My VIPKID Journey
How I found out about it, the hiring process, the training, and what the job has been like
When Bill first read about VIPKID in Business Week, he immediately showed me the article. He knows that I love to teach and I wasn't in love with the job I had.
I think when a lot of people see ads for VIPKID on Facebook, they worry that it may be a scam. So many of these work from home gigs are pretty sketchy, so you do have to be careful. Finding out about it in Business Week, seeing that Kobe Bryant had made a huge contribution to it, that it was a strong company that was expected to last, and that they had a viable business plan -- those were things that gave us confidence that this was legit.
On top of that and the teaching aspect, there was also the fact that teachers worked from home ... which is really appealing to me. I've always been something of a homebody and Lyme has made me even more so. The flexibility was also extremely attractive. Bill and I don't want our work to be our life ... we want it to support our lives. I'm an author and want very much to make that my full-time vocation, but it's not something you get hired to do. This job would obviously give me the time to write as well.
The pay was also a big plus. I could work less hours and make almost twice as much money as I was at the job I had when we first heard about VIPKID. Trade in a job that was making me miserable for one that pays better for less of a time commitment? Why not?
I applied and was immediately asked to schedule an interview, but I shelved it for a month or two. I just felt guilty leaving my old job because my boss had talked a few times about the investment she made in each employee. However, within a few weeks, a way was opened for me to leave without causing a problem, so I was free to continue the application process with VIPKID.
I scheduled my interview and was hired on the spot. Now, the interview was pretty wild. The Chinese interviewer pretended to be a 5-year-old who didn't know English. A very hyper 5-year-old. So I had to really keep things moving while trying to get this non-English-speaking "child" to follow my instructions and learn a few English words. To be honest, it was a bit stressful and hard, so I was a little surprised when she offered me the job. At that point, I kind of wondered what I had gotten myself into! (I'm telling you this so you're prepared and so you understand this is normal if you find the interview overwhelming.) I have never had an actual student who was that exhausting, so it was an excellent test of one's mettle.
The next step was to schedule a mock class. This may actually take place now before hiring, but back when I was hired, it came afterward. It was nice to know that my job wasn't riding on this, but that it was more like training. I watched a ton of Youtube videos by other VIPKID teachers ... some of which were mock class teachers themselves. This really helped me understand what to expect, what they were looking for, and what I was supposed to do.
VIPKID has you also do some reading, watch some of their training videos and take quizzes in preparation. Between those and the Youtube videos, I really had more than enough information. I made some props, bought an orange t-shirt and was ready for my mock class.
When I went to it, I could see the American teacher, but we couldn't hear each other. Part of the purpose of the mock class is to check your internet connection and equipment. It's important to be able to maintain a smooth connection with China. Well, we worked on different possibilities for about 15 minutes, with her writing notes to me on her white board. I wasn't able to resolve the problem and was told to get better internet and reschedule.
This was fairly discouraging and I was a little afraid that I might not be able to do the job. We lived in a rural area of the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake at the time. Internet service there is notoriously bad. It took two weeks to switch companies, and that did the trick.
When I took my first mock class, we started with the teacher patiently answering my many questions. After that, I taught half a class for young children. She spent a few minutes evaluating and making suggestions, then I taught the rest of the class.
Part of what they want to see in this process is how quickly you learn and how well you integrate suggestions.
The VIPKID classroom is a fast-paced environment and you have to be able to make snap decisions on how you will adjust the lesson to fit the student's level, abilities, temperament, learning style, and current mood. For most teachers, I think this is something we do somewhat instinctively. I don't spend time in my classes thinking through this. I just adjust without really thinking about it. If you have experience teaching one-on-one (such as tutoring or homeschooling), you have probably honed this skill quite well.
I was then passed on for my second mock class. In this class, I taught half a class for young children, was evaluated, and then taught half a class for older children. In each mock class, I had a different teacher. They each had their own style, ideas, and suggestions to contribute.
I want to be honest and tell you that at this point, I was completely overwhelmed. I was really afraid that I wouldn't be able to do this well. It took a lot of energy, and because of Lyme, that was in short supply for me. It also seemed like there was just a lot to learn and like the standard was almost impossibly high. It seemed like there was so much to juggle in 25 short minutes: The lesson materials, keeping track of time, the rewards ... and hey, the student. I had a bit of a fear meltdown, but decided to at least try.
And I'm so glad I did!
It only took a couple classes for me to realize that this wasn't anywhere near as hard as I thought. The lessons naturally flow from page to page. There are usually 25 pages, so if you pace yourself to do about 1 page per minute, you're going to come out just fine. Some pages go a little more quickly and some more slowly, but keep within 2 minutes of that mark.
At first, it takes a lot of time to prep for the classes. You need to read through the slides and the teaching tips, so you know what it's about and what you're doing. But after a while, you start to understand how the whole thing works, and you don't need so much prep. After a few months, I was able to go into my classes without looking at them ahead of time, and now, I teach classes I've never seen without needing any prep beforehand. I keep my collection of props close at hand, all around me, so I can grab what I need while I'm teaching. (More about that on my tools page.) What I'm saying is that there's a learning curve and it really helps to understand that. More on that later.
Besides it being easier than I expected, I loved the kids -- and they loved me. The whole thing was just so affirming, which met a deep need that I had after my last very negative job. Spending time with kids who enjoyed being with me and then getting wonderful comments from their parents ... so uplifting! I'm still teaching some of those same children 9 months later.
At first, I wasn't sure how many classes I could teach at a time. I scheduled a half hour break between classes ... which ended up being totally unnecessary. It wasn't long before I was doing 6-8 classes in a row ... which was a bit of a challenge, but completely doable. I had a full schedule very quickly and by the time summer rolled around, I was exceeding my financial goals. And loving it.
One of the things that helped was to see myself not only as a teacher, but as an actor. I'm an introvert with a capital I. I would be happy to see no one but my husband most days. For this job, you need to be very outgoing. So I put on my acting cap and acted outgoing. I do things with these kids that I have never done around any other person in my life. I dance. I act totally crazy. I don't think I've ever laughed or smiled so much in my life. And laughter is great medicine.
In the first few months, I spent a LOT of time in prep and writing feedback. You have to understand that I tend to be extremely detail-oriented and I overdo things. My friend who started teaching just before me didn't spend nearly as much time as I did and she was every bit as successful (maybe more). It's just who I am. But Bill and I realized that I was spending so much time in prep and writing feedback that I had technically split my pay in half as far as an hourly rate. It also wasn't leaving me much time to write.
I had to let go of the massive amount of prep work I was doing and simplify my feedback. I did and the world didn't implode. I still got great ratings from parents and didn't have any problem doing the lesson. I do think, as I said earlier, that you need to put in a great deal of time at first ... just probably not quite as much as I did or for as long.
After a few months, I learned about a wonderful tool called Feedback Panda. I describe this in detail on a different page, but in short, it makes the feedback process incredibly streamlined. I'm able to provide my parents with the detailed feedback I prefer, without taking a huge amount of time. I spend an hour or less a week, setting it up for the entire week, then I'm able to quickly flesh it out during that five minutes between one class and the next. Where I used to spend 1 or 2 hours each day writing up feedback after my classes were finished, I'm now done with my entire day's work within five minutes of the end of my last class. That's a couple more hours for writing ... or if you wanted to spend it teaching more classes, you could also do that.
The most difficult thing for me early on was that I wasn't getting much sleep. I was getting up at 4 at that time, and I had never been very successful at taking naps.
Then I read a book by a sleep doctor, and at the same time, took a productivity workshop. Between the two, I was able to learn to take a siesta every day, and channel my most creative work during my best hours. I learned how to fall asleep in the middle of the day and in less than a week, I was doing much better.
Another challenge as far as energy has been going from daylight savings to standard time and having more darkness in the winter. I'm writing this in January. It's pitch dark for most of my classes, where it was light for most of them during the summer and early fall. It really does make a difference. I find it quite a bit more difficult to teach when it's dark outside, even though my office is well-lit. I think next year, I may invest in one of those happy lamps.
But each of those challenges have been just that: A challenge that can be resolved or overcome. They've not made my experience with VIPKID less exciting or positive; they've just been things I've had to find solutions for.
I teach a few less classes during the winter. That has been more than made up for by the fact that Bill sells more sweaters during the winter. It gives me a little more time to write and market my books.
In August 2017, we moved from Maryland to Eastern Tennessee, just in time to be in the totality zone for the solar eclipse. I let my students and their parents know ahead of time. (Besides disrupting their schedule, a sudden absence without explanation causes those families to worry about their beloved teacher.) I took nearly a week off, didn't lose a single student ... but I sure did miss them.
VIPKID is growing at an astronomical rate. The demand for teachers is high and they're doing things which promise to make it even higher.
We share a dream for making this planet a world of opportunity for all children. It's going to take a whole lot more than 30,000 teachers to do that.
But with astronomical growth comes growing pains. There have been times when the cultural difference between the company and its teachers has caused some difficulties. Some big difficulties. However, one of the things that I love about this company is that their commitment to children is so high that they want to keep their teachers happy. They've also learned that they're greatly improving the lives of the teachers by having this job available and that has encouraged them even more. The company is strongly responsive to the concerns and needs of teachers. There are still some concerns, but they are working on them, and I have every confidence that they'll be resolved.
VIPKID offers many bonuses and incentives. If there are particular time slots that need filling, they offer extra pay, for example. There's a contest each year in which several teachers get fully paid trips to Beijing. We also get paid to bring in other teachers and we're encouraged to help them through the process. VIPKID has told us that the most successful candidates are those who have someone coaching them along. Most of us really enjoy helping others embark on this journey.
One of the amazing things about this company is the sense of community. Look on Youtube and you'll find nearly 24,000 videos made by teachers to help candidates or other teachers. Those videos are extremely helpful to people who are either thinking about joining VIPKID or are in the process of applying, as well as those who are already teaching. I'm doing something similar in these web pages, for people who prefer to read.
The VIPKID community is made up of generous people who inspire generosity. We get to know each other in various ways, from the company forums to Facebook pages which have joined thousands of us together to share ideas and encourage each other.
Which brings me back to the person I started this article with. I have to say that one more thing that makes a huge difference in this job for me is Bill's supportiveness.
He gets up early with me. He brings me breakfast (my kombucha and cheese), and whatever else I need. He sends me messages that say "I love you," which I see throughout my classes. He brags about my teaching and tells me what a great job he thinks I'm doing. He keeps a calendar of my students' birthdays when I happen to find out about them. He listens to my stories of the cute things the kids do or say. He also hears my frustrations and helps me find solutions. And he never pushes me to take on more than I can handle.
There is so much positivity in this job. You get it from the students, from the parents, from the company, from other teachers, and from yourself. Hopefully, you get it from your spouse and/or the other people in your life. It feels good to do something that truly and specifically makes this world a better place. It feels good to laugh and smile and sing and dance, and make a decent living doing that.