Online ESL Teaching with SayABC

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SayABC is a one of many Chinese companies which teaches English to children, of 5-12 years old, using an online platform and native English speakers.


The set-up is pretty simple, you will teach using a programme, which you install on your computer, and you will have 1-4 students in your virtual classroom. There is also a white board in the virtual classroom, which you and the children can draw on. The power point slideshow for each lesson is provided by SayABC so planning time is minimal. Most power points will be between 25-35 slides long and there are prompts at the top of each slide to let you know how long to spend on each one (usually between 1 and 4 minutes per slide). There is a reward system for the students in the form of cards which appear on the screen. You can give out these cards at any point in the lesson, either to individual students or to the whole class and you have 20 cards to use per class. The classes are 40 minutes long and you are paid per class, not per hour like many other companies. This actually makes SayABC one of the highest paying companies for online teachers, as you can take up to 4 classes a day during the week and 6 classes on Saturdays and Sundays.

The regular classes are called homerooms and they come in pairs. So, you will have the same students twice a week either on Mondays and Thursdays, Tuesdays and Fridays or Wednesdays and Saturdays. Each homeroom will book a set of 9 classes and at the end of the 9 classes you will receive a completion bonus. My homeroom classes usually re-book for the next set of 9 classes after they have completed each course, so they are pretty consistent. There are a range of topics and each set of 9 classes is based on a different topic. For example, for lower level students you might be teaching colours and shapes and for higher level students you might be teaching about animal habitats (where different animals live and why) for the whole 9-week course. This can become a little competitive but repetition is key to language learning. There are four levels of students, ranging from level 0 to level 3 and you will learn about the differences between these levels in the training. Another type of class is the trial class. These are individual classes with a new set of students who are thinking about signing up for the full course. There are also short courses in which a set of students will have classes every day for a week or two, but these are more readily available at peak times such as during the summer.


Generally, I am fully booked with just my homeroom classes. I work from Monday to Saturday and take Sunday off as there are no homeroom classes available on Sundays. If you have empty slots, where classes haven’t been booked, you can take the option to be a standby teacher. This means that if another teacher is not available you might be called by SayABC on skype to take over their class last minute and you will receive a bonus for being a substitute teacher as well as base pay for the class. To get a standby class, you will have to mark the slot as available 24 hours before and be online during the class and logged into skype. You could receive a skype call anywhere from 5 minutes before the start time to 15 minutes into the class so make sure they you are logged on and available throughout the class just in case. When I started working, I was on standby whilst working on other things on my computer but left for a few minutes and missed the call, which meant that I missed out on a decent substitute incentive. The time slots are 6pm-6.40pm, 6.50-7.30pm, 7.40-8.20pm and 8.30-9.10pm Beijing time every day as well as extra slots on Saturday and Sunday at 9.50-10.30am and 10.40-11.20am Beijing time. You will have to convert these into your own time zone to see what hours you can work each day. Living in Mexico, I can work between 4am and 7.10am each day and between 7.50 and 9.20pm on Friday and Saturday evenings. As you can see from the bookings you have 10 minutes between each class. For the homeroom classes you will also have feedback to complete after the 3rd, 6th and 9th class of each course. This feedback needs to be completed within 12 hours of the class finishing but is very short and I usually have time to complete it between classes. You only have to answer a few questions, by giving a rating of each students ability, and write a short comment of more than 200 characters.


The base pay is 15 USD per 40-minute class. At the end of 9 homeroom classes, you will receive a completion incentive of 34 USD which makes the pay per class 19 USD. This completion bonus is only available for regular homeroom classes. However, trial classes also have a conversion incentive, which means if the students you teach during these classes decide to sign up for a course, you will receive a bonus of 8 USD for the class, making the pay for the trial class 23 USD instead of 15 USD. If you take a class as a substitute teacher, you will receive an extra 7 USD on top of your 15 USD base pay, making your payment for a sub class 22 USD.

Interview Process

The interview process is quite fast and simple but can be a bit nerve wracking if you haven’t had an interview over a computer before. The interview takes place using the platform with the interviewer in the place of the children you will be teaching so you can see how the platform works. You will first need to sign up on the website by answering a few simple questions. During this application, you will also need to pick possible interview times based on your time zone and schedule. You will then be invited to interview at one of these times. The email will inform you that the interview is around half an hour long and you will have to give a demo class. The power points for 3 different demo classes will then be provided for you to practice using. Remember that you will be giving the demo class to a full-grown adult but you will have to pretend that they are one of your students, so try to ignore how awkward you might feel and just act. Be smiley and enthusiastic, use props or flash cards and give it all your energy. Luckily, my interview was a lot shorter than expected, only 15 minutes, and I only had to give the demo class for around 5 minutes.

After passing the interview phase, the interviewer will confirm a time with you to meet a mentor, who is another SayABC teacher with more experience. You will then have a mentor meeting, again using the platform. This is just a chat in which your mentor will give you a lot of handy advice on using the programme and you will be able to ask questions. The purpose of this meeting is also to prepare you for an evaluation class which will be the last part of the process. This is a real class with real students which will be reviewed afterwards. You won’t see any of the interviewers or people evaluating you during this class, just the students, like any normal class. You might be a bit nervous about getting the timing right but just make sure you prepare well before by thinking about how you will manage each slide, whether or not you will use the suggested amount of time and whether or not you will add extra activities to make up more time. After several classes, the timing will become second nature but to start with its difficult to judge how much time you need. A simple way to manage this is to aim to be half way through the power point at the 20-minute mark. There is a timer at the top of the screen which lets you know how far into the class you are. Also remember that if you reach the end of the power point and have time left over, you can always go back and do the activities again. Write down the numbers of the slides with activities that you could repeat or do differently at the end and return to them to make up time if necessary.


After you have completed the interview process, you will have a few courses to complete as part of the training. At the end of each course there is a quiz or test and you need to get 80% to pass the course. Don’t worry if you don’t get 80%, just exit the programme and re-enter to start the course and complete the quiz again. You can also write down the questions you didn’t get right to make sure you get everything right the next time. The training doesn’t take very long but has to be completed before you take your evaluation class. There might also be other courses that appear on the platform once you have started working. These are usually to prepare you for a certain type of lesson and if you complete the training you will be booked for that type of lesson, for example, the Phonics Course was specifically for a set of summer classes which were not part of the homerooms. The training is pretty comprehensive and helpful and you can always return to it if you feel like you need more advice on teaching.


I have been working for SayABC for several months and, although there are things they can improve on, I can hardly complain that I work for 2 hours a day and make on average £1000 a month. With the option to take more trial classes and work 7 days a week instead of 6, I could easily make more money but I am happy with the workload I have. As I live in Mexico, this salary is more than enough to live on and far greater than the national average salary. So, I get to earn a great salary and explore the country in my free time. I also spend a lot of my time volunteering at a local school during the day, so I can use the skills I acquired with SayABC to help children here who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn English.

At times, the level of the student doesn’t fit correctly with the level of the class. In these situations, you might have to use your imagination to make the class more advanced or slow it down to make the class more basic so that they can understand. As with any teaching job, you will have students who don’t want to listen or act up in class and managing this in an online setting is very different to classroom management. Remember you can ask to speak to their parents or write your comments in the feedback so that their parents know if they are behaving in class. For those living in the USA, or Mexico, the early mornings might seem like a negative but I have actually gotten used to waking up early and having all my work done by 7.10am. I’m then free to do whatever I want with the rest of my day. Living in Mexico where the wage for teachers is incredibly low, finding SayABC has been a blessing for me and allowed me to enjoy my life in a much more balanced way.

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