How online teaching changed my views on having a job
When I started my research job at a public hospital, my salary was surprisingly low. I quickly took action and found a side hustle for my evenings and weekends. I became a French and English tutor on Italki. I’ve taught over 500 classes to 120 students over a year. What I thought would consume me actually became a wonderful blessing.
I chose Italki for a number of reasons. The website is user-friendly, easy to navigate and well-organized. The platform serves as a liaison between tutors and students from all over the world. Also, a tutor can be a student and vice versa. It’s a very modern and ingenious platform because everyone can teach or be taught.
Tutors can either sign up as professional tutors (with fancy diplomas/certificates and more experience) or community tutors (usually a native speaker with a positive attitude). In both cases, you need to submit a short video to introduce yourself. It’s the perfect occasion to show your personality and your teaching style.
What appealed to me the most was the flexibility. You can choose your hours, your rates and the kind of classes you want to teach (casual conversations, grammar, pronunciation, etc). You can get really creative. For example, I created a science class for advanced students who want to practice the language while discussing science articles. Community tutors can design up to 3 classes per language and professional tutors, up to 6.
Italki has a cool feature for tutors. When a new student signs up, s/he has the option to fill up a contact form. Tutors decide in advance few questions to display in the contact form and students can answer those questions in order to better prepare the class. This way, the tutor is aware of the student’s goals or expectations for the class.
Tutors get paid by withdrawing money as often as they want. Italki uses Paypal or transfers the money directly onto a US bank account. It takes few business days and either choices have a small fee.
As a student, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store. Italki offers a plethora of choices. You can pick a tutor based on his/her availability or his/her price. You can read through his/her reviews and read his/her bio. You can also choose a tutor from a particular country or region for his/her accent or dialect. You may pick one that speaks your native language. You can simply pick someone because s/he seem friendly or has an interest in common. Students may message the tutor before booking a class if they need more info.
It’s common for students to shop around to find a tutor since there’s no real commitment. Some tutors offer trial lessons for a lesser price and some will also offer packages. For example, you can purchase a package of 5 classes and pay less than if you had booked the classes separately.
There is also an active forum for students to ask language related questions. Some questions might be related to a particular translation, or simply sharing an experience about learning something new. Italki allows you to send friend requests to tutors and to other students. I really enjoy the emphasis on the community and helping each other out.
Students can choose to have their online classes on the platform they want. Italki offers an online classroom (using your camera and microphone), which is available at the time of the class. The online classroom opens up through your browser and crashes at times. Other platforms such as Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts/Meets are better choices. However, if you encounter some difficulties, the technical support and customer service are awesome, and they tend to reply quickly.
What to expect from tutoring?
At first, teaching online was scary. I was a volunteer tutor in Math and English to help people from low-income communities in Boston. I also briefly taught Math and French to young kids in Montreal. However, I had no experience teaching behind a screen. Would I be taken less seriously because it’s online? Would my students notice if I’m not wearing a bra, and no makeup?
My first classes were booked by regulars on the platform. These students were curious about the new teacher. Yes, the tutor’s profile shows the number of classes taught and number of students! I offered a very cheap rate since I had never been paid to teach before and I also didn’t have anything prepared besides pulling out web articles and improvising conversations on current topics.
The first few months went by smoothly. I successfully balanced my research job at the hospital and my few classes online. I enjoyed the casual conversations and my teaching skills improved. My students challenged me on my grammar knowledge and my ability to explain clearly. My ratings and reviews also went up, which helped attracting more students. I ended up teaching very few students in English. Most of my students wanted to learn French from Paris and were happy to find a tutor working in a North American time zone.
I encountered few issues including poor WIFI connection when I switched internet plans and I also dealt with few students flaking last minute. I also taught in a gaming café once because I didn’t want that one class to spoil my Saturday afternoon. It was overall an excellent compromise and choosing my schedule prevented me from burning out.
Over time, I found that the students who stuck around the most are the ones I could build a personal connection with. Friendship and trust are extremely important. I could adapt my teaching style, I could come up with more material and grammar exercises, I could open up extra teaching slots. However, without a bit of chemistry, the lessons were not as efficient.
It’s crucial that both the student and the tutor show their vulnerability. Being a good tutor means using the power of the educator to raise a student’s self-esteem and confidence in speaking a foreign language. It also means being patient and compassionate with one’s mistakes. Recognizing our own mistakes is humbling and usually very appreciated. Feedback can be left after the class is completed but I always choose to give an honest feedback to my students at the end of the lesson because it reinforced our connection. Being transparent builds trust and trust is the foundation of a long-lasting relationship.
For the student, a productive lesson means that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. There’s no shame in asking for extra homework or messaging the tutor later for a question. There’s no good or bad student, there’s only active learning. It’s important to remember that speaking a new language doesn’t have to come out as perfect from the first shot. We’re all humans and we are learning from each other.
Chemistry between tutors and students can be built over time. Some people take longer than others to come out of their shell. All my students were motivated and meant well but not everyone is meant for everyone and it’s totally okay. Moving on is the best solution for both students and tutors.
How did it change my life?
My perception of Italki changed when I read The illusion of money by Kyle Cease. What I first considered a side hustle for extra money became a limitless pit of resources. Kyle Cease wrote that it’s important to focus on your passion and enjoying your limited time rather than focusing on the numbers in your bank account. Money is actually the by-product of your passion and your bank account will grow as long as you keep believing in your hard work. Time is limited, money is not. All the resources you need are within you and can be exploited with the proper mindset.
Following Mr. Cease’s advices, I started raising my prices on Italki after few months. I wanted to take a chance. I was petrified to lose my students. I kept apologizing to them and to the universe. I cursed my decision because I felt like I didn’t deserve so much money for my classes. But nothing changed. Not a single person batted an eye, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I was relieved, but also shocked. How come there’s a market for expensive online tutors? I thought people came online to find affordable tutors…
I was wrong. There’s a market for absolutely everything. I appreciate the diversity of students on this platform. When I had lower rates, I had casual and chill students from all around the world. With higher rates, I get more serious students from first world countries. Both categories of students were pleasant and highly motivated. I enjoyed my students’ personalities and I loved getting to know them.
I did not teach languages the way I was taught in schools. My school profs followed the old fashion system of unidirectional communications. Back then, students absorbed knowledge transmitted by teachers and that knowledge was undisputable. On Italki, I was building a peer to peer connection and that allowed me to express my personality. I started getting creative with my class contents too. I offered French literature and science courses, immigration test prep courses, “how to get rid of your accent” courses, family/friends combos for more social time… I had so much fun! Some of my students started leading the class and that’s how they learned best. A new language is a tool, and we need social contact to use it. Having fun during class is essential, because it will pave the way for the student to have fun when s/he will travel and use that new language.
Online teaching became super fun networking. My students became a huge part of my social life, which was absolutely refreshing for an extrovert. My connections with them became so deep that I had more opportunities. Some students offered me jobs, some invited me to visit their country, some sent me cards and gifts for my birthday, some offered to lend me some money during the pandemic. The magic happened online and I’ve never met a single one of them in person. Trust can be built anywhere.
Although I enjoyed my work at the public hospital, I ended up being laid off due to the pandemic. Luckily, I was able to expand my teaching hours to make it a full-time job and meet more students. Online teaching literally saved my a**. I’m grateful for all the wonderful students I’ve crossed path with, and I am very fortunate that I built precious friendships.
In conclusion, having multiple sources of incomes is important because money is a source of stress for most people. Side hustles don’t need to be painful. I always perceived them as paid hobbies. My side hustle is a blessing in disguise. I enjoyed my research job and did not want to give it up, however my presence at the office was required from Monday through Friday, the classic 9 to 5. I did not have the freedom to travel whenever I wanted.
Online teaching got me addicted to being my own boss. I enjoyed the flexibility, the creativity and the meaningful connections I built with my students. I would recommend online teaching for both extroverts and introverts because teaching and learning are about chemistry rather than popularity. Moreover, don’t be afraid to live up to your full potential if you believe in your passion. My life mission is to help others and it doesn’t exclude making money. Actually, the more people I helped, the more generous I got with charities and donations. Take the time to be grateful in every opportunity even if there’s the word “hustle” in it. It means that a valuable lesson is on its way.
Here's where to book a lesson with me and get $10 on Italki credit! =)