A Picture is Worth a Billion Words: Setting Up Your Online Teaching Profile


How to make your picture stand out if you’re teaching English online

Ok, so a billion might be overdoing it a bit, but when your face is what the students spend the most time looking at (and often the first thing that they see according to our BuddySchool interview), it should be looking it’s best.  And just to clarify, this post is going to focus on sites where you submit a profile (see here for more information) like Skimatalk, italki, and BuddySchool.

We’re going to take a look at some real world examples to see what makes up good and bad profile pictures, and how you can stand out from the crowd when teaching English online.  Keep in mind, when you use profile sites like these, you are competing against hundreds of other teachers for students and the first thing they will see if your face.


  • Use Good Lighting – Just like we mentioned in our post about improving your home classroom, lighting must be considered when taking a picture.  And no, we aren’t talking about a flash, that might brighten your face but will likely dull the surroundings in return.
  • Smile – Makes sense, right?  You want to appear welcoming and friendly, and that’s hard to achieve with a scowl or frown.
  • Dress Professionally – It’s easy to just snap a picture with little thought as to what you are wearing, but you need to remember that this picture is the first step in marketing yourself to these students.  They are likely paying good money and want someone who takes this seriously, not someone who looks like they are about to head to the gym.  Feel free to teach in whatever you want (within reason), but you will have more success dressing for this picture like you are going on an interview.
  • Showcase Your Personality – Professional doesn’t have to mean boring, remember, you are trying to stand out in a good way.  Feel free to express yourself, but remember to keep it within reason.


  • Crop an Old Photo – It doesn’t matter if you have a great graduation picture with you in a suit or dress, cropping out your family or friends is going to be noticeable.  Again, the name of the game is professionalism, so spend the time preparing for and taking a new, quality photo.  Your students will thank you.
  • Take the Photo Somewhere Absurd – Again, just because you are wearing nice clothes doesn’t mean the photo is appropriate for courting students.  We recommend using your own home as the backdrop, you have a greater chance of appearing respectable if you’re comfortable with your surroundings.
  • Have Too Much Going on in the Photo – This means no drinks, food, TV, etc.  Did your teacher bring their dog to class when you were in school?  I doubt it.  You want the students to see your face and posture, not be distracted by the beer on the table or reality TV show in the background.

Now that we understand the dos and don’ts, lets take a look at some good and bad pictures.  First up, the good:



Ok, both of these teachers rank highly on a leading profile website and it should be easy to tell why.  They both embody most of the dos on our list – they are professional, simple, and make the teacher appear confident.  The first one does a great job of showing off her personality, while the second one comes across as business oriented and professional.  Also important is the lack of distractions in each picture, each one focuses on the teacher and the teacher alone.

Now let’s take a look at two pictures that rank a little lower and try to figure out why:



Both of these teachers might be extremely skilled, but they are likely not getting as many students as they like because of how they present themselves in their photo.  The first photo has good lighting, but that’s about it – it was taken in a car and in the company of a dog, two things that don’t exactly convey professionalism.  The second appears to be a selfie with less than stellar lighting, and the angle of the teacher is a bit distracting.  Again, photos mean nothing when it comes to teaching abilities, but it’s hard to prove you’re a good teacher when students skip right over your profile.

The moral of the story is this – take a bit of time to set up and capture a decent photo and it will pay off in the end.  You don’t even need someone else there to help, just put on some decent clothes and set the timer on your phone and you will be ahead of the pack.  And just like a bad photo doesn’t equate to a bad teacher, an awesome photo will only take you so far.  It’s the combination of a good profile and skills that will set you far above the rest!

Quincy is one of the founders of ESL Authority, a site dedicated to helping people find traditional and online ESL teaching jobs. 

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