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Stop finding students and start retaining them

Guest posts

Four ways to retain your online ESL students

Author bio: Regan McNeill has over four years of experience teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) and tutoring students online. She currently works as the Marketing Analyst for Off2Class. Off2Class is an ESL teacher toolkit that saves time and drives equitable English Learner outcomes. Off2Class runs a friendly Facebook Group for successful and aspiring English teachers, and provides services to over 6000 online ESL tutors per year.

Many teachers get stuck in the trap of thinking that the more students they have access to, the better teachers they will be. Contrary to this belief, it is more beneficial for a teacher to retain students rather than to have a large cohort of students coming and going on a sporadic basis.

For online teachers especially, it takes a lot of unpaid time and self-funded resources to find new students, let alone ones that will book classes regularly. If a teacher invests this time in finding a new student, only for the student to leave after three or four sessions, then they are pursuing an unsustainable business model. So teachers need to focus on retention to build long-term relationships with clients and to earn a steady flow of income. It can take time to develop a consistent teaching schedule. However, unlike constantly recruiting new students, it is an investment that pays off.

Of course, it can be very intimidating for novice and veteran teachers to frame or reframe their business model so it is built on retention. Off2Class works with thousands of successful ESL teachers per year. Based on the expertise of these online tutors, the following tips explain how to retain students as well as the benefits of doing so.

Tip #1 to retain students: Understand your customer base

In a teacher’s case, a customer base is their most loyal and engaged students. A teacher must understand the wants, needs and personalities of students in their customer base. Many teachers find this useful in determining a teaching niche or specialization; a teacher’s niche should be reflected in their customer base.

If a teacher understands their client base, they are better equipped with the knowledge to meet the individual needs of each of their students. It also allows a teacher to determine if their students share similar goals, needs or interests. With this knowledge, a teacher can invest in relevant resources and gain expertise in that area. Consequently, providing specialized teaching encourages the student to commit to classes, as they suit their specific needs.

Tip #2 to retain students: Offer bulk lesson packages

This is a very simple but effective tip for retaining students. Simply put, when onboarding students, a teacher should have lesson packages (a course of lessons) available for sale. Many teachers offer a discount for clients that buy 20 or 30 lessons at a time, making it even more attractive. If a teacher offers bulk lesson packages they are ensuring that the student commits to their services and that they can meet their needs more effectively. This is a great way for any teacher to make a lasting connection with students while filling their schedule.

Tip #3 to retain students: Create a consistent teaching schedule

The pressure to find new students can make a teacher go to drastic measures. Many teachers feel it is necessary to have an open schedule and to offer an array of services at all hours of the day. It is common for online ESL teachers to have availability nearly 24/7. In theory, this can result in more bookings from a wider range of students. However, having too much availability creates a chaotic and unreliable schedule. In addition, such conditions make it especially difficult for any teacher to offer the best services possible. Instead, a teacher should consider that a barely booked and open calendar is a lot less attractive to potential clients than a consistently booked but less available schedule. Keeping a schedule consistent and open for a long time in advance encourages potential students to commit and book in bulk.

Tip #4 to retain students: Track student progress

It is commonly thought that the more new students a teacher has, the more students they will retain. The truth of the matter is that in this case, a teacher will spend more time assessing new trial students and juggling schedules than retaining students. It is especially hard to cater to the needs of a large volume of students that book lessons inconsistently and in some cases, with little notice. Instead, a teacher should focus on tracking the progress of current students in a detailed and accurate manner. Progress tracking is extremely important because it allows teachers to present learners with clear learning objectives, achievements and areas of improvement. This is hugely beneficial for students as it shows them that a teacher is extremely invested in their progress and their learning journey as a whole. When a student knows that a teacher is invested in them, they are more likely to make a return investment in a teacher’s services. As well, when a student is satisfied with the services they receive, they are more likely to recommend their teacher to other potential students within their network.


Though it might not seem obvious, for a teacher to find more students they must focus on keeping the ones they already have. The secret to success lies in nurturing a customer base, encouraging students to commit to courses of lessons and offering the best quality services available. If a teacher spends too much time planning, searching and stressing then it is simply not possible to do these things effectively.