As a work-at-home mom and as a business owner, part of my “job” is constantly searching out ways to “fill the pipeline” and continue to bring in income. That’s not always an easy thing to do, and it’s probably the most difficult thing there is in owning your own business. But for me, the costs are definitely worth the rewards.
During my search for new clients and new income streams, I fell upon the opportunity to be an online English as a Foreign Language instructor for children in China. The position is with the company “EF” (which stands for “Education First”), and the program I applied for is specifically called “EF Kids.”
Why I Applied for EF Kids
Pay and Hours
I decided to apply for a number of reasons, but the two biggest were the hours and the (potential) hourly pay. I add “potential” because the hourly rate increases via several factors, and I list how the pay works later in this article. Granted, even the full hourly pay is only a third of what I typically make an hour through my creative services business. But, what made EF Kids so attractive was the fact that I would have a lot of control over that rate, how much I would work, and how much I would make.
Plus, unlike a lot of work-at-home businesses, including my own creative services business, income is not always predictable. But with EF Kids, I would always know that a certain amount of income would be headed my way, provided I always had the students to fill my schedule. So far — that hasn’t been a problem. While I’m not fully booked, I’m just about — and I can always open my schedule to more opportunities or pick up other classes as a substitute, if I so desire.
Another determining factor, as I mentioned, were the hours. Not only were the number of hours a benefit (I only work about 24 hours for EF Kids a month — definitely “side gig” status), but so were the actual times that I would teach. “Peak” hours that increase the pay are class start times of 4:30 a.m. through 6:30 a.m., Central Standard Time, Monday through Friday. Now, those times might not seem so “attractive” to some — but as someone who is trying to keep her 9 to 5 daytime hours free for higher paying clients, those times are actually extremely attractive to me. I can teach three classes easily, from 5:30 a.m. until 7:00 a.m., and still have my whole day (and additional income earning opportunities) ahead of me. (Please note that actual hours change depending on Daylight Savings Time, to which China does NOT adhere.)
These hours can be perfect for a lot of people: students, part-time workers, stay-at-home moms. Even full-time workers who are willing to go to bed early can squeeze these hours in.
There are also weekend hours that are at times people might consider more reasonable: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday times that start at 7 p.m. Central Standard Time. However, if you want to make the maximum rate, just teaching the classes on those days probably would not be enough.
To make it work for me, I currently teach three classes Monday through Thursday starting at 5:30 a.m. and ending at 7 a.m., CST. My bedtime routine now starts at 8 p.m., and I make sure my head hits the pillow no later than 9 p.m. I wake up at 4:30 a.m. to give myself plenty of time to freshen up and get dressed. So far, I’ve found that, as long as I get into bed by 9, I wake up feeling pretty good.
No Fake Classroom Backdrop or Background
When I found EF Kids, I was already familiar with other companies that offer the same online English as a Foreign Language instruction with a similar compensation models. I even applied with one and jumped through a lot of their initial hoops — many more than EF Kids has. However, this other company insisted on all instructors having a fake classroom background. Not that it would have been horrifically difficult to come up with one, but as an older, single widow without the support of a spouse, the idea of going to the hardware store, buying the plywood, bringing it home, painting it, etc., to create this set-up just felt like too much. Overwhelmed even by the thought of doing so, I moved on.
But with EF Kids, as long as you have what the company calls a “neutral” background, that’s fine. I shoot my online stream from my cam on my iMac right here in my home office. My background consists of the white closet doors behind me. They had no problem with that.
No Video Class Instruction Test
While EF Kids does, of course, interview you, you don’t need to record a fake class video to prove that you can teach. Other companies do require that. So that’s yet another step that is eliminated when applying with EF Kids.
The Children Attend a Brick-and-Mortar School
Unlike some other programs that are purely online, EF has been teaching students English at brick-and-mortar schools in China for decades. The children you will be teaching already have had lessons, almost always the same day, with instructors at the brick-and-mortar school. You can feel assured that, at the very least, that student that you’ll teach privately has already seen the lessons and knows and understands English to some extent. So far, the students I’ve experienced (as young as six years old) know English extremely well and understand virtually everything that I say. You will not be teaching them English completely from scratch.
Having the Right Stuff to Teach English as a Foreign Language for EF Kids
While this career could be a great one for a lot of people, not everyone is going to be right for the job. While most of the following are preferences and not requirements, here are some of the things EF looks for when deciding who to hire:
Prior Teaching Experience — Particularly Online
In my case, I had prior teaching experience via an online coaching academy. I taught adults how to become coaches and how to do group coaching. Any teaching experience, be it online or in person, will help your cause.
It’s good to have some sort of education certification. I coached, and to do so, I received many certifications in coaching. I sent EF Kids my certification as a Master Coach, which also was my certification that allowed me to teach coaching to others.
A Good Command of the English language
Of course, you need to know and speak English fluently. The best-case scenario is that you are a native speaker (that is, English is not your second language). My B.A. degree in Communications with a concentration in Journalism and the fact that I’m a professional writer and editor in the English language both definitely helped in me being seriously considered for the position. It doesn’t matter if you speak British English or American English, so you don’t have to worry about your dialect or your accent.
ONE MUST: You need to have a TEFL — or you’re at least willing to get one
A TEFL (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language) certificate is necessary. The Chinese government requires it. You have to take or have already taken a TEFL class at least 40 hours or more in length and have your certificate before you can teach one of the classes. I didn’t have it, but I was willing to do so. More about that below. By the way, I think an ESL certificate might be enough to serve as your TEFL certificate, but it would be best to check with EF Kids, as I’m not 100 percent certain.
I did not have a TEFL, but I was certainly willing to get one. There are a lot of online certification programs. I found one via Groupon that lowered the original price from over $100 to only $12. Then I applied a Honey coupon, and got it for only $9 — an insanely cheap charge for TEFL certification. You have a limited amount of time to turn in the certificate to EF, so you’ll want to do it right away and figure out your time management, to make sure you can get it done by your deadline. I believe for myself the timeframe to have it completed was roughly two weeks, but I managed to get my certification done and sent over to the company in just five days.
My interview was a video interview, and I have to say it was fairly simple. A very friendly woman asked me some questions about my background and what moved me to apply. We talked about the online platform I’d be using to teach the classes. One of the more challenging questions I was asked had to do with how I would handle some of the more “unusual” instances within class. For example, I was asked what I would do if the child was acting up or had become completely disengaged and was refusing to participate.
The interviewer decided right then and there during the interview that I was ready to move on. There were still a few more steps before I was to become a full-fledged instructor, but essentially, assuming I could fulfill those steps, I was hired!
As I already mentioned, you need to have TEFL Certification before you can start teaching. It’s required by the Chinese government, so there’s no way around it. You need to take what is equivalent to at least 40 hours of study and have a certificate to prove it. I say the equivalent because many 40-hour courses probably won’t take you anywhere near 40 hours to finish. Mine was a 50-hour course. It took me about half the time to complete.
As you take the certification course, there are modules and tests along the way, and then a final comprehensive test. You do have more than one chance to get the tests right — but the attempts are not endless. As someone who already knew English grammar fairly well (I’m a professional writer and editor), it wasn’t hard to complete nor was it difficult to pass. I got it done in plenty of time.
That said, a lot of old grammar material that I instinctively know as a native, fluent English speaker, but that I don’t think about very consciously on a day-to-day basis, came up frequently. I’m talking about things like the various verb tenses, such as present perfect, past participle, and so on. So even if you think you’re crackerjack at English, you’ll still need to pay attention and take lots of notes along the way of your studies to pass the tests successfully.
EF Kids Training
After you’ve received your TEFL Certification, you move on to EF Kids training. It’s a simple online course, but I’ll admit, there’s a lot to learn and know. The good thing is that you can always access the training slides later to review certain sections as needed. The tests for this training aren’t difficult at all, and you can go back and “re-train” if need be to pass the test and move on.
What I did, besides taking notes, was to take screen captures of slides along the way. I could use those screenshots as “notes” to refer back to as necessary during the tests.
But again, just like with the TEFL Certification, you only have a limited amount of time to train — about a week (or less). So it’s really important to stay on track with the training course and get finished by the given deadline.
In the training, you learn everything you’ll need to know to teach English to Chinese kids successfully and to do so in a way that meets the expectations of both the students and (especially) their parents. You learn how to use the online platform to present the lessons, as well as the scheduling system and ways to reach out for support, which is greatly encouraged. I have to say that I’ve never felt abandoned by EF. Any and all questions I had have been answered quickly and fully. And to be honest, I didn’t have a ton of questions in the first place, as everything is explained very fully. There are both recorded and live webinars you can take after you’ve been fully approved as an instructor to help you retain what you’ve learned and refresh your memory as need be.
Once you finish your EF Kids Training course, you then connect online with someone at EF for a follow-up meeting. In that meeting, the EF representative goes into even more depth about teaching, scheduling and also invoicing, which a teacher must do once a month at the beginning of the month.
After the follow-up meeting, assuming your online profile has been completed and approved (you’ll need to write a very short bio and include a professional photo), and you’ve handed in your required TEFL, you’ll receive an email that says you can start to teach.
Just a short note on attire: It’s encouraged that you wear a collared shirt similar to the uniform that the brick-and-mortar teachers wear. That would be a navy blue polo shirt. But really, any “business casual” clothing is acceptable. I’m a very “by-the-book” gal, so I have both a navy polo shirt and a white polo shirt that I can wear for my online classes. They were inexpensive, and they keep me in compliance. Plus, I wake up always knowing what I’m going to wear! (You can get a similar shirt by clicking HERE.)
At the time this article was written, EF Kids instructors have the potential to make up to $10 for every 30-minute class taught. To reach that rate, you have to do more than just teach the class. But what you are required to do to beef up the rate are all very easy, doable tasks. As long as you get into the mindset that you’ll ALWAYS do those rate-raising tasks and never stray from them, you’ll always make the ultimate goal of $10 a class.
There are also bonus milestones — reach a milestone, and you’ll get an EXTRA bonus fee. For example, once you teach 200 classes, you’ll receive a bonus of $100. If fully approved and hired, you are also paid $30 to complete your initial training. And lastly, after you start teaching, you can make money by sharing the opportunity of EF Kids to others and bringing them onboard with the company.
Keep in mind that all EF Kids instructors are INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS. You will NOT be an employee. Therefore, you will get a 1099 form from EF Kids, and you must keep track of your income and any taxes that you own the State and Federal Governments. But, of course, as an independent contractor, you are also a business owner. So, by the same token, you can deduct some of your related business expenses, such as the equipment you work with, your internet fees, and even a portion of your rent or mortgage, any property taxes you have, and utilities. Talk to a tax professional to fully understand the specifics of being an independent contractor and how to handle your taxes properly.
Teaching EF Kids Classes
Classes are, in reality, just 25 minutes long, as you need time to move to your next class, provided you have one scheduled. The kids themselves are amazing — darling children, so cute, and all as smart as a whip. Their English is, in most cases, extremely good. I was quite surprised to learn just how fluent they are — all thanks, I’m sure, to their brick-and-mortar school lessons. But they are still learning, so there are times when they need to work on something specific. As the instructor, you need to take notes on all strengths and weaknesses and make a short report about those within 24 hours of your classes. (I do mine immediately following my classes, so I never forget to do them and turn them in.)
But they are all a joy to teach — very engaged, very willing to learn — and the experience has been much more fulfilling than I anticipated. Come for the side gig hours and pay — stay for the kids and the impact you are making on their lives!
How You Can Get Started
If this all sounds appealing to you, there’s no reason why you should wait to start your own work-at-home career with EF Kids. To get started, all you have to do is click HERE. The link will take you to a form you can fill out to start the application process. Good luck! I wish you much success on your new career working at home with EF kids! And I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have.