My journey to teaching English online was not a traditional route.
Seven months before I had a regular 9-5 kind of job with a steady paycheck. I was working as a chemist and I enjoyed my job. But I struggled with a desire to do more with my life. To travel and really see and experience the world with my husband and 2 children – more than the 3 weeks of vacation that I earned each year. I didn’t want to wait until we were retired and then hopefully have enough money to allow us to travel a couple of times a year.
We Changed Our Lives Entirely
After intensive soul-searching, hundreds of hours of heart-to-heart discussions, hours upon hours of searching online, and countless hours of analyzing our finances, my husband and I decided that we wanted to make a change. A BIG change. We decided to sell everything and travel the world (read more about our journey here). The only problem: how to pay for it all. We weren’t independently wealthy. We didn’t have tons of savings. And we hadn’t won the lotto. We didn’t even own a house that we could sell. All that being said, we knew that if we chose our locations based on cost of living, that we could find very inexpensive places to live while we worked on building our business.
Nevertheless, it was a little nerve-racking to “retire” from my job with no solid source of income. We had started an online business, but it wasn’t bringing in steady income and that made both of us nervous, extremely nervous. To allay our fears, we came up with “Plan B”: to teach English online. This was to be a last resort, but it gave us the courage to step away from the steady income and launch our life of adventure.
Fast forward to 5 months into our travels. The business that we had been working tirelessly on had tanked because of the COVID-19 virus. Our monthly expenses were higher than our monthly income and we needed that to stop. On to Plan B.
Plan B Enacted
This was something that I had been dreading. I DID NOT want to teach English. I wasn’t a teacher by training, and it wasn’t something that I had ever aspired to do. Nevertheless, it was what needed to be done. We did our research. There were a lot of companies out there that provide services online for teaching English. However, without a degree in education, most of them wanted you to take a TESOL (teaching English as a Second Language) course before hiring you. These classes are available online, but the shortest one that we found was 120 hours. Not what I wanted to do!
There was one reputable company that didn’t require the TESOL course: VIPKIDS. Looking into their requirements, the only things that you needed were: one, to be from the USA or Canada; and two, to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Meeting both of those requirements, I was ready to apply.
SO glad this interview wasn't in person...
The process was different than I had expected. After filling out some info, the next step involved doing a 5-minute teaching demo. I was so nervous about my demo that I was sweating profusely. I needn’t have worried; the interview was done by a VIPKID rep in China and was painless. I had time to ask questions before I started and after I finished the woman gave me some feedback about improvements that I could make. She also went through some questions about my level of experience with teaching (it’s not required, but mentoring, or home-schooling count as experience for VIPKID).
Preparation of "My Classroom"
The next step was to teach a 15-minute “mock class” from slides that they provided. But before I could do this I needed to find some materials to act as a background for my “classroom”. A lot of people recommend going to the dollar store and finding some posters or large letters, etc. And that’s a great idea – if you have access to a dollar store. Unfortunately for me, we were in Vietnam and dollar stores don’t exist there. We made a trip to a “Western” mall and we found a bookstore. We avidly scoured the shelves looking for anything that might work as a background. While the choices were very limited, we were able to find a laminated map (written in Vietnamese, but still a world map!) and a large ABC poster with bright pictures for each letter. A couple of sheets of paper and some markers later and I had a classroom for “Teacher Karen”!
I had the choice to select which level I wanted to teach and I opted for the level 4/5 students – ones who have some knowledge of English and are learning to be conversant. There is more focus on grammar rules than with the younger ones, but they are typically able to carry on some conversation. To give myself the best chance to pass this part of the interview, I signed up for, and took, a free 1-hour interactive training run by current VIPKID teachers. It was well worth my time as they went over what expectations they have for teachers regarding the types of actions/responses that the interviewee would be looking for.
"I totally Bombed that!"
I nervously prepared for my interview, making sure that I had appropriate props for both sets of slides (you only present one lesson, but you have to be prepared for two) and knew where I could extend the lesson to teach more than was given on the slide (this is an important area in VIPKID’s learning – you have to be able to adjust the level of the lesson to the student’s ability and sometimes that means teaching them way more than is given). During the mock class I thought I bombed. The interviewee who pretended to be a 5-year-old Chinese student asked me to explain the word “enough”. Let’s just say that I stumbled through that one!! I was thoroughly unprepared to answer that question in simple English. (I asked her after the mock class was over and she explained that she often uses props and examples to explain a concept like “enough”. For example, she might show her water bottle and say that she was thirsty. After drinking it all, she would say that she was no longer thirsty, that she had “enough”. I have used that way of explaining many times in the classroom.)
And I was in??
To my surprise, within a day, I had an email saying I had passed the interview and just needed to complete all the paperwork. (As a side note, if you don’t pass this part, then you are able to try it again and again.) On diving into the required documents (identification, proof of your degree, a marriage license for me because I had changed my name since graduating and a current teaching license if applicable) I found that if you don’t have a valid teaching license in the US or Canada, then they require you to take their own form of TESOL. This was much less intensive than the other online courses that I had seen and involved watching some videos, reading some articles and then being able to answer some multiple-choice questions. While it did take some time to get through all the material, it was nowhere near the 120 hours for the other courses and I was able to complete it within several hours.
Once everything was submitted – including a couple of photos and a short video (for the parents to see), VIPKIDS ran a background check and I was through the process. I was officially able to teach English online to students in China.
The next step was to open up my availability. VIPKIDS allows you to select the times when you would like to teach. They have hours that they designate as peak time (PT) and peak peak time (PPT) when the most students are likely to be taking classes (therefore the best time to open up your availability), but they don’t require you to have any of these times open. [The most popular times for students in China are M-F: 5-9 pm and Saturday-Sunday: 9am-9pm, Beijing time.] I opened a lot of slots and waited. Within two days I had my first “booking” and I needed to be a “real” teacher.
My first REAL Class
I was so nervous before my first class! Thankfully, VIPKIDS compiles sample classes from other teachers (who have received consistently good reviews on that particular lesson) and you are able to watch through their entire lesson. I avidly watched through the two lessons that were available and gathered up some props. Given that we are traveling long-term, we don’t carry a lot of extra anything. I scrounged through my children’s few “toys” and was able to come up with a small stuffed frog, a stuffed dolphin and a miniature Pikachu toy. These, along with a card game of “Would you Rather?” were what I had at my disposal, and I really didn’t want to buy anything else knowing that it would have to be added to our luggage and taken to the next place.
I got through that first class – sweating profusely again!! – and the next three that followed the first week. Each class became easier and I was able to spend only a few minutes looking through the slides and familiarizing myself with the material presented, rather than the hour + that I spent with the first class. The following week I was up to 15 classes and had to learn how to end classes on time, as I had 4 in a row. [VIPKID requires that you teach for a minimum of 25 minutes; if you start early, it doesn’t count toward your 25 minutes and classes begins promptly on the hour and the half hour. Being late is highly discouraged and VIPKID offers a $1/class incentive for arriving and starting class on time – Beware! Their clock is ALWAYS at least 1.5 minutes ahead!] Watching the clock in the top corner of the screen became a habit and with a little practice I was able to find a rhythm that worked for finishing on time.
The first paycheck was really nice
Unlike many other ESL teaching platforms that only pay once a month, VIPKID allows you the option to get paid every week, thereby drastically cutting down the time for that first check! The money is deposited into your account via wire transfer
I also quickly realized that it was NOT the torture that I had envisioned it to be! Most of the kids were very friendly and eager to learn. Some were reserved and I made it my goal to try to coax a smile out of them. Shortly after starting I realized that some of the students I was teaching were not capable of answering a simple “would you rather” question, so I got out some paper, scissors and tape and made a tic-tac-toe board that I could use for a reward.
And the rest just kind of fell into place. Within a couple of weeks I was up to 50 classes for the week and had a couple of regular students. One of the things that I found to be very beneficial for me was joining a couple of VIPKID Facebook groups. It was a great way to discuss any concerns with other teachers and just reading through the posts yielded so many great tips (like fill out the feedback for the assessment classes as the class is in progress).
Additionally, I found a great piece of advice for filling out the feedback form that is required for each class that you teach. On each form there are a couple of multiple-choice questions about the students ability is several areas (speaking/listening, social studies/science, reading/writing, grammar and sometimes math – depending on the lesson) along with blank spaces for a response to the parents, tips for the next teacher and comments to the students “learning partner”. Only the multiple-choice questions and the comments to the parents are required. Initially I was not filling out the comments to the learning partners, but after watching a video from one of the FB groups, I started filling that section out with honest feedback and my number of bookings went through the roof! One week I had more than 85 classes scheduled – and that included taking a day and a half off!
In the end, it was a great decision
Even though this was never a path that I envisioned myself taking, I have found that I really enjoy teaching these students! Seeing them grow in their abilities as well as their confidence is so rewarding! I have found that I grow attached to some of them and really look forward to seeing them again. Of course there are always a few who try my patience and test my ability to remain calm and not try to reach through the screen and strangle them, but those are really few and far between. I make it my goal to try to get each student to smile, even if they’ve had a bad day. I am more than happy to lose at tic-tac-toe to make them feel good, or make a silly animated face to demonstrate a concept while trying to get a laugh.
In the end, Plan B was a really good plan and afforded us the financial security that we needed at the time to continue doing what we love – traveling the world with our two kids.
If you are interested in reading more about our story and our adventures, CHECK OUT OUR BLOG HERE.
If you are interested in joining VIPKID yourself, CLICK THE LINK HERE. I would be happy to help walk you through the process. For using my link with VIPKID, you’ll also get a $25 signing bonus!