Case study

English as a foreign language teacher — David Ostrowski

David completed an 120-hour TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) qualification with The TEFL Org and now combines his online English teacher role with his work as a content creator, writer and digital nomad

How did you get your job?

After finishing my TEFL course and having no experience with children, I felt more confident pursuing a teaching role focusing on B1-C2 (intermediate and upper intermediate English) level adults and professionals.

This was flexible enough to allow me to travel full time as a digital nomad and pursue other income streams, such as YouTube, my website and writing eBooks.

I'd heard about Italki, the online learning language platform, through a fellow YouTuber. It seemed to be the best option as I could effectively be my own boss and decide my own pricing, as well as planning my own lesson material. There was no contract, no set salary, and no rigid working hours.

I completed the application process to work as a professional teacher after completing my TEFL, filmed an introduction video and began receiving lesson requests, particularly from adult students in countries such as Russia, Poland and Belarus.

Four years later, I still generate new students through Italki, but also carry out private lessons sourced from my website and via social media.

What's a typical day like?

I can ramp up my teaching hours if necessary and decrease them when I'm travelling or focusing on other projects.

My general weekly routine for teaching is two full days and two evenings. On the full days, I generally begin work around 10am and am available until 10pm - although I won't be working for the entire time.

I sometimes have back-to-back lessons, which requires effective timekeeping. It's useful to have a break in between to allow you to refresh yourself on your lesson material and content.

In my lessons, I can be teaching through general conversation (either structured or not), business English (particularly behavioural interview coaching for software developers in Russia or students working in banking who've already relocated to Switzerland), British English pronunciation, proofreading and exam preparation.

It's all incredibly varied and not just me talking - as students require error correction, the teaching of grammar and much more.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the variety the most. Every student is different, meaning a set plan or course isn't the right way to go. It's important to devise a plan with each student in a collaborative manner - listen intently, understand their goals and come up with ideas together. Every student learns in a different way - it's important to recognise this and not treat each student the same.

Despite travelling full time, teaching online to people all over the world means you learn a great deal yourself, even as the teacher. Understanding cultural sensitivity and different cultures is incredibly enriching.

Being able to use my own knowledge and experience to support students and build capability, not only in terms of language is also key.

What are the challenges?

  • Maintaining a conversation - Some students will understandably be nervous and lacking in confidence. As the teacher, you need to drive the conversation and keep it flowing. I often describe teaching online as similar to speed dating.
  • Understanding cultural differences - It's important to be impartial and unbiased in most areas of discussion. Students may have controversial views when compared to your own. Don't judge. Accept that we're all different and consider their viewpoint.
  • Adaptability - Being responsive to change. Adults in particular expect more. Be prepared to make quick decisions during lessons; be prepared to be available on Skype around the clock and be happy to make changes to schedules in the event of extenuating circumstances.

In what way are your qualifications relevant?

I don't have a degree - however, a combination of business studies and German A-levels in addition to extensive retail management experience (mainly in HR) supports me in my specialist areas of business English and pronunciation.

For instance, business studies provided me with suitable technical knowledge in areas of finance and economics, while German has allowed me to fully understand the struggles of learning a language. My role as an HR manager has also been crucial.

Many students have issues with describing soft/behavioural skills in interview situations. Therefore, my business English lessons aren't only about the English language, but around behavioural coaching.

How has your role developed, and what are your career ambitions?

Accompanied by my YouTube channel, Instagram and website (all are travel and digital nomad themed), I've been able to build an audience, particularly new and upcoming teachers looking for advice either on teaching online or becoming a digital nomad.

I've written two eBooks to support new teachers and also offer a Skype consultation service to answer questions from aspiring teachers. My earnings have increased as a result of offering private lessons.

In the future, I'd love to set up a teaching website, specifically for recruiting teachers.

How do I get into teaching English online?

  • Personality - Not being afraid to be yourself and using your charisma and personality are key to becoming a successful online teacher. Students want a teacher on their level, not an old-fashioned classroom teacher.
  • Commitment - Be prepared to learn a lot and put the work in. Just because you're a native speaker, doesn't mean you can teach a language. When completing your TEFL, you'll likely discover that your own grasp of English grammar can be diabolical.
  • Networking - Getting your name out there by utilising social media such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn is essential.

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page