Friday, June 23, 2017

10 Things I Learned By Working for VIPKID

"Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going."
‒Rita Mae Brown

Cat was a word and Conner was in the room
For the past two weeks, I have been working with an online ESL company called VIPKID (pronounced V-I-P Kid rather than VipKid like I originally thought).

Basically, what I do is teach English to students in China through an online platform, similar to the Google Hangout interface complete with an interactive whiteboard system. I wasn't sure what to expect when I signed up for it, but the following are ten things I have learned. If you're excited to get started, you can skip this post and sign up here.

1. It is truly a plug-and-play experience.

After the interview process, which I'll elaborate on later, the whole experience became much easier and meaningful. All of the lessons are already developed, so there is no prep involved on your end. I use the VIPKID app to review the lessons and prior student feedback to get myself mentally prepared. The biggest prep work involves thinking about what props to use in the lesson. A full class session runs 25 minutes, which means you need to be pretty spot on with your pacing (each slideshow is about 25-30 slides long). Once class is over, I immediately leave some feedback for the parents about what their child did and my desire to see the student again, and review for the next class. In total, I'm about to get this all done before my next class begins.

2. Props do not have to break the bank.

When I was prepping for my interview process, I saw that the demo videos had a ton of props and I began to worry if it was going to be worth the money if I was spending money on props left and right. Truth be told, I have spent a grand total of $1 on props (a pig in a rocket ship that I found in the clearance section in Walmart). I have Simpsons action figures that I can use to teach about family, for clothing, for he/she/they pronouns, and many other concepts. That pig becomes my "it" pronoun, the prop for the verb "launch", and a piglet in the animal life stages lesson. Look around your house for your kids' toysvip or your classroom. I'm sure you already have tons you can use. I did buy a $15 headset/microphone combo, but iPhone headphones also work. I also made a set of alphabet flashcards on regular index cards.

Homer Simpson, father extraordinaire 
3. The lesson topics vary widely, which helps keep it interesting.

In researching the company, I thought I would just be teaching letter sounds and phonics all the time, but that's been a small part of my work. On a given day, I might be teaching about the phonics of A, B, C, D to one student, about insects to another, and about the moon landing to a third kid. It keeps it fresh to me.  This is a big difference from teaching fourth grade. Every year I teach the same content to a different group of kids, often teaching the same mini-lesson to multiple groups of students in different ways. This variety of lessons exposes me to a wide range of discussion topics, which is fun.

4. Teaching from the comfort of your own home is awesome.

My teaching "uniform" consists of a polo and pajama pants/shorts. I couldn't get away with that in a regular school, but the kids only see you from the waist up. Some people go crazy in decorating the background, but I just do it in my office in the house. It's great to have a 30 second commute from my bed to work. Everything I need is right there and I find myself getting into a flow.

5. You set your own hours.

Originally, I thought I had seen somewhere online that you were required to do a minimum of 15 classes for the company a week. However, there is no minimum. This week, I am doing about thirty classes, but next week I'm only doing six since I will be traveling for most of the week. When I get married later in July and go on our honeymoon, I just won't set the times to "Available." There is no penalty for not being available, but there are some penalties if you say you're available and then change your mind once you are booked. In my case, I am working from 6 am - 10 am everyday (China time is 12 hours ahead of me on the east coast), and plan to do 6 am to 8 am (the time I spent commuting the past two years) when the school year starts. I like that it's in the morning because it gets me up and moving so I don't waste my time sleeping. You can also do evening times, but I'm choosing not to so I have time to relax in summer.

6. The money is a good source of extra income.

Obviously, the reason people do extra jobs is to get extra money. First things first, it's not a scam or an MLM company (so you won't be stuck with a ton of extra inventory to try to sell to your friends). You're hired as an independent contractor, paid monthly, and will get a 1099 for taxes at the end of the fiscal year. The money at VIPKID is pretty nice, especially when you consider you don't have to plan, grade, communicate with administration or families, or most of the "extras" involved in classroom teaching. You can make between $7-9 per 25-minute class, along with incentives. (So if they offer you $8 per class, you'll really be making $16 an hour, before incentives.) For example, they give you an extra $1 per finished class and then an additional $1 for every class if you complete over 45 classes in a month. 45 classes in a month sounds daunting, but that's really only about 2 classes every weekday. As of the writing of this post, I have made over $300 in about two weeks, with only teaching a few classes every morning. You also get paid if a kid doesn't show up to a lesson (which is how I had the time to write this post).

7. The most challenging part is interview process, but it's doable.

The interview process is probably the most daunting experience. When I did it, I had to do an interview with a person in their Chinese call center, in which I had to teach a ten-minute lesson to a grown woman who was acting like she was five. I really hate doing that. Stick me in front of a real child and I'll show you what I can do. I then had to repeat this process two more times (with 25-minute lessons) to two more full grown people. All in all, I completed the whole process in 48 hours. Along the way, they give you feedback to help improve during the lessons and beyond. That being said, none of my classes have been as hard as the interview process was. Imagine that - real kids are easier to work with than play-acted kids. They have changed the interview process slightly since I was hired, so feel free to reach out for extra info.

You'll use lots of gestures
8. It's an immersion program, so you don't need to know Chinese.

Inevitably, when I tell someone that I'm teaching English to Chinese kids, they say, "Wow! I didn't know you knew Chinese!" Spoiler alert - I don't. VIPKID is an immersion program, so you solely speak English the whole time. One of the only requirements is that you're a native English speaker, so if you can speak English, you can do this job. Using props, pictures, repetition, and gestures help to cement the English words in their mind.

9. Teaching online is way different than teaching in real life.

Fourth graders need a lot of explicit direction, lest it turn into a Lord of the Flies situation. In my normal classroom. I give detailed instructions (unless it's a more creative project or something I want them to figure out on their own), review it, and write it up on the board. Not so much with VIPKID. You want to remove all incidental language. "I want you to circle the letter A and say the sound" becomes "Circle A," while holding your hand to your ear. You'll also use a ton of gestures (called TPR - Total Physical Response). While I'm an expressive person, it's hard to make sure I'm remembering to do this always. I try to remember that the lower level the student, the higher my TPR needs to be.

10. The Chinese kids truly want to learn and make your job easy. 

I've been very fortunate. As of this writing, I've taught about 35 students. 33 of them have been stellar, while 2 have had minor behavior incidents that were easily righted. There is a star system built into the classroom to help reward the kids and I also have a superhero sticker chart to give additional rewards. However, I find I don't need to use these as bribes. They really want to learn and always give it their all. They also show such respect and often will thank me when I give them a star. Many of them can extend beyond their lesson. In a recent lesson about insects, we had a discussion about bee stings and how they're not a fun time. Look for these little moments - they are what make it worth it. It's also really cool to learn firsthand about a different culture from the comfort of my own home.

Interested in becoming a VIPKID teacher?

So does this sound like something you'd like to do over the summer or in the mornings/evenings during the school year? I really have yet to see a major downside from working with them. The only requirements are that you are a native English speaker, hold a Bachelor's degree, and have classroom teaching experience. If you'd like to sign up, you can do so here with my referral link. If you have any further questions, feel free to email me or ask me in the comments below.

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