By Scott Zimmermann
Working for an online teaching organization as an employee differs greatly from working independently. An independent English teacher is an autonomous entrepreneur; a company instructor is a salaried employee. The flourishing and fluctuating EFL industry online is a cornucopia of opportunity for both options.
The two are similar in that they maximize your flexibility and options compared with their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
Teacher turnover at schools in the “real” world is high, and it is not easy for a teacher to change positions easily. He or she may have to buy a plane ticket and forego a final month’s salary payment to leave a disappointing position. Changing teaching positions online is relatively easy: the teacher does not have to buy a plane ticket or secure an employment visa.
Similarly, running your own brick-and-mortar school is an extremely expensive undertaking in the “real” world. The primary cost is that of a building, but there are others such as utilities, staff, books, furniture, etc. Costs associated with running an online school, on the other hand, are relatively minor.
One way in which the two differ is in the area of customer service. Customer service encompasses many aspects of any company’s operations. An employee for an online teaching organization needs to provide engaging lessons to a paying customer, but the customer service(billing, complaints, queries, promotions, etc.) is handled by other employees of the company. An independent entrepreneur has to deal with all of these, and these activities can be time-consuming and challenging.
Moreover, providing good customer service is generally linked to one’s personality. Teaching skills, on the other hand, can be taught and improved much more readily.
An entrepreneur must be adept in many spheres and customer service is just one of them.
Starting an online business is often a slow and difficult process. Effective advertising is crucial. A growing business consumes an ever-increasing amount of an entrepreneur’s time, and if the business is sound, it may thrive as the number of customers multiplies. There is a strong chance that a lucrative entrepreneurial venture becomes a full-time occupation or even a monomania, and that is fine for some people.
The failure rate of new businesses-both in the “real” world and online-is quite high. Teaching for a company, on the other hand, is less all-consuming. Work hours are more readily reduced or increased, and the activity may remain a part-time job.
If you are on your own, you will probably enjoy more freedom in terms of curriculum. For many teachers, teaching the same lessons from the same set program can become tedious. As an entrepreneur, you can choose your materials and the level as you see fit. Designing your own program is a formidable task, however. As an instructor at a company, you are generally required to follow a set curriculum, and placement testing is typically done for for the teacher prior to the first lesson. Although most employers have a set curriculum, many permit-or even encourage-a degree of creativity by the teaching staff.
One-to-one courses are extremely common online. This is not surprising because most students prefer to study this way but were previously dissuaded from doing so by the high cost of private lessons in a brick-and-mortar setting. The much lower costs online make this option accessible to many students, not just the affluent. The success or failure of a needs analysis-an important prerequisite for private tutelage-is crucial to tailoring a program that fulfills a student’s needs and expectations. A well-done needs analysis encompasses the client’s age, level, and cultural background. It also includes the student’s needs, lacks, and wants.
For the EFL entrepreneur, a needs analysis is of paramount significance. An employee for a company rarely has to spend as much time on this.
On rare occasions in the EFL industry, an instructor has to deal with an incorrigible student. The student may disrupt class, act insolently, or insist on only doing conversation. This scenario is a real conundrum: He or she is a paying customer, but may be detrimental to the class or school. At many schools, an instructor has to acquiesce and make the best of a problematic situation. An entrepreneur, on the other hand, may decide that a certain student is just not worth the aggravation.
Online TEFL is a rapidly-changing phenomenon. Reputable online companies provide training for their teachers. Training includes use of the website’s teaching platform. There is relatively little training for online entrepreneurs.
A proficient EFL online entrepreneur must be adept at a variety of tasks. Acquiring the expertise needed to excel in all of these areas takes years. For the audacious few who possess the myriad skills required, opening your own online school may be the best route. The vast majority of teachers, however, are probably better off, at least initially, working for a reputable company.