Why "Teaching English" Online Is Not Only For Degreed Teachers

It’s not often one reader’s comments give we two article ideas. but this one from long-time reader Gary Wigle did.  Thanks Gary.  Part one answered here, part two of your question to follow.

My wife Meriam is a teacher. Not an easy life. I really past the working age and teaching English here in the Philippines doesn’t sound like fun to me.

How to Move to the Philippines Manual

And this great comment just came in from Kevin .. thanks Kevin:

I’m a teacher in the US and I’m starting an online teaching school for English learners. It takes time and effort but it will be worth it.

Every time I write about teaching English I get comments in the area of what’s required to be a degreed, licensed teacher, or to acquire and hold an ESL or TEOSL certificate

And especially this one … “but I don’t know any other language aside from English.”

Let me try to clarify a few things for those whose only understanding of teaching is that of a degreed professional standing in front of a classroom of children.

First, let’s look at three major categories of readers who drop by here.

First:  “Real” teachers:

That is those who hold a university degree and usually a teaching credential from some state organization.  There is no doubt then that these folks are “real” teachers, and they are great candidates for formal teaching jobs anywhere.

There is nothing to stop them setting up to teach students privately,via the Internet, in any country I am aware of.  As long as children are not involved (teach to adults only), and the teacher is in one country and the student in another, as of this writing there are no laws I am aware of that regulate ‘teaching’ , “on their own”, no employees, one-on-one at any level, internationally.

Second:  ESL or TEOSL certificate holders:

These certificates (and others like them) are commercially obtained certificates of competency in the area of teaching English as a second language.  They are typically obtained by taking a practical competency exam, attending specialized training and then sitting an exam, or in some countries (which I am going to chose not to mention here), handing over a few hundred dollars and getting back a piece of paper that says ‘certified to teach English” or some-such.

I am not insulting any who hold such a certificate, and a certificate like that may indeed have some value … especially if you choose to work for a commercial language school, rather than offer instruction and coaching on your own, but the lack of such a certificate does NOT prevent you from engaging in independent “conversational English” instruction, coaching or tutoring in any country I am aware of.

Third:  Independent Freelance English Instruction:

This is the category I myself fit in, and the type of teaching I have been talking about in my articles here.  When I lived in Japan, for example, I spent some time as a freelance “Conversational English” instructor, working part-time for a commercial English school in the town where I was assigned (my full-time work was for the USAF .. which gave me a legal means of being in Japan without a special teaching/working visa.

The way my school dealt with degrees and certificates and such worked like this.

As a non-certificate, non-college degree holder, I was paid the Japanese Yen equivalent of $30 USD per hour.

Because I had a car and picked up and dropped off student at the nearest railroad station ..and used my own home for instruction, I got $5 USD per hour more.

If I had held a TEOSL certificate, I would have been paid an additional $5 USD per hour for that, and if I had a bachelor’s degree, it would have been worth another $5 USD per hour.

For me, since I already had a full-time job, $35 USD an hour was fine with me.  Most of the other US-born part-time teachers I met did not have any advanced degrees or certifications either.  people employed formally by the school as classroom teachers did, certainly have higher qualifications … but there was always plenty demand for us older, individual instructors, no matter what our educational level.

As you cab see from these teacher pay rates, “Learning” English from a private school in Japan is very expensive.  All the student’s I taught were paying about $50 USD an hour to the school … and for the folks I had as students, the arrangement we had was great for them .. they all considered it well worth the price.

Most of my students were businessmen.  They had no time to attend formal classes at a fixed school.  Also, most were men in their 40’s and 50’s, and they did not particularly care for learning (an d making mistakes and being gently and privately corrected) (think how embarrassing it is to make a mistake in front of a whole class of typically younger people) by a “College boy” or College girl” 30 years their junior.

They also did not care for the typically “Se Dick, See Jane, See Spot Run” childish cartoon texts which are the backbone of the commercial English teaching world.  Indeed when I first interviewed at my school for the job and they showed me the instructional texts I took one look, laughed and said, “OK, thanks, but this would not be for me.  Appreciate your time, good bye”.

Before I could get up to leave the school director said, “Starr-san, please wait.  I know how childish these books are, and so will the students I will put you with.  You don’t have to use these books to teach, you can use any material you wish.  Actually I only have two absolute rules for my part-time American instructors:

1.  No dating any students

2. (and most important) NOT ONE WORD of Japanese.  Your students will quickly lure you into speaking Japanese instead of English if you break this rule, so I mean it, be very strict, NO JAPANESRE, ever.

Since I knew very, very few words of Japanese anyway, this was no problem to me.  And it leads tight to the final point want to make.

You Don’t Need To Know Any Language Other Than English:

Remember, you are not teaching ‘ab initio” (from the beginning) students.  In countries like Japan, for example, students who attended college preparatory level high schools typically have had way more formal English coursework than US high school graduates.  They also have to pass exams in English competency to get many jobs, for example.  Even jobs like taxi drivers.

So why would there be a market for English instruction?  Two words:


A majority of Japanese students learn English mainly from textbooks.  What actual speaking experience they have is often from Japanese teachers who learned English as a second or third language.  And English pronunciation is difficult for native Japanese speakers to begin with.

So many prospective students know exactly what they want to say, they have the English words right there in their mind, but they can’t get them out the way they want them to sound.  This is also very, very common with Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese students.  I liken it to being a stoke victim, where the mind is alive, the person knows what they want to say, but try as they might, they can’t get it out.

They know what to say, but they need to learn how to pronounce the words and “fit them together” in a conversational manner so they can use the language knowledge they already have in a way that actually does them some good.  Trust me, this can be completely different and so much more in many ways than teaching out of a textbook in a classroom.


This is perhaps one of the most important “drivers” that make students want one-on-one coaching with a native English speaker.  Just being in a non-stressful setting where they can practice and not have their mistakes “broadcast” to the world.  One of my students, let’s call him “Koji-san” was a man in  his 50’s, an executive with Hewlett-Packard Japan, who was getting ready for a forced ‘early retirement” from his company.  (HP-Japan was paying for his English lessons as part of his severance package … thanks, HP-Japan Winking smile ).

Koji-san had a Masters in Electrical Engineering, had been an executive for years, had published articles in English language technical journals, and frankly, his spoken English wasn’t too bad at all.  He had a strong accent, but he was easily understood.

When I asked him what his biggest problem was, what he wanted to work on most in our lessons, he explained he had an irrational fear of the telephone.  When his office phone rang and his secretary was out of the office, he would panic, afraid it was someone calling from the US office and that he would be tongue-tied.

I tried him out talking between one extension phone to the other in my house and he sounded fine, we could talk well and both be understood.  So I than called a friend and asked him to call me back.  When the phone range, Koji-san’s face went ashen gray, even though he knew who was calling and the purpose of the call.  It was a disaster, very painful and embarrassing to him.  Wow, what to do to help this man?

In a stroke of brilliance, a long way from “Dick and Jane’ stuff, I picked up the phone and dialed my US credit union’s “Tilly the Tireless Teller”phone banking system.  You know one of those voice response deals where they say “Speak or Press “one” for your account balance, “two” for your credit card balance, etc. thingies.   It worked.

In a few minutes Koji-san was relaxed and barking “one”, “four” Main menu’ commands into the phone like he had been born in Brooklyn.  The smile on his face was so wide I was worried his lips would crack.

Then, noticing he had a problem when voices spoke too quickly, I had him call the ATIS (Automated Traffic Information Service) at several US airports.  This is a recording the FAA controllers make at each airport and it broadcasts continually to pilots, telling them the current weather, the runways in use, any hazards in the area, etc.  ATIS  is typically available on a local phone number at each a8irport for pilot flight planning services.

In 20 minutes or so Koji-san had a handle on the typically clipped words and fast paced air traffic controller voices.  I would give him a pad of paper and tell him to call and get the weather in Colorado Springs and copy it down for me, while I listened on the extension to make sure he got it right.  Easy-peasy.

All he needed was coaching and someone in  a non-threatening situation helping him over the rough spots.  He didn’t need anyone with any sort of teach8ing credential, just as (just one example), thousands of students back in the US ‘tutor’ other students, typically with no degree or regulation.  The tutors often succeed in helping the students simply because the environment is non-threatening and the one-on-one attention helps students access and put to use the facts and techniques that they learned in formal classes, but just can’t seem to apply in real-life situations.

By the following week Koji-san and I would exchange phone calls from our offices, discussing what we would cover in class that night.  He was so proud, and his secretary was so amazed, he told me later, when he picked up his phone with his secretary watching and dialed the US air base and got my secretary, Fumiko and asked to speak to Mr. Starr (not sensei-Starr, but Mr. Starr he explained later, because Americans don’t usually use the Japanese forms of honorary titles.


9836342-high-resolution-graphic-of-a-find-a-job-highway-sign-on-cloud-backgroundSo, what do you think?  Do you understand a bit more about what I am talking about when I mention Conversational English teaching or tutoring or coaching?

Do you think Koji-san got his money’s worth out of his sessions with me, regardless of my academic credentials (or lack of same).

I know I got a lot more out of our time together than the money I was paid as well.

There’s a Koji-san out there waiting for you, if you want to go out and find him.

This is not necessarily easy work.  And it’s certainly not ‘fast buck’ work.  And it’s limited in “scalability”.  You are selling yourself, you have to work an hour (or more) for every hour’s pay.  There are better, more “scalable” or “semi-passive” ways to earn … nothing like waking up every morning to check on how much money came in while you slept.   You can’t do that teaching English.

But it’s honest work, it requires no one’s blessing or permission, and it can be very, very rewarding … or so Dave opines.

Stop Selling Yourself Into Job Slavery!

Make a course correction in your trajectory right now, guys and gals … stop selling yourselves cheaply into job slavery.  It’s like a career selling buggy whips in the year 1913 … going nowhere but down. You may think I am all wet, but what if I am right?  You have been warned.

Make Money by Teaching English OnlineAnd Now For A New and Different Approach:

Many people will read the articles on setting themselves up to teach independently and decide that no, the idea is not for them.  “Don’t know anything about the Internet”, to shy or awkward to try to “promote themselves’, and many other excuses always seem to come up. Well let me introduce you to a great book that just came to my attention, a book I wish I’d written.  This is something totally new to the market, written by a fellow who shares many of my thoughts, but more importantly, has come out with a couple much better techniques and strategies than I have thought of.  You can gain virtually all the benefits I have been talking about, but you don’t have to set up any website or handle marketing and scheduling students on your own. Pretty slick. Super Cheap. Recommended.

Note that this is an Amazon Kindle book, but you do NOT need a Kindle to read it.  Amazon has free readers for any computer or mobile device you prefer to use.

Make Money by Teaching English Online


  1. Fred says

    Hi Dave:
    You seem to get a lot of letters about working in the Philippines from non-Filipinos, I thought I would give you a shout out about how a Filipino is treated.
    When my step-son leaves to go to work, he is neatly dressed, no flip-flops, no muscle t-shirt. Looks very presentable.
    He goes to where the store is, opens up the store an closes it at night. He has the KEYS. He is generally there from 0900 till 1800 6 days a week. Sometimes 7 days.
    The store sells Motors and small appliances. He sets up the display, takes them down at night. Keeps the place as clean as he can, as the store sits beside a very dusty road. Most of the time he is the only person there.
    Sometimes he takes money from customers making payments. He does not like to, but a lot of times the collector has not come to receive payments. He figures that it is best to get the money when the customer has it, than trying to chase them down later.
    He sells Motors an the appliances, when the sale is approved in the office and all of the paperwork has been processed, he releases the item from the store. He also briefs the customer on how to take care of the item.

    For this he gets 150P a day, they call it an allowance. Nothing in the way of BENEFITS, gets no commission or anything on what he sells.

  2. says

    Thanks for this article Dave. It’s something I’m looking into as I feel it’s perfect for me. I can do it on the side while I work my regular job or I can take it with me if I decide to move to another country (like the Philippines!) and work at it full time. I’ve thought about it before but put it off but after reading this I think I’m going ahead with it. It’s not even about the money though, it’s about teaching people and seeing them happy when they accomplish their goals.

    P.S. your amazon link for the e-book isn’t working for me when I click on it.


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