How to find a good online ESL teaching company - and avoid falling victim to scammers
September 21st, 2020 / Teaching
There is a lot of abuse in the online TEFL industry. Capitalising on the online education boom, new companies spring up, funded by venture capital money. When the investment dries up and the business cannot support itself, however, they can disappear overnight, leaving both tutors and students out of pocket.
Plenty of tutors have horror-stories like this.
Before joining the platform I work for, one of our tutors worked for a Chinese ESL company which suddenly stopped trading and never paid his final wages. Worse still, the company had sold large packs of lessons to students (amounting to the equivalent of thousands of dollars in the local currency) which they would now never receive. Incensed at the injustice, our tutor continued to teach a few of these students for free for a year, to compensate them for the swindling company he used to work for.
Before you think that this is just a Chinese problem, it’s not. European companies abruptly shut up shop also and fail to pay their tutors.
And it is not just a company going under that TEFL tutors have to worry about. Punitive fines, sudden deactivation, unreasonable terms and conditions and low, low pay are also hazards in this industry.
So, what can we do about bad TEFL companies?
Unfortunately, at the moment, not much. Because online TEFL companies operate from different countries we cannot hold them to account to western labour laws. The only thing that we can do as TEFL professionals is to help each other find good companies and help these companies grow.
How reputable online TEFL companies operate
I have worked in this industry now for almost a decade. Here are some of the benefits and policies that good online TEFL companies offer and why you shouldn’t accept anything less.
Teachers must be able to communicate with one another regularly and freely
In our company teachers communicate through our very active Slack group. We ask and answer questions about the platform, we share materials, make suggestions about how to improve the user experience and post any concerns. Our Slack group is one of the best things about teaching on our platform. I have never met these teachers in person, but they are my dear colleagues. We chat to each other freely creating a feeling of trust and transparency within the company.
I have read about several online companies who do not allow tutors to speak to each other or others like Landi English who used to have a Facebook page where tutors communicated, but have since taken it down.
This is a giant red flag. If the company doesn’t allow its tutors to communicate, it is a sign that it treats its workforce poorly and wishes to keep problems hidden by separating tutors from each other rather than allowing them to work as a team.
You should be able to withdraw the money you make on a regular basis
Online TEFL teaching is essentially gig work. You should therefore get paid at regular intervals, ideally when you want or at the end of the week. Never sign up for a company who will only pay you once a month. Online teaching is too unstable for this level of trust and companies fail all the time.
The longest that I would accept between payments is two weeks, and that is for a very established company which has been operating for at least six years.
No-show fines are normal in this industry, but they should not be punitive
Read the terms and conditions before you join the company. If you don’t show up to a class, you won’t get paid and it is common to get a small fine.
However, you should not be fined if you have to cancel a class due to an illness or emergency. In addition, no one can guarantee a perfect internet connection all of the time and so you should be penalised for the odd interruption to classes due to connectivity problems. Remember, tech companies also suffer tech problems when their website goes down due to server issues. You don’t fine them for the loss of business when that happens, and so there should be an understanding.
Where can I find a list of online TEFL companies?
You can find a comprehensive list of online TEFL companies here, courtesy of Good Air Languages.
Where to go for information about online TEFL companies
Facebook groups such as Hired Online TEFL Teachers with Job Reviews and Online ESL Teachers are run by TEFL teachers to collect and disseminate information about online TEFL companies. They are a mine of information about which companies to work for and which to avoid.
Before applying to a company, I advise joining these groups and posting in the forums. You’re sure to find someone who works for the company, or has worked for them in the past who can give you their honest opinion.
Another place to find information is Glass Door. However, as TEFL companies are constantly evolving, these reviews can be out of date. Also, remember, people are much more likely to post on Glass Door to share a negative experience rather than a positive.
Online TEFL teaching is still a great opportunity to earn a decent living working from home. There are lots of companies to work for and so do your research before signing up and don’t sell yourself short. This way you’ll find a company who truly deserves you.