Finding Online ESL Lessons: Ideas from a Traveling Teacher

James with some young locals in a historic Istanbul, Turkey neighborhood.
James with some young locals in a historic Istanbul, Turkey neighborhood.

Welcome to the founder of an online English language lessons business called Off2Class.

James Heywood is also an expert teacher and traveler.

Teaching Traveling: James, tell us about your background.

James: I’m a 44-year-old ESL teacher from Australia. I studied Romance languages, literature and linguistics… but after university I didn’t settle well into a corporate job. I moved between different industries, working in hospitality, publishing and finance until I started teaching ESL at the end of 2006.

I spent five of the following seven years in Istanbul, teaching at language institutes, a private Turkish school and mostly supplementing my income by private tuition. By January 2013 I was teaching exclusively online on a full time basis, mostly to a mix of Turkish young learners and adults.

Recently I launched a project called Off2Class, which releases ESL lesson plans I developed for my own online business to other ESL teachers. I want to empower other teacher-travellers to use my lesson plans, and reduce their lesson preparation time, as they develop their own independent ESL businesses.

Such a clever lesson in Istanbul: a Ghost-Busting machine!
Such a clever lesson idea in Istanbul: a Ghost-Busting machine!

TT: Off2Class sounds so useful. Now, tell us more about your travels.

J: I have had the privilege to travel extensively throughout South East Asia and the Indian continent. I started in Bangkok and very slowly worked my way across to India and Pakistan.

I had been to India twice previously but this time I moved much more slowly. Pakistan was a highlight for me, especially the north of the country. A landscape so spectacularly different from anything I had previously seen. I accepted a job to teach at a very small school in the Gilgit region, however I changed my mind and moved on, as traveling was still foremost in my mind.

Several months later I crossed from Iran into Turkey and, after spending a couple of days in Istanbul, I decided that this is where I wanted to settle. My initial memories of that enchanting metropolis are still with me, years after I naturally had to deal with the realities of living in such a busy and chaotic agglomeration. Istanbul became home for three years… Then I left, and was back two years later!

TT: Wow! How did you find these travel opportunities?

J: The tsunami that devastated parts of Asia around Christmas 2004 prompted me to look up a school in Mahabalipuram, India, where I had done a short stint of volunteer work previously.

I wanted to offer a bit of help where possible when I heard that part of the school had been destroyed, though I admit also that I was not really enjoying my job in financial corporate services at the time. I gave notice, put my meagre belongings into storage, and was ready to go!

TT: What is the most powerful memory from your travel?

J: Istanbul became the centre of the world for me. I remember saying to a friend that if you could shake the planet in your hand, when the dust settled everything would look something like Istanbul.

It is a city of extremes – one of the friendliest but one of the least polite cultures I have yet encountered. Stunning historic architecture surrounded by neighborhoods that are the definition of urban ugliness. The peace of sitting on the Bosporus shattered by the din of undisciplined traffic.

I don’t see Istanbul as that ‘curious mixture of East-meet-West’. Rather, Istanbul just got under my skin. I truly had to adjust many of my points of view, though my core values in some ways became more fixed. Istanbul woke me up. My friends say it made me more ‘emotional’. I adore and sometimes loathe the city.

James in his first apartment in Istanbul, Turkey.
James in his first apartment in Istanbul, Turkey.

TT: Very poetically explained. How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?

J: Travelling and living abroad made a teacher out of me. I had gained the CELTA qualification during my ongoing habit of after-work courses, though I never really envisioned teaching English as a Foreign Language. However, within a week of landing in Istanbul, I had a job with a language institute! Requests for private lessons followed quickly and I soon understood two things.

First, teaching gives you flexibility. A teacher usually benefits from generous holidays. Second, the arrival of the Internet to just about every corner of the globe has brought the rise of online education, and the opportunities to teach to every corner of the globe. I encourage other teachers who are considering making the jump to online teaching to try it out. Take the risk.

TT: Excellent advice. How have your travels impacted you as a person?

J: Traveling taught me confidence. It also made me aggressively independent. I think it made me better at exploiting my own talents. It also taught me a lesson in the entrepreneurial spirit.

Today, I run my own successful online ESL business and I’ve launched a site called Off2Class, which is dedicated to providing ESL lesson plans for other private teachers and tutors. Here is a preview, if you want to see what it’s like:

TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?

J: Many teachers I’ve met abroad over the years have wondered what their next step is going to be. For me, starting my own online ESL business was a great move. For any teachers currently living abroad or considering going abroad, my most concrete piece of advice is: save your contacts.

You can use your contacts to become a successful online ESL teacher as a next step to your career. With the power of the Internet today, when you return home (or to your next destination), you can continue to service your students that you met while abroad.

You have no idea just how much each and every contact you have will become important to launching yourself as an independent teacher. Every student, every parent, every person you meet… store their details carefully.

I mean it. My contacts are the reason that I work as an independent online teacher today, and one of the reason I was able to launch my online business.

James in Mardin, Turkey.
James in Mardin, Turkey.

TT: Thanks so much, James! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?

13 thoughts on “Finding Online ESL Lessons: Ideas from a Traveling Teacher”

  1. Off2class is so easy to use. After all the time spent in the past preparing lessons, using it feels like cheating.
    The support is excellent. James and Kris are great.

    I would love to see the speaking exercises expanded and also more handouts. I am in the habit of leaving the students with some material. And the quality of your materials does it’s own advertising.
    The next thing is, although we teachers can get by using the site I would like to know how the creators meant for it to be used or how they themselves use it. James, I think this is where we left off.

    Best regards from Egypt.

  2. A little late to the party but wanted to comment on how great a resource Off2Class is, it’s saved me a ton of time and I really appreciate the time you put into it!

    • Thank you for your comment Quincy.

      Off2Class has had a great year. We’ve gone from 65 to 220 lesson plans for online teachers and we are about to release post-lesson activities for teachers to assign to their students. Plus, we now have several thousand teachers using our product,so hopefully the business will continue to grow in 2015.

        • Hi Lillie,

          Yes, it’s really good to know that teachers are travelling and able to teach online almost wherever they are. We now have teachers in over 100 countries using our site and I have learned about so many people moving around the world, experiencing a new culture and also sustaining themselves through ESL teaching.

          So Lillie, thank you again for the opportunity of the interview. It brought a lot of teachingtraveling types to our site and they have offered us a lot of feedback.

  3. What a journey to where James is today. Always love it when people find their calling, and now that he has a business, it will give him the flexibility to do even more pursuing of his passions!

  4. Thanks Lillie to post the story of James Heywood in your blog. This story is full with inspiration and experiences. I visit your blog regular for such nice posts.

    • Thanks for your comment Dawood. I’m glad you enjoyed reading the article… I assume that you’re happily teaching somewhere in wonderful Egypt? Or is it a stop before you take off again to another destination?

      • “Happily teaching somewhere in wonderful Egypt.” One day I hope.
        I do connect with you when you said above that you adjusted your views after living in Turkey. I think anyone not willing to do that would find it increasingly difficult to reside in a foreign land as the days go by and the sun rotates around us.
        You have to be commended on your efforts though. I have been researching this area of ESL and although the cooperation between teachers is like what I never expected, someone still has to sift through the heap of opinions to find something he can actually use and benefit from. I enjoy hearing about experiences and in your writings and advices you get straight to the point.
        Actually James I am coming from the other side of the fence. I presently teach the Arabic language to westerners who have some interest in traveling to the east, either for vacation or study. I give them the basics and some acclimatization via online classes. We focus on grammar and as the time of travel draws near we shift to fluency.
        However because of my present location, Egypt, I figured it would be equally enjoyable for me to teach the locals English. I live in a small town far away from Cairo and Alexandria. This means that the foreign population here is low, very low, and so are ESL services.
        I didn’t find any direct contact on the blog, or maybe I missed it. I would really appreciate if you would listen to where I have arrived in my research and give some input.

  5. A big thank you for letting me feature on your great website. I’m very happy to answer any questions for teachers thinking about setting up online, or of course, for people wishing to teach in or travel to Istanbul.


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