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 how much I would work as well as and how much I would ultimately 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 enough students to fill my schedule. So far — that hasn’t been a big problem. While I’m not always fully booked, I’m usually close — and I can always open up my schedule to take on more classes, and I can always pick up other classes as a substitute, if the opportunity arises.
Another determining factor in deciding to apply to EF Kids revolves around the hours I would work. The number of hours was attractive to me. I work only 64 hours at month right now for EF Kids, at the very most, and usually, it’s less. It’s definitely “side gig” status, and since I had another business, that “part-time” nature was exactly what I wanted.
But the actual times when I would teach were also a plus, and for the very same reason. “Peak” hours, which happen to increase your pay, are class times that start as early as 4:30 a.m. and run through 6:30 a.m., Central Standard Time (an hour later, of course, during Daylight Saving Time), Monday through Friday. Now, those times might not seem so “attractive” to some (especially people who like their sleep and aren’t early birds), but as someone who is trying to keep her 9-to-5 hours free to provide higher-paying marketing and publishing services, those times are extremely attractive to me. I can teach three classes easily, from 5:30 a.m. until 7:00 a.m. (I do up to four during Daylight Saving Time), and I’ll still have my whole day (and additional income earning opportunities) ahead of me. (Please note that China does NOT adhere to Daylight Saving Time, so the peak hours do change for us in the United States.)
These hours can also be perfect for a lot of people: students, part-time workers, and stay-at-home moms, just to name a few. Even full-time workers who are willing to go to bed early can squeeze these hours in before they head off to their regular means of employment!
There are also weekend hours that are at times people might consider more reasonable: Friday and Saturday peak hours that start at 7 p.m. Central Standard Time (an hour later during Daylight Saving Time). However, if you want to earn the maximum pay rate possible, just teaching the classes on those days would not be enough.
To make it work for me, I teach up to three classes Monday through Thursday starting at 5:30 a.m. and ending at 7 a.m., CST, and during Daylight Saving Time, I teach up to four classes on those same days, starting at 6:00 a.m. and ending by 8 a.m. My bedtime routine now starts at 8 p.m., and I try to be in bed no later than 9 p.m. I wake up an hour before my first class, 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 well rested.
No Need for a 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 when teaching. 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 and didn’t complete my application.
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 on the subjects you will be reviewing with them, almost always the same day, with instructors at the brick-and-mortar school. You can feel assured that, at the very least, the student that you’ll teach privately online has already seen related lessons, and knows and understands English to some extent. So far, the students I’ve experienced (as young as six years old and as old as 12 years old) know English very 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. Simply knowing English is not enough. 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. However, any teaching experience, be it online or in person, will help your cause.
It’s good to have some sort of education certification. In my case, I coach, and to do so, I pursued and received many certifications in coaching. I sent EF Kids my certification as a Master Coach, which also was the 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 your first language). My B.A. degree in Communications with a concentration in Journalism along with the fact that I’m a professional writer and editor in the English language definitely helped me be 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. (At times, with my students who have many British-born teachers at their brick-and-mortar schools, I humorously have to remember that the words “tomato,” “mango,” and “schedule” aren’t always pronounced the way I say it — and not correct my students when they correctly pronounce them otherwise.)
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, at the time, 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 start the training right away and figure out your time management for that, so you can make sure you complete it by EF’s 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 a student was acting up during class 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. I took a 50-hour course. It took me about half that time to actually complete the course and get the certification.
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 well (as I mentioned, I’m a professional writer and editor), it wasn’t hard to complete nor was it difficult to pass. I got it done long before it was due by EF.
That said, a lot of old grammar material that I instinctively know as a native, fluent English speaker, but I don’t consider very consciously on a day-to-day basis, came up frequently throughout the course. 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 the official 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 then 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 EF’s given deadline.
During the training, you learn everything you’ll need to know to teach English to Chinese kids successfully and 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 have are 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 your courses, and invoicing (which a teacher must do once a month at the beginning of the month). Keep in mind — you are not an employee of EF when you work as an online teacher for them. (I’ll explain more about that in just a bit!)
Once you’ve had the follow-up meeting, completed your online profile and had it approved (you’ll need to write a very short bio and include a professional photo), and 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 similar shirts by CLICKING HERE.)
At the time this article was written, EF Kids instructors have the potential to make up to $10 for every 25-minute class taught. To reach that rate, you have to do more than just teach a class. But what you are required to do to beef up the rate are all very easy, doable tasks. These tasks include working during peak hours as listed earlier in this article and teaching at least 45 classes a month. 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, which I’m approaching as of April 2020, you’ll receive a bonus of $100. If fully approved and hired, you will also be 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, and you must pay estimated taxes every quarter over the course of the year. 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 home expenses, if you have a defined workspace. Be sure to a tax professional to fully understand the specifics of being an independent contractor and how to handle your taxes and deductions properly.
Teaching EF Kids Classes
Classes are just 25 minutes long, as you need time to move to your next class, provided you have one scheduled. You have only two minutes to do that, but, as I learned, that’s a very easy thing to do. The kids themselves are amazing — darling children, so cute and so smart! Their English is, in many 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 and teachers. 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 regarding 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.)
The students are a joy to teach — very engaged, very willing to learn — and the experience has been much more fulfilling than I anticipated! As time has gone by, despite the “virtual” nature of the classroom, I have become very connected to my students — and I get very sad when they are no longer scheduled with me.
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 that 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.