Imagine that you could make up to $100/hr (or more) working from the comfort of your own home, helping students to improve their English…
Do you read this and want to become an online teacher or online tutor, but think “Teacher, tutor; are they the same? Can anyone become an online tutor and which is the best for me?”
Many people are confused by the terms, and rightly so, as they often overlap. Before applying for a teacher or online tutor job, this post will clarify the difference and which might be the best (and most lucrative) for you. I’ll even talk about a third role, which is rarely advertised, and which can be even better paid!
Keep reading to find out what it is and how you can become one.
Note: I most commonly use the verb ‘teach’ and noun ‘teacher’ on this site, as it is broader and more accurately captures the nature of most roles, but may resemble your notion of the role of a tutor. As I’ll explain later, these terms can overlap.
Face-to-face teacher and tutor (Australia)
When I studied for my Bachelor of Education to become a qualified teacher, I would work in a classroom with around 30 local students as part of my degree. School teachers in Australia (and New Zealand) teach a similar number of students in each class and follow a set curriculum directed by the Government that outlines the content that students will be assessed on.
”ACARA has developed the Australian Curriculum. It gives teachers, parents, students and the community a clear understanding of what students should learn, regardless of where in Australia they live or which school they attend”.
After university finished, I would visit the homes of students in my local area in the afternoon and work 1:1 as an English tutor. I would help students who needed extra assistance to complete the work assigned to them by their teachers. What the student learned was based on their individual needs and the relative ease or difficulty they had with certain aspects of the curriculum. ‘Succeeding/excelling’ at their schoolwork was usually the main goal.
When most people think about the roles of teachers and tutors, that is the typical idea that they have. Traditionally, that has been the division between the two. While many tutors in Australia are also qualified teachers (current or retired), there have also been those who have recently graduated from high school (or current university students, especially those studying Education or a related field) and know the subjects well from recent experience.
Those who received very high ATAR scores, or simply enjoy the role, may continue to tutor students for many years after graduation. Many teachers tutor in the afternoons to supplement their income.
Yet, in a global world with potentially 1.7 billion English learners or more, these traditional definitions of teacher and tutor have blurred.
Internet-facilitated lessons with students from all over the world mean that one single worldwide curriculum doesn’t exist. In (TESOL/TEFL/ESL) there are measurement standards (CEFR, for example, among others) that rank students based on their ‘competency’ in English (a beginner being an A1 and a near-fluent speaker being a C2, for example) but no single universal guide to what the role of the teacher entails.
For simplicity, I’ll explain the general definitions that you are most likely to find on this site and the jobs that I frequently discuss.
Online English teacher / online tutor (Australia)
To become a teacher (offline or online) in a private company or school located in Australia, you will need an accredited Education degree and registration with your state teaching authority.
To become a tutor (offline or online) in a private company (or freelance) located in Australia, you will need curriculum knowledge of the subject area that you want to tutor in. You do not necessarily need to be a qualified teacher with an Education degree.
≈20% of “English online teaching” jobs that I discuss on this site comprise tutor roles for tutoring students in Australia, usually 1:1 but sometimes in small groups. Just like above, you will be supporting a student in aspects of the Australian curriculum. The only difference is doing it online instead of face-to-face in the student’s home. Your company may provide the curriculum/materials to follow. To become an online tutor Australia – based, you will need to have curriculum knowledge in English / EAL (or be prepared to learn).
If you’re looking for the top 25 highest paying ONLINE English tutoring companies in Australasia, see my regularly updated list here.
Online English teacher / online tutor (International company)
The ‘Teach’ in Teach English Online usually refers to a role that can look more akin to a teacher in some contexts and like a tutor in others, which leads to confusion. As 99% of the jobs with overseas on our site are with private companies and not schools, how many students you’ll have and what you’ll be teaching them comes down to the individual learning model that the company applies.
To become an online teacher and tutor with a private company overseas, you do not need to be a qualified teacher with an Education degree, but you should complete a TESOL/TEFL course in order to have a fundamental understanding of English language teaching. To tutor online with students overseas, you do not need curriculum knowledge per se (as each student will likely be following a different curriculum from their home country at school), but you need to be able to help your student with particular issues or challenges that they face with English in general. This might be related to grammar or vocabulary, speaking confidently or a number of other things.
≈40% of online English teaching roles are with one student from overseas. While you may follow a set curriculum as specified by the company, you may equally be asked to bring or design your own. The student themselves (if an adult) may request that the classes follow an individualised plan be designed for their needs, and therefore more closely resemble a tutoring role. Parents may request that you help their child in a specific area, just as a traditional tutor would do, although this may or may not be directly linked to their school curriculum. They might instead request that you assist with an English language test or goal such as being to study or work abroad in the future.
≈30% of the online English teaching jobs are with small groups of students, commonly between 2-6 per class. As you have less time to focus on each individual, a class more resembles a traditional classroom, although it is important to give each student equal time to participate. Again, you will likely follow a curriculum given to you by the company, but you may be asked to bring or design your own.
≈10% of online English teaching jobs are with large groups of children or adults of 10 or more who are located overseas. This is the least common of all the roles and frequently occurs when students are from lower-income countries and must share the cost among a greater number to justify paying a foreign teacher.
Sometimes there are roles in schools and universities located overseas. You may be required to be a qualified (Education degree holding) teacher to teach here, but it is not always required. It should be clearly stated in the job advertisement or application page what qualifications that you require.
Online English tutor / teacher (Freelance)
If you decide to ‘teach’ on a marketplace or post-a-profile site (such as Outschool; read my ‘How to Teach English Online’ guide for more information), you will be working for yourself and therefore have complete control over the content that you and the students cover. Students do frequently ask for specific topics or areas, as these roles more resemble tutoring.
So, the answer to “How do I become an online tutor or teacher?” changes if you choose to market your services directly to students without a company. In this situation, you may actually be able to help a student with a more general issue in English like public speaking, job interview preparation or sitting a test.
In this online tutor/’teacher’ scenario, it is not your curriculum knowledge or teaching qualification that will always attract a student. Students may want to work with a fluent English speaker, not to help them overcome a particular problem that they are facing with an aspect of English specifically, but with an issue of how to use English correctly in a particular situation.
This brings us back to that third role that I mentioned that can make you more money than that of either teacher or tutor (although it often combines elements of both): that’s being an online English coach.
Online English coach (Freelance)
With so many English language learners globally, many people forget that a significant portion speak a high level of near-fluent English. While they are more than competent in the language, they will find themselves in situations in which they need to work with someone that has an in-depth knowledge of a particular professional field or situation (passing an immigration language exam), for example.
They will be looking for an English coach. Someone to help them work through a particular issue – not related to English, but simply in English. They might be more interested in your own professional or academic background than your teaching and tutoring one. Your classes may only be a percentage about polishing and practising their English, with a large portion also comprising support, encouragement and mentorship.
While this role is best suited to those with a significant amount of non-teaching career experience or for qualified teachers or coaches in another field, TESOL teachers can also consider what other ‘non teaching’ value that they can contribute to their students beyond the study of English. If you can stand out and offer a unique selling point, your business may quickly spread via word-of-mouth.
If that’s something that you might consider, you can command the highest rates of all three roles ($100AUD?hr+ is common). If you’re interested in starting your own online freelance coaching business, click here.
How much money does an online tutor make?
The average online tutor in Australia makes between $40-$60/hr but up to $100/hr for experienced teachers. The average online teacher with an overseas company earns $25-$40/hr but freelance teachers can make double that or more. The same applies to New Zealanders, noting current exchange rates. Online coaches can make $100/hr or more.
Where can I work as a tutor online?
Can anyone be an online tutor?
In Australia (or New Zealand) you will need curriculum knowledge (or be willing to learn) to be a tutor but may not for overseas positions, where the definition of a tutor encompasses a broader skillset and there are 100s of different school curricula around the globe. You also need to be supportive, encouraging and address learners’ needs in order to help your students succeed.
Which coach / teacher / tutor job online will you choose?
As you can see the answer to the question: “What’s the difference between an English teaching vs an English tutor job online?” can be a little complex. A traditional teacher vs tutor definition is blurred in the online English space. A third option, coaching, is a new and growing sector of online ESL.
Not just anyone can become an online tutor or teacher, but the job might be more inclusive than you imagined. You could earn $25-$100/hr from home, helping people around the world to improve their career and study opportunities, to move or to travel. If you’ve got a bank of professional skills, you might even be able to coach someone to new levels of success.
So over to you, have YOU worked as an online teacher, tutor or coach?
What do you think the main differences are?