In 2015, Brett Stevens' life changed when she adopted three children: siblings Eric, Wyatt, and Thad. Stevens had been working in education law but realized pretty quickly that "being gone from 9-to-5 every day as a single parent was just not working."
Having decided she'd rather take a job she could do online, Stevens saw a post on Facebook about teaching Chinese kids English via websites like VIPKid, which pairs English-speaking teachers with Chinese students for 25-minute classes. Teachers pick time slots at their convenience and the company provides the lesson plans. The typical pay for each class is $7 to $8.50, she says.
She signed up and started teaching within a week.
Now, five years later, Stevens is a tutor for both VIPKid and GoGoKid. She also interviews and trains new teachers for the platforms, consults, and runs a YouTube channel about her teaching endeavors. That combo effort helps her pull in $5,000 per month.
Here's how she did it and her best advice.
In her first years on VIPKid, Stevens worked between 20-40 hours per week, making $10 per 25-minute class.
"The nice part about [the gig] was the schedule flexibility," she says. "Since China is 12 hours [ahead of] me, I was able to do classes mostly before my kids even got up in the morning or after I put them down for bed."
Stevens would wake up at 3 a.m. sometimes, just to make sure she got enough hours in to make ends meet for her family. "It does take a toll on you," she says about the grueling schedule. But, she points out, the freedom and independence is "what has kept me in the industry for so long."
"Each person, whatever they need to get out of it," she says, "it's possible for you to get out of it."
In 2018, Stevens also started working for GoGoKid, which like VIPKid pairs English-speaking teachers with Chinese students for 25-minute classes. She's expanded her activities on GoGoKid to not just teaching but interviewing and training new teachers. The latter activities pay $25 per hour.
"I work with kids for about two hours in the morning," teaching lessons from about 6 a.m., she says. Then Stevens takes on other activities throughout the day when her kids are in school. (Since starting her journey as an online English teacher, Stevens has had another major life update: She's adopted her fourth child, her kids' biological sister, Serenity.)
She aims to work 20-30 hours per week total on GoGoKid and VIPKid, making up any hours she needs to on weekends and earning about $3,000 per month.
These days she also has income from legal consulting and her YouTube channel, on which she talks about the ins and outs of virtual teaching. Altogether she makes about $2,000 per month from her other gigs for a total $5,000 per month.
For anyone considering taking on tutoring English online as a hustle, Stevens has a few pieces of advice:
"I made the jump to online ESL when it was really first starting to take off," she says. "Back in 2015, there were tons of kids in China who were looking to take classes and there were very few teachers." Today, however, there are far more teachers taking on the job and therefore much more competition. You're less likely to make as much money as easily, because it's harder to find kids to fill your time slots.
Stevens suggests surveying the field not just for companies that have been around for a long time but also for companies just starting out. "That's your best bet to get your foot in the door," she says, both for teaching and for taking on more administrative positions.
A good way to make yourself stand out on these platforms, says Stevens, is to "build a brand."
"One of the things I do is really specialize in pronunciation," she says. "I find that that's really important for Chinese parents." When she provides feedback after classes, for example, she always reminds kids to practice pronouncing several words, so parents know that's something she focuses on as a tutor.
One final piece of advice: Check when the Chinese holidays are. "China has its own holidays at different times than we might in the States," she says. "If you rely too heavily on the site and don't plan ahead or look at your students' schedules, you may be surprised they're not working on a week you'd hoped to earn some money."
If you need to make a certain amount of money in a given time, make sure you know when kids on these sites will be on vacation and plan accordingly.
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