caution:
Build an income octopus, don’t rely on just one single income source. Build at least 2 strong profiles on 2 separate English Language teaching platforms in case one of them pulls the carpet beneath your feet with policy changes, an unintended operating glitch, or other practice that puts you at a disadvantage or out of business on that platform.
I sat through 2 hours of various Preply on boarding videos, they call them courses, that speak about how to conduct your first lesson with students, the importance of up-selling, how to improve student retention. It all basically went the way that all gig-economy goes: Deliver 3x the value of the price paid. It sometimes feels a little obnoxious to be told how to be so perfect while knowing that the only way to get students is to charge 30% of a living wage and while simultaneously knowing that out of 30 first lesson bookings I will receive exactly $0 from Preply. Another concern I have with Preply is that I don’t know if they have a minimum threshold for paying out nor their payment schedules. Do they pay instantly, weekly, monthly?
I suggest you read 15-20 low 1-2 star review on trust pilot about Preply AND read their replies. You’ll realise that they use the exact same 2-3 replies for all complaints and this level of lack of personalisation in replying on a platform like Trustpilot speaks volumes to me.
I wanted to love Preply. I sincerely did. I re-scheduled the booked lessons to gain some time to consider what to do and it is best to withdraw entirely from the platform as otherwise the students who booked a lesson package would be locked in and really struggle to get a refund and frankly I am not working for free. Whose idea is it to not pay tutors and expect them to make a glorious, over-delivering first impression?
Preply scores: 0/5 for me
I have had a presence on Wyzant for a while, I once found an in-person student through it who offered $60 per lesson. Technically, as with all sites, tutors have an obligation to accept payments through Wyzant and NOT conduct payments outside of the platform. But frankly: 20% to me is still just too high a commission to pay. I know that platforms have overheads, the engineers and teams need to be paid. But 20% on ALL these gig economy platforms is just too much. That aside let’s talk more about Wyzant.
The interface is reasonable but I get a LOT of requests from students who want a lesson at a specific time but don’t even answer my question: “Which time zone are you in?”. Wyzant’s interface isn’t brilliant for clarifying schedules and time zones. It would be great if they could work a little bit on this to make them truly competitive.
In May I wasted at least a whole hour on messaging back and forth with a student who can not read simple questions nor answer them. I received repeated messages about wanting lessons without clarification what exactly he needed (grammar isn’t my strongpoint, I have to make sure I don’t waste my prospective student’s time if detailed knowledge of grammar is their key reason for booking lessons.) His lack of clarity caused us both a lot of frustration and in the end I had spent an hour unpaid trying to just schedule a first call with him.
I blame the usability of the platform interface more than the student. A really good platform makes it really easy to schedule. Check how smooth the experience is on Verbling or Italki. (I am not enrolled as a teacher on Verbling yet but have spent time exploring the platform and it looks very promising.) Neither of these two platforms require extensive back and forth messaging with prospective students.
On Wyzant I have had about 7 enquiries and 1 booked student this month. The lesson with the student is tomorrow and I’ll have to report back how payment worked. This is the first time that I am accepting payment through the Wyzant platform. It will be interesting to see how it works.
What’s good about Wyzant: The original process of signing up was smooth and I can easily change my profile. They do now have several options to provide evidence of qualification, which I also appreciate.
An outlier platform:
A friend told me about LivXP yesterday and I signed up straight away. I am a bit of a geek and like to get the insider perspective on new company profiles. Everything went quite smoothly until right at the end! The ONLY way to complete and set live your profile is by downloading an App. Now I don’t know about you but when I have never heard of a company before and can not find the privacy statement on their app then I really don’t want to have their app. Preply did a similar thing but with my being at least familiar with the name Preply I took the risk a little more readily. But with LivXP this was a deal breaker.
You can’t complete your profile without downloading the app. It’s impossible. The claim is that having the app on your phone will help you be on time for your lessons and to respond faster to incoming requests. I don’t know about you but 1) I reply as soon as I can anyway (I get notified through email notifications and don’t need an app, 2) I choose to have a life and resent being hounded every moment of it for one off lesson requests. I am not familiar with how LivXP conducts their lesson bookings but if it is anything like Wyzant it could lead to having to reply to prospective students rather than accepting lesson bookings. I don’t want to be on call for people who haven’t yet paid me. You may call this an attitude issue but bear in mind: unless you get paid above average all this extra time is coming out of your pocket. I am happy to schedule daily admin time but don’t hound me on every digital device known to man.
Well. Now what? I am considering getting a burner phone to download all these sketchy apps to. I say sketchy because how can small companies afford a strong developer team who keep high standards of data security? This really matters as our entire lives are hooked to our phones and data breaches can cost incredible amounts of time and money to recover from.
Have you ever been in a position of having to change 100 passwords? I have have. It’s unpleasant and extremely stressful and will take you a working day.
LivXP score 1/5, I would assign more points if the mandatory use of the app is removed. I quite liked the interface up to that point. But I can’t continue until I get a burner phone*.
*I hear you ask (nobody asks but maybe you would?) What is a burner phone? It’s a phone that isn’t hooked up to any personal data whatsoever, now which I install a ‘burner’ Apple ID purely so that I can comply with the mandatory app use. If the app is unsafe and syphons off personal data it will then not gain any useful data on me as the phone simply won’t contain anything of interest beside the LivXP and possible a handful of other deemed unsafe apps. I count Tiktok as an app I wouldn’t install on my main phone finally getting set up with a burner phone and burner Apple ID account would allow me to take part in the TikTok craze, too. (But is that a good thing? It depends what for. For business visibility building and marketing it could be. That’s another post I should write).
Value your data security. And don’t underestimate how relentlessly invasive gig economy can be on your life without paying you enough to make up for it. It’s your job to protect your time and don’t let fear lead you to bending over backwards to every request. Your mental and physical health matter. Make sure that YOU create the working environment that YOU can thrive in. When you give in to chasing after every penny and join the race to the bottom then you will get exactly that: pennies and exhaustion. Nobody else will protect your time, this is your job.
Use the time to protect to learn additional skills that increase your value so that you don’t become trapped in the whims of gig-economy demands.
Craigslist in San Francisco. This is one of my favourites! I am not sure how you all do it but I seem to not be able to place free adverts for German / English Lessons anymore. I used to be able to in the past. But even on the paid adverts (they are about $5) I often get at least 1 paying student response at the rate that I set. That is worth it for me. These students are typically repeat students and the $5 marketing cost for my lesson is worth it.
You may have to deal with a few too many sex requests. I find that upsetting but am able to navigate this. I include LESS photos of me then I don’t get as many of these inappropriate messages. Unfortunately I then also have a lower chance of getting students.
My favourite platforms to find language students are Italki and Craigslist.
Use of language disclaimer: Teacher, instructor, tutor. I am a little sloppy in my use of language and am using teacher & tutor almost interchangeably despite knowing they may mean different things to you. I am partially doing this to catch more of the Google algorithms attention. More on this later if you are interested. In the meantime I welcome your criticism on my lack of differentiation between the terms.
Tips for setting up your tutor profile.
Don’t let perfectionism stop you from getting started. You should be able to edit your profiles (tutor headshot, descriptions texts, introduction video) on all platforms. Get started. Then start taking a sincere look at your presentation.
What can you improve today? What can you plan to work on this weekend? I think my copy (this is the text) is pretty good at this point. My next concern is that I don’t have up to date photos of myself as I have made a leap in ageing and have been feeling very un-photogenic. I am constantly tired and it is hard to find a good time to take new portrait / headshot photos of myself for my public profiles. If this is you, too: brace yourself and maybe go on craigslist and find a couple of photographers. I say a couple on purpose.
I am a firm believer in booking multiple sessions when it comes to language learning as well as to booking creative work. Different photographers may have different styles of working and of editing your images in post. (‘post’ means postproduction, this can be in an Adobe software like Lightroom/photoshop or can be on an alternative software.) It is totally ok to ask your photographer to remove some glaring spots on your face or if you know your skin is tired a photographer may be able to soften the appearance a little. If you did want a full on retouching job it WILL cost more.
When I deliver portrait photos I don’t do any heavy editing but to reduce the appearance of blemishes takes time. So be respectful when asking for support in ‘appearance.’ But also don’t be scared to ask. You should also clarify that you don’t want to look 20 years younger (some photographers go HEAVY on the retouching in post) because after all you need these photos to make a realistic impression with your gig economy clients / aka students.
ESL / English teaching Platform Application / Advertising Checklist:
- Your text. Look at the platforms you want to apply to, copy their text categories (about me, my teaching style, my experience, my education, what is included, etc)
- Your profile photo. Does it have the right size? Does it meet the platform guidelines? Is it acceptable to get started with? You can upgrade it later, but look for something to get started with today.
- Your introduction video. Make some bulletpoints for what is most essential to cover. Look at other tutor’s introduction videos and make some bulletpoint notes. You can take the categories of your bulletpoints from the platform text categories. (about me, experience, who is this for, teaching style, interests, etc) Keep it short. I recommend filming several times to get comfortable. I also recommend that you create a 1 minute video AND a 2-3 minute one. This will mean that you really condensed the most important aspect of your introduction into the 1 minute video and this will be good for everywhere. But in your 2-3 minute video you can expand a little and shine with your personality.
- Make a list of every platform you apply to. And keep some notes. You can’t juggle too many platforms, it will turn into a messy spaghetti salad. Choose 2 to stick with. And I would say focus your main attention on ONE and open lessons on the second one for just 1 day a week to keep the scheduling headache at a minimum. Your goal is to just have the second platform as a backup and build a slow but consistent trickle on it, so that should you run into issues on your primary teaching English platform you won’t have to start from scratch, wasting time placing your application and waiting for approval. You’ll already have 2-3-4-5 students on your secondary platform to at least help you keep some essential living costs covered.
- Link your calendars to avoid a scheduling headache! This really is a separate post. I’ll need to write it for you. My life improved since I have merged calendars and multiple email accounts into one collection account each…
Did I cover everything? Do you have any questions? Do you know of additional platforms that people who don’t have an English speaker passport can teach English on? (Ideally while also getting paid..) Let me know your questions and experiences in the comments. Expressions of appreciation are also welcome.
(I will upload an edited version of this post to Medium.com this weekend. If you would like to support me there then please let me know and I’ll share a link with you)
Would you like me to write more about my experience as a language student?