Life As A SmartWorking ESL Teacher
Tell us about yourself. What’s your story?
Well, it all began one day when I got out of the shower. I was drying my hair and noticed it was falling out (I was twenty-five at the time). That was the moment I realised stress is a real thing.
After completing my Bachelor’s at the University of Arkansas in Business Management I worked a few different roles, mostly in the HR realm. At the time of the hair loss incident, I was the director of an admissions department for a university in Alabama. I was commuting forty-five minutes each way, working twelve to fifteen hour shifts in an office with no windows, clinging to the fading memories of my travels through Europe.
One day, I decided enough is enough, this isn’t living. So, I packed my bags, sold basically everything I owned and bought a one way ticket to Europe where I traveled around for a few months before finding myself living in Hanoi teaching English. When I first saw how excited the students got teaching them something new in English, I remembered a saying I had heard before but did not completely understand: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
It was while I was teaching in Vietnam that I discovered the world of online teaching and I signed up with the first company I could find to make sure it wasn’t a hoax. I worked hard to understand the art of teaching online, and began researching the top places to teach and how to travel and teach online. I took trips around Asia constantly with my laptop and taught from Airbnbs. I then found myself in South Africa teaching online and traveling around the country.
In January 2018, I decided to ground myself in the Czech Republic and teach online full time, allowing me to see more of Europe and immerse myself in the culture and city I fell in love with at the beginning of my travels: Prague!
How has your life changed since you became a SmartWorker?
Well, my hair has stopped falling out for one haha.
Pros: I don’t have to commute. I don’t have anyone micromanaging me and I feel more motivated to work. Even on days when I don’t feel 100 percent, all I have to do is walk upstairs and chill at my computer while speaking to happy smiling faces 🙂
Cons: The main con I have found is that since I do not work around people my age it makes it slightly difficult to meet new people and make friends. There are definitely days after work I look at my panda (stuffed animal teaching prop) and say: “Hey mate, I think we deserve a pint after this day.”
It can be a real challenge for introverted people. However, I will say that since I started working online, I find myself discovering and doing things I never did before, even when I had the time. I find myself working out more and leaving my headphones at home to actually communicate with people. I have taken up cooking classes and sometimes I even go on free walking tours of cities I’m accustomed to—just to meet people and makes new connections.
What’s it like being a remote teacher/ teaching children through technology?
Look, I’m not gonna lie and say it doesn’t have its days of shot connections, internet failures, computer updates in the middle of classes, and students that absolutely hate the look of your face. But it does have its positives.
I feel the most important part of working as an online English teacher is the company you work for. The companies decide the level of the student and what lessons they will be learning that day. They assign your classes and this effectively dictates your pay check. If there’s no bookings/students, then there’s no money. The company’s platform and operating system are obviously super vital to the entire operation. Again, a lagged system with a bunch of connection issues is never a good experience for the student or the teacher.
With regards to the children, since the classes are usually only twenty-five minutes long, it’s ideal for focusing on one or maybe two parts of English and also have some time to build a relationship with the child. Since they are at home and do not have the pressure of their peers hearing any mistake they might make, they gain a level of confidence and a sense of accomplishment by the end of the lesson.
I even taught a three-year-old before. Bless her heart, she had never even seen a western person before. It took a lot of time to build a relationship with her and we were scheduled for classes together twice a week. With each lesson we gained a little more trust. And because it is a one-on-one environment, she really progressed much faster than any student I would have had in a group setting in a classroom in Vietnam.
Prague was recently named the Top City for Remote Workers. Is that evident from your experience living there?
Absolutely! Prague is a vibrant city with a lot to offer. It has a fantastic public transport system that is very economical to use and pretty reasonable rent prices (although they’re on the rise).
Prague offers a lot to do after work and there is a great sense of community living here as well as a fantastic mix of different cultures—I think of it as the New York of Eastern Europe. It is not uncommon for every park in the city to be full of people around 5pm, just relaxing, taking in the view of the sunset and enjoying a few beers.
Prague has a fantastic fibre optic infrastructure and internet is cheap and reliable here (obviously very important for anyone working online). I pay around $50 for a 300mb/s download speed.
Finally, one of my favourite things about Prague is the ability to travel. Flights are pretty cheap in-and-out of Prague and I find the trains are a great way to connect to Germany, Austria, Hungry and Poland. I love being able to take weekend trips to check out a new city or town and not have it cost me a fortune.
Giovanni Cattaneo is a SmartWorking ESL teacher from America. He has travelled extensively across the world and is currently based in Prague.