Online ESL job wages dropping as in-person teaching fades

in #teaching2 months ago

I am a reluctant ESL teacher. I wouldn't even say that I am particularly good at it. The requirement to be an ESL teacher in Thailand seem to consist of

  • Are you young enough?
  • Are you white enough?
  • Do you look the part?
  • Do you have a college degree?
  • Do we like you?

Now other than the "white" part I think it could be said that this same criteria exists for every job in the world. I know that in interviews I have done in the past I could tell that I was not meshing quite well with the interviewer and lo' and behold, I did not get a callback. In another interview for a job that I was not at all qualified for, I made the interviewer laugh and after we were done with the interview we talked about non-job related stuff for about an additional 20 minutes or so. I got the job. I was terrible at it. I hated the job. That job is the reason why I moved to Asia to recharge and refresh before rejoining the USA workforce.

I landed an ESL job the same way everyone else does, by responding to local requests for jobs and asking local teachers - which there used to be a lot of - on tips one where to apply. It really wasn't difficult and within a month I had multiple job offers here in Chiang Mai. This was around 2 years ago.

In the past 14 months or so we have had an "on again, off again" relationship with whether or not we were going to teach in person and I would say for about 5 of those months, schools were closed and as a result, so were my wages. I'm not complaining and I don't expect to be paid for work that I do not do but I had to seek out some other form of income.

Thankfully, teaching online is actually a pretty easy gig to get if you are, once again, young enough, somewhat qualified, and they like you.


I was able to land 2 job offers from online teaching firms that cater to Chinese youth and adults (I much prefer the adults) and at the beginning I was making between $18 and $20 USD per hour. This was actually much better wages than I was receiving from the in-person schools that I was working at, which paid around $40 per day. Plus I got to work in my living room.

Unfortunately, as time went by and people around the world, including teachers far more qualified than my ass, started to look for ways to make money, the supply of teachers started to exceed the demand and we have seen the industry absolutely blow up. While I do not understand the overall industry and I have not lost my job - which is amazing to me considering I have an unrelated degree to teaching and under 2 years of experience - the way the companies have dealt with this surplus of teachers is to reduce our wages and let the system sort itself out.

These days I am being paid $13-$15 an hour, which is still pretty good considering the economics of where I live. My bills including basically everything I do in my life costs a little over $1000 a month so even though I don't take on a full work-load as it isn't really up to us how many hours we get, I am still able to easily pay my bills. The problem is that I am not really putting any money away but then again, I wouldn't say that most ESL teachers ever accomplish that unless they are one of the lucky and hyper-qualified few who work at international schools - those guys make BANK, seriously, if you are a teacher in the west, are a native-English speaker and are sick of your job, have a look over in Asia.... More on that at a later time.


Another reason for me to not complain is the fact that the lessons are planned for you. If you have ever done ESL in a traditional classroom environment you are likely aware of the fact that it is almost always completely up to you to come up with everything. When you work for these online firms you basically are just a referee in an environment where you are helping the student(s) to pronounce things correctly. After you do it a dozen times or so it just becomes like clockwork and it is extremely easy. It's no wonder that the global teaching industry, many of who are out of work, are flocking to this industry despite the dramatic drop in pay.

One other bad aspect of the changing industry is that the "bosses" are seriously running overwatch on what you do. The students actually grade YOU at the end of lessons and just like an Uber driver hates anything less than 5 stars, anything under 5 stars is going to have you put under the microscope. Therefore, it is essential that you are whimsical and silly - well, with the kids - every single lesson. This is not really my "cuppa" and I would imagine it is only a matter of time before I am let go.

So if you were thinking about getting involved in ESL teaching online, I am here to tell you first-hand that it is not as great as it used to be and you should probably have a backup plan for another agency, even if you are already working for one of them. Or better yet, go ahead and start teaching with another one while you are working with one of them. I have no contract, and the company doesn't have to have any reason for letting me go. They can simply decide to do so whenever they want, for any reason.

It's kind of a scary prospect and therefore I think that anyone involved in the "game" should probably not build their life around this sort of employment since I personally live in fear every day that it will be my last. Lucky for me I came over here with a bunch of savings so it would impact me less than other people.