This ESL Tutor Makes $2,000 per Month Online. Here’s How
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After teaching in the classroom for more than 20 years and earning a master’s in education, Laura Saulters was looking for ways to earn money in retirement.
When her friend told her about VIPKid, an English language tutoring service geared toward students in China, she thought it would be a good fit. She applied for a teaching position, got hired, and opened up for business. After teaching a few dozen lessons, “I was hooked,” Saulters said. “By the end of my first year, I had taught about 2,000 classes.”
Teaching with VIPKid has become a lucrative career for Saulters, who now averages about 220 lessons a month and consistently earns about $2,500. Throughout three years with the company, she’s learned some tricks that can help you get booked for lessons and boost your earnings.
What to Know About VIPKid and Teaching English Online
VIPKid is a great way to earn money online. Knowing how its pay structure works, when to open your schedule, and how to budget can help you succeed.
How the pay structure works
VIPKid sets a minimum rate per lesson, but you can earn bonuses, too.
Base pay per lesson
Your minimum earnings for each 25-minute lesson is based on your qualifications, and how well you perform a demo lesson in your interview. This ranges from $7 to $9 per tutoring session, and teachers can usually teach two sessions per hour.
“In general, with incentives, a teacher can earn the equivalent of $14-22 per hour with VIPKid,” the company website states.In general, with incentives, a teacher can earn the equivalent of $14-22 per hour with VIPKid.
Some teachers, like Saulters, have a higher-than-average base pay. This is because VIPKid used to give pay raises every year; they no longer have that policy.
VIPKid groups teachers into one of 10 “tiers” based on the number of lessons taught with the company. You can earn bonuses based on the number of lessons you teach. Saulters is in tier 9, which means she’s taught between 7,000 and 9,999 lessons total. Her starting pay rate is $9.50, and she earns an extra $0.80 to $3.10 for each lesson taught. She teaches about 220 lessons in a month and earns about $2,500 — averaging $23.50 an hour.
Sarah Franz, another VIPKid teacher, is in tier 7. Because she teaches fewer lessons compared to Saulters, her bonus pay is a bit lower. She averages about $19 an hour.
How to get booked
Although VIPKid caps your hourly rate, there are things you can do to ensure you get booked for lessons.
Take advantage of peak hours.
Like other online jobs, VIPKid gives you more flexibility in your schedule, and you can take advantage of the nontraditional hours. For instance, you’re more likely to get booked between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Beijing time, which is 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. if you’re on Eastern Time. Saulters teaches every day around this time frame.
Based on where you live, the hours you choose might be in the evening, through the night, or immediately when you wake up. But Saulters suggests figuring out your sleep schedule, finding your most productive hours, and sticking to a routine. “I don’t teach overnight, ever,” she said. “I need my sleep.”
Get certified to teach more classes.
VIPKid groups students into levels based on their English-speaking ability. You’ll need to take and pass VIPKid’s internal courses to teach each level. These courses are free for teachers. And while you won’t earn more, “it will broaden your reach,” Franz said. “More people can see you and book your classes.”
But consider your comfort level, she adds. If you have a lot of experience teaching young children, then you might choose to teach the lower levels — where younger students begin.
Form relationships with your students.
Both Saulters and Franz build relationships with their students to keep them coming back for more lessons.
“Most of my students come back to me because we connect really well,” Franz said. “And communication helps. I leave personalized feedback on each student for the parents to read.” Saulters does this, too, and also keeps in touch with the parents of her students through social media.
Saulters also points out that any work you do outside of the video lessons, like updating your classroom background or reading lesson plans, effectively reduces your hourly rate. Because you won’t get paid for them, she suggests limiting these activities to about an hour a week or less.
How to budget as a VIPKid teacher
Your income can fluctuate as a VIPKid teacher, and you’ll need to budget around that.
Franz said she manages the ebbs and flows by opening up her schedule to get more business. But she also teaches more than she needs to during the busy months, and she stashes away the extra earnings in a dedicated savings account. “If I lose classes here and there during other months, it won’t be that big of a deal,” she said.
Saulters has noticed that fewer students book lessons during Chinese holidays (around January or February) and around finals in June. Her schedule starts picking back up in July and August.
To account for the inconsistent income, determine how much you need to pay your monthly bills. These can include expenses like your rent, groceries, car payment, and the occasional night out. Then, based on your pay rate, calculate the minimum number of lessons you need to teach per month to cover those expenses.
Aim to teach more lessons than you need to each month, and save your extra money. Only dip into the savings account during slow months, when you need money to pay a bill.
Set aside money for taxes
Because you’re an independent contractor rather than a traditional employee, you’ll need to budget for quarterly tax payments. A good rule of thumb: Save 25% of your income for these payments.
Additionally, any expenses incurred — including your computer, portions of your internet bill, and props you use in the classroom — can be deducted on your income tax return.
Tips for acing the interview
VIPKid is an English language tutoring service available to students ages 4-12 in China. To sign up to teach with them, you need a bachelor's degree, reliable internet, and one year of teaching experience. After completing the application process, you can start booking classes and earning money.Show Hide more
- Flexible hours
- Easy to get started
- Can earn up to $22 per hour
- Opportunities for training
- Technology issues may impact your earnings
- Peak hours are typically early morning (depending on your time zone)
- Difficult to cancel classes
When Saulters went through the hiring process, she attended an in-person interview and “taught” two sample classes. This helped VIPKid understand her teaching style and measure how well she would teach the material.
If you choose to teach with VIPKid, you’ll go through the same process. The company will also check your credentials and verify your teaching background.
And when it comes to the interview, “just be yourself,” Saulters advises. Whether you have a bubbly personality or you’re more introverted, what matters most is that your students learn.
Franz said these tips may help improve your student lessons, but you can use them to ace your demo lesson, too:
- Smile to help put your students at ease.
- Show enthusiasm for teaching and the subject matter.
- Have some energy — mainly so you can focus and communicate.
- Use “total physical response” or TPR, in your activities. This helps students link their new language to their actions.
- Speak clearly and slowly — but not like a robot.
Once you get hired, Saulters said you should exercise patience. She opened lesson slots and waited for nearly two months before booking a single student. Her waiting paid off, too. Now she teaches hundreds of classes a month.
Unlike traditional classrooms, your lessons on VIPKid are recorded, and it can take some time to get adjusted to the format.
Franz said it took her about six months to feel completely comfortable teaching through the online platform, even with a lot of in-person teaching experience. “I remember being sick to my stomach in the beginning,” Franz said. “I know people who got so intimidated that they stopped doing it. But I made myself get through that phase.”
If being recorded makes you nervous, you might want to practice being in front of the camera. You can do this by recording short YouTube videos, Instagram Lives, or even TikTok videos.
You can also practice in front of a mirror or with some friends and family and record yourself while teaching. Then, watch the videos and make note of what you do well and where you can improve.
Build a support system
By networking in your area or using social media, you can connect with other VIPKid teachers. Franz said this is a good way to share ideas and get advice.
If you’re looking to connect with other teachers online, you’ll find VIPKid on the major social media networks:
- Join the Facebook group @VIPKid.
- Follow the hashtag #VIPKidteachers on Instagram.
- Follow #VIPKidteachers on Twitter.
Saulters also uses Hutong, which is VIPKid’s virtual teacher’s lounge, and attends in-person VIPKid teacher meetups. Because working from home can be a little isolating, she said it’s a good idea to build your own community. People who are in the field know what you’re going through and are willing to help out.
Start Your Online Teaching Career
VIPKid is just one of many online tutoring jobs to consider. If you’re looking to diversify your income, you might choose to teach through a few different platforms. For instance, Franz also teaches through Outschool, which is an online learning marketplace that connects young students with teachers.
Eventually, you could even turn your side hustle into a full-time job teaching English online. It can be a great way to cash in on your love of teaching. And because you can work from home, you can fit your lessons seamlessly into your everyday routine.