Follow Your Own Path

Going alone – Becoming an independent ESL teacher and following your own path

Follow Your Own Path

Asturias, Spain. Following your own teaching and business path leads to wonderful things.

“We make the world we live in and shape our own environment.” Orison Swett Marden

You know the story: Man/woman is fed up with the rat race and his/her terrible boss, escapes his/her 9-5 hell and ends up becoming their own boss and making lots of money.

Sorry to disappoint those looking for a similar story here, but that isn’t exactly how I ended up with my own language school and becoming an independent ESL/EFL teacher. My 9-5 hell could be better summarized as an enjoyable time teaching students in Spain with differing degrees of independence, depending on which company I was working for at the time. My terrible bosses weren’t too bad (especially compared to some of my friends’ bosses), and, well, let’s leave how much I make out of it for the moment (let’s just say that I earn more now than I did back then).

I used to work for different institutes in Spain, teaching English to children, teenagers, adults, and businesspeople. On the whole I enjoyed the experience and liked the people that I worked for. There were certain things (some really important things) that I didn’t enjoy doing or agree with, and I realized that the more people there are above you, the less you can shape your own path.

But now, I am the one who makes the decisions and I am free to shape my lessons as I see best. Because of this I have grown into a much more effective teacher and have created a working environment that I love.

Following your own teaching path

Being able to shape your own methods as a teacher is an incredible thing. I’ve been able to grow and learn so much over the past few years.

Here are some of the methods and strategies that I use (note: this is for general English lessons and not exam preparation):

One-to-one specific lessons – I teach individual lessons (not a limitation that I’ll always stick to) and make the classes as specific to each student as possible. I work on their weaknesses and stick to topics that are relevant to them. It’s also good not to worry about discussing slang and strong language when it is suitable for certain students.

Organic lessons – I have a general plan and certain things that I want to cover for each student, but I go into each lesson with an open mind and let the lesson take its own course. I also encourage my students to take control of their learning and shape their own lessons.

Conversational English – I focus on conversational English and get my students using their English. Examples of grammar are done with a focus on real English conversation and role plays. I also love introducing real, engaging, and relevant materials before, during, and after the lesson.

Repetition – I repeat things that we have learned in the past by using different conversations and resources.

Language coach – I’m a language coach and not just a teacher of English. I motivate, inspire, and guide my students on their own learning path, recommending self-learning methods that produce real progress.

The above is the basic outline of what my student can expect when taking lessons with me. The feedback that I receive from my students is that they feel that they are making real progress, and I have seen this progress first-hand.

I will go into more depth about my methods in later posts, but for now I want to highlight that setting up my own school and becoming a freelance tutor has allowed me to fully incorporate methods that I have found to be the most effective. My students see real results and that is the value of what I give them.

This wouldn’t have been possible if I was still working for someone else.

Following your own business path

Here are some of the features of my online teaching business:

The best students – I only teach students that fit my teaching criteria. I’ve picked (or fallen into) a couple of really great niches. Being able to target any type of student in the world has HUGE implications for online freelancers.

I work at home – This is really important for me and something that I love doing. Being from the UK, having family in France, and having an American wife means that I may well be moving around a lot in the following years. This type of job allows me to work where I want.

Higher income – I charge based on the going rate for my niches and how much I can offer. The only cut that is taken is from my Paypal, minimal hosting costs, a small amount of advertising, and, of course, taxes. The potential for well-paid classes is massive when teaching online.

Flexible schedule – I set my own hours and decide when to teach and when not to teach. I used to agree to lessons at inconvenient times at first but don’t do this anymore. All my lessons are within 10am and 5pm.

Flexible holidays – I take holidays when I want to. I actually take less holidays now than I used to, but that is something that I decide to do.

I’m my own boss – I love making decisions about all aspects of my business and teaching. No one to put limits on my growth as a teacher and a business person.

I sometimes take the above for granted. I have worked for many companies and language schools and nothing comes close to what I’m doing now. Working from home and being the one who makes the decisions is pretty special.

I have also come to realize that the student-teacher relationship is a reciprocal one. I put up with some terrible students when first starting out as I took on anyone who got in contact with me. That was especially true when working for my different language schools.  I don’t take those students on anymore and only work with people who pay on time, come to class, and make the most out of the time we spend together.

The students that I’ve had over the past couple of years have been incredible. I’ve made some really special relationships with people from all over the world. All my students are good students and there is no need for me to take on the bad apples anymore.

Becoming my own boss and following my own business path have allowed me to have the above.

Steps to take to start freelancing

If you are wanting to follow your own path and teach English online, then there are some steps that you need to follow. Here is a guide to what you will need:

1. A clear vision of your business – What type of lessons do you want to give? How much do you want to charge? What will your cancellation policy look like? What times are you available to teach? How and where are you going to get students from? Thinking through these and other questions will help you create a clear strategy of what your online teaching business will look like.

2. Your own website – Your website is your base and where your students will go first. This is where you introduce yourself, give information about your lessons, convince potential students that you are the teacher for them, and finally have the necessary forms to collect information. It’s pretty hard to make it as an independent online teacher without a website. And make sure that you have your own domain name. (more about having your own website).

3. Other necessary tools – These include Skype or Google Hangout and a way to receive payment (Paypal is my choice).

This is a pretty basic outline of what you will need to get started. Each of these points have already been or will be discussed in detail on this blog.

Becoming an independent online English teacher has allowed me to follow my own path in so many ways. Are you following yours?


If you're curious about online teaching, get my free video series on how you can get started. Click the button and enter your details to get instant access to video 1!



  • Albert Wong

    Extremely well written Jack. Thank you for sharing your experience. Your incredible students are fortunate to have an incredible language coach.

    • That is such a kind thing to say Albert. Thanks for commenting.

      • Carl

        two typos to fix:
        “of what my a student can expect ”

  • John Brewer

    I must say, I am not even half way through this post and it is as if you read my mind and share my thoughts and ideas about ESL teaching methods. I look forward to reading the rest of the post!

    • Thanks for commenting John! Be sure to connect with me one social media, as I would love to learn from you too.

      • Sure thing Jack 🙂 Looking forward to it.

  • Erin

    Hi Jack,
    Thanks so much for the article. I was wondering how easy it is to get students to find a site on the web. Do you have to do any advertising? How important is having an understanding of SEO? Would a blog be an appropriate website format or would I have to purchase a domain name? Thanks!

  • james cormack

    I’ll be freelance teaching English in Budapest next year so I hope this will provide valuable information.

    • Please let me know how it goes. Get in contact if you have any questions.

      • james cormack

        Thanks. I spent a week there in July and got to know some people
        (in the pub – where else?) and they said the demand far exceeds the supply, and the remuneration is good, certainly by local standards.

        • Naomi Elizabeth

          James, I taught English in Budapest last year and had the time of my life doing so! It was pure luck that a friend of a friend was already well established there and put me in touch with his school. My experience there inspired me to take the CELTA course and set about on a new career. You must be there now… if you’re struggling to find opportunities, add me on LinkedIn and I’ll be happy to help! Naomi Teles Fazendeiro

          • james cormack


  • Lei Kristianne Bernard

    Freelancing is probably one of the most liberating jobs there is. I used to hold a job for an ESL tutor at ( ), where I taught children via Skype . But I had to quit because I had to run our business and take care of my son. But I think that even if I didn’t quit, I would’ve been able to handle it. I’m thinking of going back. The advantages weigh so much more that the cons.

  • Phoebe Merino

    This is very helpful. I am planning to start my online English tutorial for professionals in India. I am still on the planning stage so I hope I can pull this off. I also hope I can get in contact with you for some questions.

  • Janet Liscio

    Hi, Jack. I am a MATESOL student at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, USA. I am at the beginning of my program, having only taken two courses. I am doing Curriculum & Syllabus Design this semester. The first step in my semester-long project involves interviewing someone in the teaching/learning environment that I am planning to use as the environment for my proposed curriculum. My environment includes teaching on-line. Is this something you might have time for? (The areas of consideration are: understanding your program, types of learners, the current state of affairs regarding on-line instruction, rationale for your curriculum (why it’s needed) and its purpose (expected outcome), constituents/stakeholders, scope, and time span.) Also, do you have a set curriculum?

  • Juliette Michelle

    I just started really freelance tutoring. I just got my first gig to tutor in a corporate setting (one of the company’s directors). It’s a huge step for me, and a new context! I’m nervous, but I love working this way and really being my own boss, in a sort of partnership w/my student. I know I’ll learn a lot, and I am up for the challenge! Your article helped inspire and motivate me. Thanks.

  • james cormack

    A very interesting post. I am in my sixtieth year and am qualified as a secondary teacher in Scotland but I also have the TEFL certificate and I speak a number of languages including Spanish. My problem and a factor with many people my age is that I don’t feel at home with some aspects of the IT. To put it frankly there are still a number of teachers in the UK who have a rudimentary knowledge of IT and use it of course, and maybe this affects their confidence as they feel they have been left behind (perhaps I am one of them). On the plus side i have worked in Latin America, Sweden, Spain and Cambridge and I feel that I have a better knowledge of international affairs than most, so i intend going to Budapest shortly to do freelance teaching to professional people. Hopefully I will be able to make a living.

    • Hi James, that sounds great. These days there are so many free resources for people who are not so tech-savvy so if you’re not sure about anything you could always have a look on Youtube, Coursera, etc – all of these sites would have good tutorials in varying degrees of detail and you’d be able to pick it up pretty quickly I think. Teaching in Budapest would be amazing, I spent a few days there several years ago, not long enough!

      • james cormack

        Thanks for the advice, Nikki. Weather here very warm and it’s, as you say, a lovely place.

    • Linda Rainmaker

      Hi James,

      As someone who grew up without a computer (we know who we are), I can assure you that computers and tech can be fun and easy. If you are bright (it sounds like you are :)), then you can handle it. I think we just shy away from the newness, but honestly once you grasp it, it can open many doors. It’s just like any skill. Seriously, just give it a couple of tries, you’ll figure it out.

  • Hey Jack thanks for this very inspirational post, I think I came across it at the right time! I’ve been teaching in China in a well-known English school for the past two and a half years and I think it’s time for me to move on. My original plans were to get a CELTA then diversify my experience by teaching in some different schools around the world, but I also like the freelancing idea. Do you think it’s better for teachers to teach in a few different places and get more exposure to different methods / materials before starting out on their own, if they want to really be an effective teacher, or do you think you can start freelancing at any point and learn as you go?

  • José Gallegos

    Thank you Jack! Im spanish teacher (my first languaje) and now, after 6 years at “my school”, I want to try my own bussines freelance. You describe many feelings and thougs that probably I have been thinking. . Your post inspire me and give me a very clear path. Thanks a lot again!

    • Chris Turner

      Hi Jose, try and check your spelling before posting, it will look nicer.

      • Teresa La Tita

        He spelled it like the word for language in Spanish. He’s bilingual. Conversationally, I find his comment less awkward than yours. Good for you Jose! You’re bilingual and have a great attitude. I would study with you instead of Chris Turner.

  • דינה בוזגלו

    T ahank you so much for the introduction. I look forward to watching your next video. I hope to succeed with it because this is what I’m interested in doing right now. Can you tell me how you go about paying other teachers to teach for you?

  • dvasc

    That’s a great experience to share, Jack! It’s obviously a hard path to build but the results are invariably rewarding. I’m launching a tool to help ESL teachers like you promote themselves. I’d love to hear your opinion about it. It’s , a service that let’s you create a professional webpage to be used as a hub of all profiles you may have as a teacher. Best!

  • Michael Duvic

    I am newly certified in ESL TESL TESOL, and have a lot of experience teaching Chinese students online, but I am slightly terrified to go independent. Things as simple as sourcing material, how much to charge, WHERE to get paying students. I really am in a weird, blocked state. I am not sure what to do.