To say that there are a lot of referral links out there on the internet and in social media groups for online teachers would be a very fair assertion. Some teachers really push their companies. It’s the nature of the industry today, and I really can’t blame the teachers who do it. They are being ambitious and looking for an opportunity to earn a few hundred bucks a month in referrals. This can help pay the bills. It can fund travel. It can shore up a retirement account. Like when anything else gets overdone, there comes opposition to it. Some of that opposition is warranted, and some is without merit.
People get tired of the aggressive, “Join my company for full bookings!” when in fact the recruiter knows very well that it’s difficult to get bookings at that company. Many people drop referral links and refuse to answer questions or give any guidance. It’s not fair to the people that are counting on you to give them support. I don’t really push referrals because, quite simply- I don’t have time. I also make money in other endeavors that I really enjoy. Devoting a ton of time to referrals isn’t worth my while. When I do post referral links, I’ve always told people, “I’m happy to answer any questions you have, whether you choose to apply with me or with another one of the teachers at our school.” I’ve honored that promise on many occasions. It promotes a spirit of goodwill and trust within the community- from the person who is applying to your school and among your coworkers who know that you have their back.
My EdS focused on instructional technology. During my studies, AI in education was a hot topic. There were a lot of teachers who were angry about the rise of AI. One teacher quipped, “Some robot is gonna steal my job!” To which the principal responded, “If a robot can steal your job, it probably should.” There is a very good parallel to be drawn here with referral links- particularly people who feel this is going to invite under-qualified, inexperienced teachers who’ll take their jobs. If someone with a $19 online TEFL certificate and no classroom experience can instantly take a person’s job away, that says more about the person whose job is being taken and less about the person taking that job from them. Many teachers feel that they are incredibly well-qualified. If this is the case, then there’s no cause for concern, as an influx of under-qualified teachers will surely make those highly qualified teachers stand out.
Meeting the Needs of the Company
Keep in mind that companies aren’t tasked with providing us with employment. They have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders- to maximize shareholder wealth. It’s the responsibility of the companies to ensure that they get the best teachers to cover their classes without gaps in the scheduling. The companies need, first and foremost, to consider the demands of the parents. Again, this is an opportunity for well-educated, experienced teachers to separate themselves. China is the largest market, and they place a very high value on education. It only makes sense that they would be more inclined to book better educated, more highly experienced teachers. Again, if you’re exceptionally well-educated, this is your competitive advantage.
You might say, “OK, I’m not like your friend. I don’t have a PhD in applied linguistics. I’m being negatively impacted by the oversupply in the labor market.” Fair point. Make this an opportunity to create your own competitive advantage. You might not have the most diplomas on your wall, but you can set yourself apart in other ways. I know teachers who have no university education whatsoever. They are outstanding teachers. They give back to the profession. They are also booked solid and earning over $20 per hour. How? They are incredibly reliable and dependable. If you are not the person who has outstanding qualifications, you can still be the most ambitious, most dependable person. Don’t take holiday time. Don’t ask for sick leave. This may not align with expectations for workers in your home country, but we’re seeking work in an intercultural environment. Again, China is the largest market and a very strong work ethic is consistent with Chinese culture. Both the parents and the company expect the teachers to be available and to be flexible. It also helps if you are willing to start at the bottom and work your way up.
This doesn’t apply to everyone, but ask yourself if this is your argument, “I have no degree, or my degree is entirely unrelated to TESOL. I don’t have a wealth of experience. I want the flexibility to take holiday time. I need the ability to call in sick when necessary. And I can’t get bookings because the market is flooded with teachers as a result of referral links!” If you think this sounds reasonable to you, then nothing I say will make any sense to you. If you look at this argument rationally, you can see that there is still a lot of opportunity in this field for people who want to do the work.
A Great Profession, But...
When I decided to make the transition to teaching fifteen years ago (I was 27 years old), I was walking away from a job in the accounting department of a large financial institution. I had just finished my MAcc and MBA and decided that taking a job teaching in the inner-city for $36,200 per year was the way forward for me. My mother, who had been a teacher for 30 years, thought it was fantastic. She encouraged me. My dad was more direct, “It’s a nice thing to do, but it doesn’t pay the bills.” He was right. Teaching is a phenomenal profession, but it’s an awful job. If you love what you do and you’re passionate about affecting change, you can really touch lives. If you think this is a job where you can get rich easily, you’re in the wrong field. It’s a thankless job that requires a tremendous amount of ongoing professional development. You might spend hours working on something that goes well in a class, only to have it go entirely unnoticed. You have to be able to look past that and think of the kids. You have to think beyond the pay raises and the bookings. If you are in it for the cash, get out. You don’t make anything teaching- especially online ESOL.
If you’re looking at teaching as something that is entirely necessary to pay your bills, then look into working in the public schools in the states. Good districts pay comfortably in excess of $100k for well-qualified, highly experienced teachers. I have a friend in NY earning $130k with a MEd+60. If money is a concern, then online ESOL is not the place to find a solution to that concern.
The nature of this job is such that there is a lot of insecurity. We work contract to contract, and some teachers don’t even have a contract. It could end at any time. If my job ended tomorrow, I would be grateful for the time I’ve had and the money I’ve earned. Most of all, I’ve enjoyed the ability to connect with my kids. I’ve also been smart enough to work hard to build financial security. My greatest sense of security comes in being well-qualified and highly experienced. If online teaching ended, I’d start over with something else. If I had to, I’d simply go back into the classroom- something I greatly enjoy.
Thankfully there are still a lot of opportunities with online ESOL. It suits my lifestyle perfectly. If you want to earn a few bucks while you travel, then great! But accept it for what it is- some part-time work for a little spending money. If you are going to make this a career path, then start to look at ways to professionalize.