For my entire teaching career so far, I've been a classroom-based teacher.
However, recently I’ve started tutoring a student online and thought it would be a good idea to compare the two.
So which one is better, online teaching or classroom teaching?
Here’s my opinion.
Advantages of online teaching
If you look at online teaching ads, they will tell you that online teaching has several advantages such as:
You can choose a mutually convenient time to work. You can also work around other commitments you might have.
2. No physical travel
You can conduct classes with students from multiple time zones without the need for physical travel. This is economical and saves time.
3. Access at your fingertips
Enjoy instant access to online classrooms and teaching materials provided by your employer.
One of the benefits of teaching students online is the flexibility.
4. Immediate feedback
For one-to-one classes, you can immediately check for a student's understanding.
5. Easier lesson planning
Many schools will provide prepared lessons for each class. This can reduce the need for lesson planning.
In a COVID-19 world, you can teach safely from the comfort of your home.
Disadvantages of online teaching
The reality of teaching online is that there are numerous disadvantages.
Let’s take a look at them.
1. Unsocial hours
My Mandarin school offers online classes on Skype 24/7. This means their teachers have to endure extremely unsocial hours.
One of my China-based teachers quit her job because she found having to work at 4am to teach students in the USA unsustainable.
2. Unstable work
Online teaching is often not a stable job.
Teaching companies can reduce your hours, cut your salary or sack you on a whim.
When teaching online independently, a student can leave or cancel their class at the drop of a hat.
So, you may never know how much you’ll be earning and when you’ll be paid (or if you’ll get paid at all).
Be careful if you're a freelance teacher.
3. Students can't afford to pay a lot
If you work independently as an online teacher, it can be even worse.
In my experience, many students who want to learn English can’t afford to pay for private lessons.
You may find yourself having to choose between a really low hourly rate and not having any students at all.
In case you’re wondering, I talk about salary in more detail further down.
4. Limited teaching methods
The range of teaching methods that you have at your disposal is limited.
You’ll have to rely mainly on audio and visual methods.
And, you won’t be able to use any kinaesthetic methods like physical games or role-plays.
5. No travel or adventure
You won’t be able to experience your students’ country and culture.
From eating turtle to visiting the famous Terracotta Warriors, teaching in China has been an incredible opportunity for me.
It’s the kind of country that needs to be experienced first-hand to be fully understood.
The amazing Terracotta Warriors in Xian, China.
Finally, working from home can be a lonely existence.
Even though my Mandarin teachers work for a company and have colleagues like the rest of us, their work is mainly home-based.
This means they spend most of their time in front of a computer at home and rarely get to meet their colleagues in person.
The coronavirus pandemic has compounded this issue even further.
What’s the pay like for online teachers?
You can generally earn up to US$25 per hour teaching students online (note the words ‘up to’).
If you don’t have experience or the qualifications needed – and this depends on the company – you'll earn much less than this.
Let’s say you’re earning US$10 an hour. Does this convert to a decent salary in your country?
Consider that you may be working in the evening and during the weekend.
Cost of living comparisons
When you’re teaching in a classroom in a foreign country, such as China, the cost of living is probably a lot lower than back home.
But when you’re teaching online, you could earn a low rate while living in a place with a high cost of living.
Also, if you were teaching in a physical classroom in your own country, how would $10 an hour compare? In the UK, you’d be earning substanially more than this.
Are you being paid fairly as an online English teacher? Do the math.
Dodgy online companies
The online teaching industry is largely unregulated. Unscrupulous teaching platforms might underpay you.
There are numerous horror stories which you can read about here.
My words of advice: do your research thoroughly and be careful!
And, make sure you complete a reputable online TEFL course, like one of these.
Classroom-based teaching is where a teacher physically meets their students in an actual bricks-and-mortar building.
Classroom teaching is the preferred choice of many teachers. In my opinion, it has some key advantages over online teaching.
Advantages of classroom teaching
There are a number of advantages of teaching in an actual classroom.
1. Legal contract
You’ll have a legally binding contract and won’t have to try to attract students on your own.
Provided you’re competent, you’ll have the security of knowing you’ll get paid every month.
3. Classroom facilities
You’ll have access to a wide range of classroom facilities. You’ll therefore be able to utilize a wider range of teaching methods.
The ability to socialize with colleagues is one of the advantages of classroom teaching.
You’ll have the physical space for activities like games, role-plays and debates. This is critical for foreign language learning.
Classroom-based teaching is more fun and you’ll do a lot more than just teach, like judging competitions.
You’ll have a bunch of colleagues and students to go out with, and your school may even take you on excursions.
Disadvantages of classroom teaching
Classroom teaching also has some disadvantages.
Classroom-based teaching is inflexible.
Teachers usually can’t choose when they want to work. Once the timetable is drawn up, it’s quite difficult to change it.
Some teachers I know have been able to reschedule their classes on rare occasions.
However, in order to do so they would need to find not just a mutually convenient time but also a free classroom. This can be tough.
Physical classrooms can also be inflexible in terms of how they’re set up.
For instance, in public classrooms across China, desks are usually fixed to the floor. This means you can’t move them around for activities, let alone be able to freely move around the classroom as you teach.
2. Big class sizes
Classes in developing countries in Asia tend to be large.
You won’t be able to give your students the kind of individual attention that you can as an online teacher.
Big classes in China are the norm.
Also, your students may not like to ask questions for fear of losing face. It can be hard to know if they’ve understood your lesson.
3. More work
An online teacher’s work is mainly limited to lesson planning, teaching and giving feedback on homework.
A classroom teacher will also have to design, invigilate and mark exams as well as manage the classroom.
Chinese kids, for example, can be challenging to teach in a big classroom unless you have a teaching assistant.
You may find yourself spending most of your time managing their behavior.
4. Old equipment and technology
Some schools, particularly those in developing countries, have outdated equipment and technology in their classrooms.
While I’ve been lucky in China, in some schools you’ll still find blackboards!
What about moving to another country?
This could be a pro or a con, depending on which way you look at it.
For some people, moving to another country is not easy.
You may miss your family, friends and pets that you’ve left behind.
You’ll have to get used to a different culture, make new friends and make a new life for yourself. You’ll also need to get used to new teaching and learning methods.
And, there are costs involved in heading overseas, like visas and airfares.
See also: Is it safe to teach in China in 2021?
For the more adventurous among us, moving overseas to teach English is the opposite – it’s fun, exciting and brings lots of opportunities.
You’ll learn from experiencing a new culture and you’ll make new friends along the way.
Moving to another country to teach can be fun and exciting.
You’ll get to eat new and interesting food, see amazing sights that you’ve never seen before and travel, travel, travel.
Plus, when you successfully complete a one-year contract, many schools reimburse your airfare.
It really depends on your outlook on life, and what drives you as a person.
I’m often asked what it’s like living and teaching in China. For the most part, it’s great!
China is a safe country, the people are friendly, and you can eat delicious dumplings to your heart’s content.
You need a good TEFL course under your belt
Whether you choose online teaching or classroom teaching, you’ll need to complete a TEFL course.
Qualification requirements differ depending on the country you’re going to.
For China, in addition to my degree I completed a CELTA course but TEFL is cheaper and quicker.
Completing a TEFL course gives you the opportunity to teach online or in a classroom.
I recommend a combined course which is online but includes some live teaching practice, usually over Skype or Zoom.
You can see my review of CELTA vs TEFL here.
Or, if you’re ready to choose a TEFL course, you can access a range of discounted TEFL courses here (they’re good for any country – not just China).
Online teaching vs classroom teaching – what’s the verdict?
If you ask me, classroom teaching wins hands-down. There’s no competition.
However, it does depend on individual circumstances. If you have family commitments that prevent you from travelling, online teaching may be your only option.
Whichever one you choose, make sure you’re familiar with all the pros and cons before you start teaching. That way, there won’t be any surprises down the track.
You might even decide to do both!
What do you think is better – online teaching or classroom teaching? Have your say below.