One of the best things about being a freelancing teacher on italki is that teachers have the freedom to create their own individualized courses and lesson content. When creating course offerings, teachers are responsible for designing courses and creating lessons that will attract and retain enough students to reach their financial goals. One important choice that has to be made is whether they should focus on “niche” content or stick to standard ESL instruction. Would focusing too much on “niche” content hinder the teacher from recruiting and retaining students? On italki, one can do both. So, the answer may be to offer a range of “general interest” to “niche lessons” and a few options in between.
A lot of teachers and students may share a particular esoteric interest. The italki community is large enough that they should be able to connect with each other as long as the interest isn’t too far outside of the box. This means that the teacher has the opportunity to create lessons that pique their own particular intellectual interests and connect with other like-minded individuals. This way, you both have the opportunity to study English in a mutually satisfying context.
But the teacher must remember that these esoteric interests may not be (actually, probably won’t be) broad enough to attract sufficient numbers of students to support them financially. If they are relying on italki for income they will need to create courses that are general enough to appeal to a wide range of learners but unique enough to stand out from the crowd. And, they need to create balance by also offering lessons about ESL fundamentals such as grammar and speaking.
The good news is that teachers on italki can create up to six different courses. This means that they can create courses ranging from “general ESL” instruction to the most esoteric course topics. And they can add a couple of course offerings in between the two extremes.
For example, let’s say that there is a new teacher on italki named Frida who has a degree in literature and an ESL teaching certification. She will be working full time on italki and is relying on this income for her livelihood. She is an expert on the “Lord of the Rings” novels. They are her passion and she knows everything there is to know about them.
First, Frida’s number one priority should probably be to create a couple of courses that will attract sufficient numbers of students to fill up her calendar. These will be the standard ESL instruction offerings. She could create lessons focusing on general grammar and speaking. These courses should look interesting and the descriptions should be written so that her methods and lesson structures stand out against the multitude of other teacher profiles.
Next, Frida can move into the more specialized area of their teaching practice. She can create one or two slightly more niche offerings. For example, she can create courses that use cultural topics as a jumping-off point for speaking and grammar instruction.
Then, she can then add a course that focuses on literature and creative writing. Being an expert on literature, Frida’s writing skills are especially strong and she can put herself out there as a teacher who can help students improve their written English. And now, she is moving into her niche.
Finally, Frida will create a course where she can explore the topic that she loves: The Lord of the Rings. Again, she will use the novels as source material for ESL instruction. But it gives the student a personal connection to the lesson material because it is a subject that they both find incredibly fascinating. This course offers probably won’t attract enough students to sustain her financially. However, The Lord of the Rings has a broad enough appeal that she should be able to connect with a handful of long-term students.
There are a number of niche subjects that are broad enough to attract a sizeable number of repeat students. Some examples would be test prep, legal English, and Medical English. These topics require specialized training or education so students who need these instructions will probably be willing to pay a premium for it. These topics will also attract long-term students.
At the end of the day, it is great to set yourself apart by showing students that you have a wide range of interests and can talk about interesting topics. And if you create a course topic about a subject that fascinates you, it will attract a small number of students and it will give you the chance to talk about it once or twice a day. However, it would be a good idea to diversify your courses, especially at the beginning of your teaching practice on italki in order to establish your income.
Good article, James. Thank you for reminding me that I need to diversify my own course offerings. I think having a niche on italki nowadays doesn't always work, especially if italki is your livelihood.
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