Apps like Uber, Lyft, and Task Rabbit have helped millions of people use their skills to earn money on their own schedule. This model has now come to the American education market with 51Talk (pronounced “five-one-talk”), an online platform that connects educators in the U.S. with Chinese students who want to learn English.

During each 25-minute lesson, teachers interact one-on-one with students using a live videoconferencing platform. Here, three early adopters share the challenges and rewards of practicing their craft whenever and wherever they want.

A Pregnancy Leave Adventure for Karina Godoy

Last year I came across a Facebook ad for 51Talk. I was pregnant at that time and was not able to physically go to my regular job teaching preschool. For me, teaching via videoconference was a bit uncomfortable the first week, because during my eight years of teaching preschool, I had always been in a classroom environment. I had a trainer who was amazing, though, walking me through what I needed to know.

My biggest teaching challenge was getting used to the one-on-one interaction with the students. When I was a preschool teacher, I had a classroom of more than 14 kids ages 2 to 5, so I had to adjust to focusing on one student for a full 25-minute session.

When I started teaching online, I taught mostly repeat students, but after taking a training course offered by the company to improve my lessons with first-time students, I now have a great mix of both.

In my experience, the clearest cultural difference between American and Chinese students is that the Chinese students seem to be a bit more interested in learning.

Now, in addition to being a full-time mother and a zumbini instructor, I teach English from home 25 hours a week. It can sound scary to teach online, but I love teaching, and this gives me the flexibility to manage my own schedule.

(Next page: 2 more Uber-like teaching examples)

The Freedom Needed in Both Teaching and at Home for Rebecca Crutchfield

I have taught in a variety of situations, including several years as a home-school teacher, as an interventionist for reading and math, and as a teacher for special needs students in special education and ESL. All of these were at the elementary level. I have also worked as a substitute teacher teaching many different subjects to multiple grade levels.

Approximately a year ago I wanted and needed the freedom to work from home. When I was introduced to the videoconferencing platform, I was very curious about how it would work. I was quickly having fun with it, and eventually I found it amazing, with everything at my fingertips.

There is little prep, since the PowerPoint, reward stars, writing tools and a chat box for remarks are all there when I click into the virtual classroom.

I also have the opportunity to teach all ages, from four-year-olds to adults, and 85-90 percent of my classes are with repeat students.

I have found little difference between my American and Chinese students. Most of my online students are very respectful, hard-working students who want to do well. We have a great time in the online classroom. I like to gather props such as pictures, puppets, and noisemakers for my classes.

Since leaving the traditional classroom and working this part-time job for 12–15 hours a week, I enjoy the healthy work/life balance I now have. When asked about working online, I tell other teachers, “I truly love my job!”

A great time to give online teaching a try would be the summer months when teachers have some time away from school.

A Chance to Experience a New Culture for Sarah Griego

I started teaching English to Chinese students in August 2015, and the biggest challenge I faced was the time difference between Colorado and China. When I was getting started with the videoconferencing platform, I needed some assistance in displaying parts of the lessons, but a support team was there to help right away.

I have been an elementary teacher, a high school English teacher, a high school science teacher, and a reading interventionist, so working with different types of students who range in age from 2 to 60 really appeals to me, as does the fact that I can teach from home.

These days, I work 40 hours a week as a substitute teacher and with 51Talk for another 35–40 hours. For my online lessons, I set my own schedule, and as I teach, I also learn about a different culture and history.

Unlike some of my American students, who sometimes feel entitled, the majority of my Chinese students are very respectful and diligent. My greatest reward is seeing their excitement as they learn new words and phrases in English.

Teachers who are interested in working with 51Talk can find out more here.

About the Author:

Karina Godoy is a former preschool teacher.

Rebecca Crutchfield has worked as a home-school teacher, a reading and math interventionist, and a substitute teacher.

Sarah Griego has worked as a reading interventionist and has taught elementary education for 1st through 5th grade, as well as 9th-grade English, 11th-grade English, and high school science.