Elfin Waters (a cuppa-ccino-and-Italy-loving soul) was one of my first readers back in 2015 when I was (literally) writing weekly for the void behind my computer screen (more on “the void” in my book “Music in the Silence.”)


At the time I had no idea who was reading my blog, what they were thinking while reading it and whether or not it was worth it. But I felt like I had to share my passion with the world, so I would show up every week and write.


It was months later when I launched Opted Out of the Traditional Classroom book that I “saw” 30-some names of my brave readers paying me money for the e-book, and Eflin’s name was one of them. I continued keeping in touch with all of my readers through email. Later Eflin joined a few of my courses and ultimately my coaching club 🙂


I’ve seen Eflin evolve from a doubting and exhausted online teacher into a small business owner who has been brave enough to keep making small steps towards her dream of working smarter.Everything changed for her the day she stopped making excuses and began moving forward no matter how slow this move was.


Every time we meet for our sessions I find myself learning a lot from her, and I hope you will, too. Get yourself a cuppa and enjoy, and if this story inspires you please share with othersbecause chances are it will motivate others as well. ~ Elena.


How did you start teaching online and how long have you been doing it ?


At the end of 2013, I had a bad accident. I couldn’t work and had some serious health issues.


Six months later,  in 2014, my bills were piling up so I started teaching English and Italian online.  


I was very ill but I really needed the money. I knew absolutely nothing about teaching online. It turned out for the best even though I think I made every mistake in the book.


At the time of my accident, I was one of the many exploited ESL teachers in an offline school. I didn’t realize it at the time, but things were leading nowhere.


After I started teaching online, I  felt things could actually change. At first, it was empowering to be able to help people when I was coming from a place of deep helplessness.


'At first, it was empowering to be able to help people when I was coming from a place of deep helplessness.' Elfin Waters.Click To Tweet


I have been teaching online for almost 3 years. I am able to provide for my family, pay my bills and I get to be creative. I have gone back to having dreams for my future and for that I am incredibly grateful.


How do you understand “smart online teaching?”


I think smart online teaching is about being shrewd about what you have to offer, what you want to do and how much time you want to spend doing it.  It’s about not running yourself into the ground doing your job. It’s making the most out of your time.


'Smart Teaching' is about not running yourself into the ground doing your job. ~ Elfin WatersClick To Tweet

Why did you choose to work smarter rather than harder?


It’s quite simple. Since I started teaching online I started dreaming and making projects for the future again. I had really lost that before, that sense of being able to make a difference in the world.  But I can and already am making my tiny difference. That is priceless.


So, if I want to achieve these goals I must avoid burnout. There was no way I could have kept on working as I did before, running around like a hamster on a wheel.


I needed to be making a little more money but most of all, I needed more time.


I am obsessive about time management because after all, I do get paid for my time, don’t I? So why be generous with it?


Back in September of 2015, I decided I  really wanted to have my own website and create products for my audience on my Instagram.  But I didn’t have any time to do that or the energy and I couldn’t afford not to work a full schedule.


So, I started setting boundaries. That’s where “smart teaching”  starts according to me. It starts when you start saying no to things that don’t benefit you long term.


'Smart teaching' starts when you say 'no' to things that don’t benefit you long term. ~ Elfin Waters.Click To Tweet


Back in Spring 2015, I stopped taking on students that didn’t want what I was offering. Then, in September, I started limiting my availability and setting office hours.


I didn’t want to work after 7 pm anymore and I needed some free days. Interestingly enough, all of my students complied. Now, I get two free days to work on my planning and my own stuff.


I need every dollar, so it’s never easy for me to turn down extra money. But if I stop thinking about the money, I see the time I am getting and that is my investment in my future.



Ready to *opt out* of your job and grow your own online teaching business? Check out this book (+ a free digital journal).


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What has changed in your professional/personal life since you decided that your model of online teaching had to change?


I’m more confident and I’m starting to think outside of the box. A little, but I am. Teaching on a marketplace pays your bills but limits your possibilities.


You and your students start to think that Skype lessons are the only way to learn a language and that’s simply not true.  You are playing the game according to somebody else’s rules.


But the moment you challenge that and test out doing something different on one student, your mindset changes.


You become a little bolder and more creative. And you realize it didn’t take more time, it was just about being strategic and actually having yourself and your students’  interests at heart.


So by helping yourself, you end up serving your students better and giving yourself more options.



What would you advise to teachers who feel overwhelmed with the amount of work that has to be done and just can’t bring themselves to get started? What are your tips?


There is so much I want to do and time never seems to be enough. I’ve cut down on my lessons but  I still have some tweaking to do. So,  I definitely know what it feels like to be overwhelmed.


I would say start with one small goal.  


When choosing that one goal you want to accomplish, get help. If you can’t afford coaching, get help from your mastermind, but you have to get help. We are too involved in what we are doing, to have the necessary distance to decide on what is best for our business.


'We are too involved in what we are doing to have the necessary distance to decide on what is best for our business.' ~ Elfin WatersClick To Tweet


If you do one small thing for your business every day, in a week, that adds up and makes many things. Just as long as you show up every day. That’s all it takes.


Sometimes I get very hard on myself because I get impatient that things aren’t moving as fast as I would like them to.


The one thing that gives me comfort is that I show up every day for work, just by writing a paragraph to my guide or my Instagram post and that is most certainly leading somewhere.


Another thing that is really hard to do, is investing money in yourself.


I would suggest starting with small courses at the beginning. If your budget is limited, then those courses will mean the world to you and you will be actually paying attention and implementing what you learn.


I have gotten back all the money I have invested in my courses and coaching. It’s simply incredible!


My very first course was $70 and I really couldn’t afford it at the time. But it was the best thing I ever did. I got back the money within the month. It had changed my mind, my confidence and things just sort of clicked after that.


Here as well, it’s that first step in investing in yourself that changes everything, so do make it and you really won’t regret it.




Elfin Waters.

I have been teaching English and Italian online since 2014 at Italki. I focus on listening training and help my students overcome their fear of speaking by focusing on the conversational aspects of the language. Lately, my focus has been on learning from watching videos. I give daily lessons of Italian aimed at an English speaking audience on Instagram. Check out my website and join our course Instagram for Language Teachers.




The post was updated in March, 2021.



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