Teaching English Online as a South African TEFL teacher

Want to know all about teaching English online as a South African? Well, this is the blog for you!

South African TEFL teacher Rosland is one of our amazing i-to-i graduates! As she’s been through the whole process and is now a successful online TEFL teacher, we asked her to answer some of your burning questions! We covered everything from becoming a TEFL teacher and finding online work to how COVID, and the change to Chinese regulations, has been affecting TEFL teachers.

So, let’s dive in!

How did you become a TEFL teacher?

I was a PR manager and events coordinator for three years. However, it’s always been a passion of mine to find a job that allows me to travel. 2019 was the year I decided to follow that dream.

I did the Level 5 TEFL Diploma with i-to-i. I was working full time in Cape Town and doing the TEFL course when I came back from work, and over the weekends. At the end of my TEFL course, I signed a contract for a job in China and was supposed to go in February 2020 but, as you know, COVID happened!

I had already resigned from the PR agency, so I was left without a job. I had enough savings to get me through six months, but I realised that COVID wasn’t going to end any time soon, so I started looking for online teaching jobs. The best way to use my TEFL skills and earn money, without leaving South Africa!


How long did it take you to find an online TEFL job?

I thought it would be quick to find an online TEFL job, but it took me about two months in the end.

I was applying to the big companies but the majority of them require you to have prior teaching experience. However, at the time I was applying, the jobs market was quite saturated. COVID had just hit and lots of people had come back from the countries they were teaching in and were applying to teach online, often with a lot of experience to back them up. So, it’s all different now that things are calming down!

It was also not easy trying to find out which companies do actually take South African citizens, so that took a bit of research.

(Side note from i-to-i: Since Rosland’s experience, i-to-i have decided to do the hard work for you! Check out our Top 8 online TEFL employers for South Africans)

Just keep going and you’ll get there!


How did you find your first online TEFL job?

Landi English was the first company that got back to me. I did my interview but three days later, I got a ‘Sorry, your interview was not successful.’ Before I applied again, I went onto YouTube and found a mentor who worked for Landi English. He told me I was a good candidate but there were things that I needed to be aware of in the interview and when doing the demo class.

I had a few master classes with my mentor, nailed the demo class with him, and was ready to apply to Landi again. This time they were happy with my interview and referred me to their sister company, Dazao English, who was taking on South Africans with no prior teaching experience. I worked for Dazao English for three months.

(The lesson? Always be prepared. Do thorough research beforehand and make sure some of your research is company specific.

Check out Rosland’s webinar about how to prepare for your TEFL interview for more detailed advice. i-to-i also have another blog post about mastering the TEFL interview, for you to use along with the webinar, to really make sure you’re prepared!

Also, if you really want to take your application to the next level, we would recommend you take our 420hr Level 5 Advanced Diploma. It’s the highest qualification we offer and will really stand out to employers when you’re applying for jobs!)


What are your tips for applying for online TEFL jobs?

When you apply for online TEFL jobs, make sure you have a great, clear photo that makes you look professional but friendly. You should also include a short introduction about yourself, your experience, and your personality.

Tailor your experience towards teaching and working with kids. For example, if you have been a waiter in a restaurant that has a lot of foreign customers, you could say you work well with people from different cultures. If you have any experience of working with children, as a babysitter or a swimming coach for instance, definitely put that in and highlight it. It’s very important!

I also recommend that you tailor your skills towards teaching. For example, if you have good communication skills, good classroom management skills, if you’re patient, if you have good listening skills, if you’re really technically savvy – you can highlight any of these.

It’s also really important to include your tech set up. If you have a headset with an external microphone, mention that. If you have a quiet space to teach, mention that in your application. If you have good WiFi and 5MB upload / download speed, mention that. Also mention the make of the laptop / PC you will be using. I’ve got a MacBook Air, so I say that.

Most companies ask you for a demo or intro video. Film yourself beforehand so you have the video ready to upload for online applications. Make sure you show a bubbly personality, do lots of smiling, and use TPR (total physical response). TPR is really important for online teaching, and they look for it in interviews.

(Want to know more about TPR? Check out our FREE TPR mini TEFL course, with key videos for you to watch and advice / exercises for you to use in your demo lessons and when you’re actually teaching online).


What equipment do you use for teaching online?

I have a MacBook Air, fibre broadband, and uncapped WiFi with 5MB upload and download speed.

My headset is a gaming headset that can also be used in a laptop. It has an external microphone, that is needed for online teaching. I paid about 200 Rand [£10] for it. If you can find a cheap one like this, it does the trick. Headsets can be really expensive. Don’t spend more than 500 Rand [£25] on a headset!


Is load-shedding an issue for teaching English online as a South African?

Unfortunately, load-shedding happens. If you’re South African and you want to work online, I highly recommend that you invest in a load-shedding back up plan!

I have a portable WiFi dongle, which I always keep charged, and I also always keep my laptop charged, when I’m working on it. Load-shedding in Cape Town is generally two to two and a half hours so, if we do have load-shedding, my laptop battery and WiFi dongle can last me through that. My back-up plan is pretty simple. It gets me through my classes, and I haven’t had a problem with it yet!


Which online company are you working for now?

They actually aren’t an online company! In September 2020 the international school in China I had signed a contract for, contacted me, and asked if I could teach their classes online. I teach classes of about 10 to 15 students from grades one, four and five and I have also tutored Matric students.

The classes last 45 to 60 minutes and I have to create my own lesson plans. I have a set teaching guide, based on topics that need to be covered for that learning unit or for that month or term. I tailor the class according to that, using my own teaching materials to make the classes more fun and engaging and to get the kids to speak and interact more with me. I enjoy it because I can tailor my lessons to what I want to teach them!

Recently the classes have changed slightly, and this may be due to the change in Chinese regulations. Instead of teaching a combination of Chinese and Korean students, I now only teach the Korean students. This hasn’t affected my workload though, and I am still teaching the same number of hours I was before!


How much can you earn teaching English online?

Your pay depends on the company and your experience. The more experience you have, the better earning potential you have. The bigger companies pay you more, but tend to require a degree, teaching experience, and a TEFL certificate. The smaller companies will probably take you without a degree, or if you have no experience, but tend to pay you a bit less.

If you get offered a job with a smaller company, I would advise you take it and get experience, while you continue looking for bigger companies. That’s what I did and the pay was not high initially, but I took the first job because I knew that the experience would be valuable for me.

Teaching online guide

How do you get paid?

When you’re teaching English online, how you get paid depends on the company you are working for. Dazao English paid directly into my South African bank account. They asked for banking information, and I don’t think any deduction was made.

The Chinese school I’m working with now also pays directly into my South African bank account, but some companies will ask you for a PayPal account or another type of banking system. You just have to go with the flow and use whatever they’re using!


What do you like best about online teaching?

So many things! But the main ones are the fact that I can work from anywhere, I just need to make sure I have good WiFi connection and my equipment with me, and the fact that I find it a pretty easy way to TEFL, as the subject material is provided and I just have to focus on coming up with fun and engaging activities, which I enjoy!

Another benefit is the time zone difference. I’m often finished with teaching by 11AM my time so I have the rest of the day to myself, which gave me the opportunity to earn even more money with an additional job. At the minute I’m doing some PR work again in the afternoons, on a freelance basis.


What are some of the challenges?

Although time zone differences are a positive for me, they can also be a challenge. I start work at 3AM my time which is sometimes a struggle, especially in the winter months! WiFi connection can also be a challenge, but this is often completely outside of your control so you just have to go with the flow and reconnect as soon as possible.

Another challenge can be the fact that online schools are often prone to changing their platforms on very short notice. The ones I have been using are also all in Chinese, so it takes some quick Google translating to work out how to start a class! You get used to them quickly though, so it isn’t a big problem.


Any top tips for teaching online?

If you’re creating your own materials, be organised. I have everything saved and categorised in folders on my computer so I can find anything I need quickly. It also means you can reuse the material for the next year of students! Put in the hard work initially and it will pay off over time, as you build up your stock of lesson plans and activities.

Another tip is to try and go with the flow as much as you can. Lessons can be added last minute, or random holidays can crop up at a moment’s notice, but it’s important to take it in your stride and not let it stress you out! It’s just the way things are. Try to be prepared for anything and don’t worry if things change. With my current job, I only had a few days notice from being told I was hired to taking my first class but I love thinking on my feet and it keeps life interesting!


Have you found any good resources for online teaching?

For the younger kids, Cocomelon videos are usually very popular and engaging, and they are great for practicing vocabulary, speaking, and listening skills. You can find loads of videos on YouTube and the students are always asking me to put it on!

For the older kids, the website ISL collective is great. It basically makes lesson planning really easy, as you can type in what you’re aiming to teach and it will give you advice on how to teach that topic, and provide you with an appropriate PowerPoint and worksheet!

123listening.com is also a great resource for listening and writing exercises, as the audio provided links to a worksheet that you can send ahead of the class. The students/teaching assistant can then print out the worksheet and it can be filled in during the class, while listening to the audio.


How has COVID and the changes to Chinese regulations affected your online work?

Well COVID was the reason I started teaching online in the first place! And, as I said before, I think the change in Chinese regulations may have affected who I have in my classes, as I now teach only the Korean students rather than a mix of Chinese and Korean students, but other than that I haven’t noticed any changes.

I think this might be because I am teaching online with an actual school that students attend in person, rather than a purely online platform, but I’m not really sure.


Can I find a TEFL job online without having teaching experience?

Yes of course! I had zero experience when I applied for jobs. I was still in my PR job in Cape Town. In those interviews, I knew I had no experience but I didn’t make that a big thing. I told them I gained a lot of knowledge from the TEFL courses that I did and that I know a teaching method that I’m comfortable with, which is the PPP method.

If you don’t have experience, fake it until you make it! Discuss what you learned in your TEFL course and any experience you have working with kids. I said I don’t have traditional experience working with kids, or teaching in general, but I come from a big family. I am trusted around my little nieces and nephews and I enjoy being around kids. I am also a good leader and a good communicator. That is what convinced them!


Can I find a TEFL job if I’m South African?

Lots of people talk about the struggles of being South African and wanting to teach. I’m not going to say that it’s easy but if you are dedicated to finding a job and doing all the steps to become a successful candidate, you definitely can teach online or abroad. It just requires a bit more work. I’m living proof that it is possible for South Africans to do TEFL!


Want to learn more about TEFL?

Download i-to-i’s free TEFL for South Africans Guide to find out more about teaching English online and abroad as a South African

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So, now you know all about teaching English online as a South African TEFL teacher, we bet you can’t wait to get started! We can help you there! Still need to get TEFL qualified? Easy! All you need to do is visit our TEFL Courses page and decide which Level 5 Diploma is right for you.

Ready to job hunt? Great! Head over to the LoveTEFL jobs board to get started!

Need a bit more advice on your next steps? No problem! Arrange a free call back with one of our TEFL Experts, and they will be happy to advise you.

I have been traveling and teaching ESL abroad ever since I graduated university. This life choice has taken me around the world and allowed me to experience cultures and meet people that I did not know existed.

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