Top 14 Mistakes Freelance English Teachers Make When Teaching Online

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LessonSpeak provides resources that make it easy to prepare for a lesson while providing a quality experience for the student. There are over 50 interesting topics to choose from that cater to English learners above an intermediate speaking level. Find free training and resources at

Mistake #1: Underestimating visuals

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

Not only is a student more likely to remember a word or phrase if they make multiple mental associations, but they will also enjoy the lesson more if it is visually appealing. A wall of text can be overwhelming to the student and they will attempt to read ahead, ultimately distracting them from the lesson.

Not using a visual-centric lesson will ultimately lead to a sub-par student experience. Your students are less likely to remember the vocabulary and will not improve as quickly as they would like.

If you’re building a reputation, you’ll want to provide an optimum client experience. Students will see results and your work will speak for itself. Imagine a bakery where the employees are manually kneading the dough rather than having an electric mixer doing it for them. The customers may not see that process but they will be frustrated when they have to wait longer for the pastries to cook.

Students enjoy being challenged and one of the most challenging activities has been describing images. Based on student and teacher feedback, more visuals were implemented in the resources.

Visually striking lessons will allow your students to seemingly remember the words and phrases with almost no struggle. They will think that learning English is easy.

LessonSpeak was created by a photographer. The founder always had an eye for striking visuals and implemented them into the structure.

Mistake #2: Teaching online like you used to teach in person

Figure 1: Which would a student rather see? Left or right half?

When many people were forced to work from home, many students continued taking lessons from home as well. Some teachers were not prepared and attempted to continue teaching as they would in person but this did not deliver proper results. Through the use of technology, we have tools at our disposal that allows a student to practice their English more effectively.

Teaching online involves interacting with your student in a different way. Your students will not learn English as well as they used to, if you don’t use technology to your advantage. Your student will see and hear you differently and they might not have the same experience. Although you can get close, it’ll never be the same. Therefore, you should take advantage of this medium of communication by capitalizing on what it is good at.

Although your students may choose to keep you as their teacher, they may not find the experience as enjoyable anymore. You may not be able to deliver the same results and your students might leave you for another teacher who is better prepared for teaching online.

When you interact with other people online, you can leverage your tools in a unique way. Identifying how this interaction can be used to your advantage took time. By doubling down on what makes online teaching unique, LessonSpeak is built from the ground up on the idea of online teaching.

We humans will continue growing and adapting as time passes. How we leverage technology will become more important as more people come to rely on it more. Avoiding the eventuality of technology will bring you more future struggles and instead of fighting it, you can use it to your advantage.

LessonSpeak was created specifically to leverage technology and allow a teacher to deliver the optimum experience online. The approach and teaching style is best-suited for this medium of communication.

Mistake #3: Spending too much time preparing for a lesson

At the end of the day, what’s important is that your student improves their English. Spending lots of time preparing for a lesson does not always necessarily result in a good lesson. You might not even have the energy or experience to do so and you may underdeliver on your promises.

Are your students paying you for the time you spend preparing for a lesson? What is that time worth to you? If you come to rely on spending time preparing for your lessons, what would normally be a job of 1 hour might become 2 hours. This essentially cuts your hourly rate in half.

What would you say if your employer were to suddenly cut your pay rate in half? Every moment you spend preparing for a lesson eats away at your profits.

If you were to add up all the time you spent preparing for each lesson, what would it add up to? To minimize this cost, a semi-standardized approach to teaching will help.

You don’t need to even charge your clients more in order to make more profit. With that newfound free time, you can spend it teaching more hours or doing other things you enjoy like spending time with your loved ones.

LessonSpeak resources are designed to make it as easy as possible to prepare for a lesson without sacrificing quality. Using a semi-standardized approach, LessonSpeak gives you flexibility in choosing the lesson topic and difficulty in order to provide your student with the best possible learning experience. 

Mistake #4: Prioritizing intensity over consistency

Some teachers choose to give long lessons with the intention of making more money. Unfortunately, people don’t have the time or mental capacity to be fully present in a long lesson. Nowadays, people have very short attention spans and their ability remember information dramatically drops after just 1 hour.

Figure 2:
While his [Hermann Ebbinghaus] study is over 100 years old, his findings still have merit today.
Here are the three main findings:

1) The level at which we retain information depends on the strength of our memory and the amount of time that passes.
2) Retention increases if the concept or skill taught is repeated (the more frequent, the more likely it is to stick long-term).
3) The more relevant and meaningful the training to the trainee, the more likely it is to be retained long-term.

Your student will be spending lots of time and money on improving their English and they may not be getting the kind of results that they want. Instead of spending 2 hours a week in one sitting, a student will be more likely to remember the content of a lesson if it is split into two 1-hour sittings.

Focusing on 1-hour sessions will make it easier to establish the classes as a habit for your students and they will more likely come back for more. Asking your students for a 1-hour commitment is also easier to get your foot in the door and convert them into a paying client. It’s absolutely imperative to remove any and all obstacles that may prevent a potential student from becoming/remaining a paying client. At the end of the day, your student will want results. More frequent but shorter classes will deliver results in a shorter period of time and you can charge more per hour.

The Hermann Ebbinghaus graph demonstrates how a person forgets over time. Rather than having a 2 hour class a week, a student is likely to remember more English if they have two 1-hour classes a week.

Your students are going to want results and your reputation depends on this. It is therefore in your best interest to deliver the most effective results. Your students will begin talking to people they know about how much they’ve improved and they will bring you more new clients. Like a ripple effect, one student with good results may bring you several new students.

LessonSpeak is specifically designed not just to be taught online but also to maximize retention. Since it is taught online, this method will minimize startup costs and allow a teacher to easily schedule many lessons in one day without having to spend time on preparation or commuting.

Mistake #5: Trying to give lessons to anyone

If a student isn’t enthusiastic about how you teach or who you are, then they are less likely to be interested in what you have to say and won’t get the kind of results they are looking for. Sometimes students have an idea of what they want but are not entirely sure. Trying to teach conversational English to a student who wants only grammar or test prep is not going to fly.

Trying to teach conversational English to a student that is looking for something else will not end well. They will not get the kind of results that they want and will determine that you are a bad teacher.

Just like how a satisfied student may help you find new students; a dissatisfied student will do the opposite. They might leave you a bad review and hurt your chances of getting new students.

There are many teaching styles out there. When comparing LessonSpeak to other teaching methods, it quickly becomes clear that each serves a different purpose. Haters expressed disgust in the method due to lack of grammar but students expressed gratitude by saying that, “this is exactly what I was looking for”.  It’s important to properly qualify your potential student with questions prior to having the first meeting with you.

Trying to teach someone who isn’t receptive to your methods is like swimming up a waterfall. You’ll be putting in tons of effort with little to no results.

LessonSpeak has a clear niche. Teachers who use LessonSpeak resources know what it is meant to do and most importantly, so do students. Students know what this brand is made to achieve and they will ask for it.

Mistake #6: Not understanding and maintaining your teaching tools

An online teacher must be adept at using the appropriate tools necessary for teaching online. After the world went into quarantine, many teachers found it difficult to rely on the same tools they grew fond of when teaching in person. Without practice, it can take a user significantly more time to deliver the same results. A cluttered computer may take longer to start up, might crash, and may even demonstrate unprofessionalism to your student.

Developing dependence on others to help you maintain your tools limits your flexibility. You don’t want to rely on a computer repair shop to return your computer when you’ve got classes to teach. Understanding how to maintain and repair something you rely on so heavily will minimize the negative consequences of a catastrophic error that may come across your way.

Imagine a situation where you’re driving down the road and your tire bursts. Having knowledge of how to replace a tire will allow you to immediately swap out the tires (assuming you maintained your car by having an inflated spare in the trunk). Not having this knowledge will render you dependent and you’ll have to wait for someone to help you. This will cost you both more time and money.

“This is both simple as well as tremendously challenging, because it requires a different kind of thinking… eg) Bicycle, motorcycle, or car maintenance. At least start by washing it yourself. Move on to fixing flats, cleaning, changing oil, and lubricating parts….

-Early Retirement Extreme, Jacob Lund Fisker

Keep it simple stupid. KISS. Just because you have an expensive computer doesn’t make you a better teacher. A troublesome computer will not only give you a headache but will potentially result in less than optimal client experience. Remove all extraneous software, practice being a poweruser, and identify the best hardware for the job. Before you know it, you’ll get complimented left and right on how efficiently you use your tools.

Creating dependence on others to help you maintain your tools will cost you time and money. Take the time to understand your tools and what is the best way to use them.

LessonSpeak provides training that demonstrates what tools you need, how to use them, and how they fit into the grand scheme of things. Minimizing reliance on others allows each individual teacher to alter their approach as they see fit once they understand the purpose of each underlying technique.

Mistake #7: Underpricing yourself

At first, it may be tempting to undercut other online teachers and snag some quick students. While this may be good at first, it is not sustainable. You’ll be stuck teaching students that pay extremely low rates for your services. What your time is worth to you is very different than what your time is worth to others. Someone might be willing to pay a lot for what you have to offer so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by pricing your services for cheap.

While you may get a lot of new clients, you don’t want to fill up your whole schedule with clients that don’t pay much. 

When you have some availability, you might be tempted to try to fill it up with new students as fast as possible but that usually means pricing your services for less. Don’t be tempted to lower your rates too much. Have patience and eventually a new client will come around.

If your clients see your services with a high perceived value, they will have no problem paying that high price. Just like any other business, there will be an ebb and flow to your client pipeline. Competing on price is a losing game.

Taking on the commitment of teaching a student that pays a low rate may subliminally affect the quality of your service. You might have a thought in the back of your mind that says, “this client is only paying x amount, he doesn’t deserve my full attention.” Each and every client deserves your best quality.

LessonSpeak sets a high bar and establishing yourself as a teacher with high standards will bring you more clients that are willing to pay the price for quality.

Mistake #8: Being too lenient

Different teaching platforms have different terms and conditions but you do have some flexibility. If a student is late to your class, they will have a less than optimum experience and may come to the conclusion that you are a bad teacher. If a student is distracted due to a sub-optimal learning environment, they will also have a bad learning experience.

In a 1-hour class, just 15 minutes is 25% of the total class time. Trying to recuperate that time will result in a bad experience for your student. Trying to teach a student in a distracting environment will make it difficult for them to focus and learn.

If a student has a bad experience in your class, they might leave a bad review and prevent future clients from booking with you.

After having students show up late and reschedule classes without enough prior notice, some terms and conditions were created and posted online. When a student takes lessons with you, they will have to agree to those agreements.

You might feel guilty in putting your foot down and canceling a class if a student is 15 minutes late but you have to set a standard. That’s what the client is paying for, aren’t they?

LessonSpeak training helps provide a template for a freelance online English teacher.

Mistake #9: Giving a lesson before getting paid

A student was having trouble transferring funds and was unable to pay for lessons.

You don’t want to work for free. It’ll negatively impact your work quality and it’ll set the wrong standard.

It should be extremely easy for clients to pay you. Remove all obstacles so that it is as easy as possible to take on a new client. You don’t want to miss out on a new student just because they had some trouble giving you their money.

The solution is to accept credit cards. There are several online services that do this for you such as Square, Stripe, or even Paypal.

Once you start using an online service to accept payments, you will also be able to track your income more easily. You will also pay a smaller commission for each student when comparing to marketplace websites where it’s common to take up to 30% or more.

LessonSpeak training shows you how to set up and integrate your payment processing on your landing page.

Mistake #10: Improper time management

Teaching can be seasonal and you may find yourself with an influx of new students in a short period of time. It may be tempting to take them all but you’ve got to be very mindful of how you manage your client pipeline. You may also find yourself with requests from students in different time zones and it may lead to some confusion.

You might end up with a schedule full of lessons or lessons at inconvenient times.  You might not be ready for that sort of commitment. Teaching does take energy and if you’re not used to teaching for long periods of time or at awkward times you might not deliver a quality lesson.

Mismanaging your time may even lead to double bookings. You might accidentally book two students for the same time slot and have to cancel on them. It might affect your work life balance and it may start affecting your health.

The solution is to always be on top of your calendar. Keep your calendar up to date and use the right tools that help you automate your scheduling.

You don’t want the hassle of the back and forth of proposing various times to each and every student. Automating your scheduling will minimize this back and forth and prevent double bookings from happening.

LessonSpeak training demonstrates how to set up and use the scheduling tools that you need to resolve all your scheduling issues.

Mistake #11: Not insisting on using video chat

Doing lessons online isn’t the same as doing them in person but you can get pretty close to it. The closest you can get is by insisting that each and every lesson is done with the video on. It is easier to notice when a student is distracted or not in an optimum learning environment.

It might be tempting to switch to audio-only if you look like you just woke up but this will hurt the overall quality of your lesson. Your student is paying for you to be professional, which includes being fully prepared for a lesson by looking the part. Would you teach a student in person without being presentable? Don’t be tempted to hop on a lesson without pants.  

Part of the value in a lesson is the human connection. Your students want exposure to the English language and it is important to simulate a real conversation as much as possible by using all possible forms of communication. We use video, audio, text, and supplemental visuals.

Students who prefer to have classes without video aren’t as committed, attentive, or serious about learning. Using video in your lessons is a requirement as stated in your terms and conditions.

Your reputation is on the line. Students will notice the end result but they may not necessarily notice how they got there. If you start offering classes via audio only, you’ll be more and more tempted to conduct your classes from your bed or in your pajamas. If you do so, you will not be in the right mindset.  

LessonSpeak training demonstrates how to set up your video and prepare for a lesson so that you are visually presentable.

Mistake #12: Not having enough variety

Students on platforms like Preply and iTalki are likely to rotate through teachers or have lessons with several teachers. As a teacher, you’ll want to retain clients and the best way to make sure they don’t get bored with you is to introduce variety.

A student will get bored with you and start looking for a new teacher if you lack variety.

Not having enough variety in your lessons isn’t an effective method for students to learn. The more variety and diversity in their activities, the more likely they are to remember the vocabulary.

“Taken the advantages mobile phones can offer, second language acquisition is much easier if a language environment can be created that can help students perform in the examination and through the real life task-based learning, as well as to reduce teachers’ workload and worrying.”


It’ll take a bit more effort but introducing variety will alleviate some client retention issues and you’ll be spending less time on client acquisition.

Through the various tasks and activities, LessonSpeak encourages a student to participate in using the target language through a large variety of ways.

Mistake #13: Neglecting showmanship

Working with children means putting on a show. You have to maintain their attention and teachers go to great lengths to do so.

Adults are no different. Luckily, you don’t have to act like a clown. You simply have to keep it interesting.

If you’re teaching English, you want to also teach how to tell a story. Telling a story involves demonstrating variety in tonality and enthusiasm. A student needs exposure to this in order to take their English to the next level.

Not only are your students paying you to improve their English, but they are also paying you to improve their “personality” in English. Part of having a conversation is injecting your personality into a discussion and showing your student how to do so will improve their conversational performance.

Student feedback demonstrated that they were happy that they did not focus on grammar and instead on conversational English because he felt like he picked up on a new “personality” in English.

At the end of the day, you’re putting on a show. Luckily it’s not too long. Take the time to improve your showmanship and your client retention rate will skyrocket.  

Through the various tasks and activities, LessonSpeak provides ample opportunity and flexibility for teachers to introduce their personality.

Mistake #14: Not taking notes

Although LessonSpeak did not place, it did participate in a few hackathons. Most people disregarded it but a small number of people had quite the impact. Apart from the eclectic entrepreneur looking to take some ownership, a mentor mentioned that there should always be someone taking notes in a meeting.

The mentor mentioned that if it’s not written down, it’s as if it never happened. No one will take action.

Part of the visual emphasis means allowing students to see things. Students have explicitly stated, enthusiastically (en-thoo-zee-ass-tik-lee), that they like to see things spelled out like so. This is by far the most common feedback. How would a teacher even receive this feedback if the student were to never see the benefits of it being used?

Again, emphasizing the variety of activities, visually seeing how a word allows the struggling student to quickly pronounce the word properly. This minimizes the amount of time that a student experiences discomfort throughout the lesson.

Apart from the fact that you’ll likely chose to let it slide a bit, you’re not doing your job. Students insist on this so take their word.

LessonSpeak does not use complex systems, allowing the resources to be used very easily in almost any software. This simplicity allows the teacher to easily gain access to a whiteboard and take notes. Cloud solutions allow both teacher and students to take notes which would take it to the next level. Currently, Google Docs with LessonSpeak satisfies the needs adequately.


So, there you go. The top 14 mistakes freelance online English teachers make when taking on a new student. Hopefully, that gives you a better idea on how to evaluate any new students you take on.

Of course, I’m biased…

But, I believe I check all these boxes. If you haven’t already, click the button below to subscribe to the LessonSpeak newsletter. You’ll get free curriculum just by signing up!

Best wishes,

Johnny Ilca