How do I set up my VIPKID classroom? Part 2: PROPS

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When it comes to my VIPKID classroom, I am a minimalist. I have found that the longer I teach, the more efficient I get with consolidating my prop usage and cutting the classroom clutter. I also teach mostly L3 and up, so it is not as much pressure to be  a nonstop  dog and pony show. Many of my props came from Goodwill, but my particular brand of laziness requires easy props that might not always be found thrifting.

Some absolute necessities that are usually easy to find at the dollar store are a couple of dry erase boards, markers and some alphabet flashcards. You could literally get by with just those items, but here are a few things I spent a little extra for and I am glad I invested in.

1) Magnetic Tin Sets

I love love love these. I have a set for faces, clothes, shapes, and furniture. I use them in lessons and as reward systems. I think these were one of my best investments. They are easy to keep together and don’t take up much space.

2) Magnetic Tape

I soon discovered that I could save some serious money  by creating sets of magnets myself for various units that I couldn’t find sets for. I also made some pretty sweet rewards. I printed them out, glued them onto index cards to make them less flimsy, cut them out and stuck some of this magnetic tape to the back. I like this tape because it is a good width and you can tear it off of the roll just like regular tape. I have made several sets of magnets and still have over half the roll. I found these AWESOME FREE graphics from Mimicry that made making these sets so much easier. They have everything from food to faces. I particularly loved the ice creams and cupcakes for easy rewards.

3) Supplemental Flash Cards

You can get by with just the basic alphabets, but with Target’s dollar spot and cheap Amazon cards, there’s no reason not to splurge a little. I have flashcard sets for wild animals, farm animals, colors, time, multiplication, and division. I ALSO have a couple of sets for early finishers like “spot the difference” and “complete the word” style cards that are easy to integrate into lower and higher level conversations. Here are a few sets worth taking a look at.


4) A puppet!

Even upper level students can be coerced to smile with a halfway decent puppet from time to time. They are great for encouraging role playing with younger kids and setting up conversation patterns for those little stinkers that won’t stop repeating. I personally love the selection from Manhattan Toy Company because the mouths are quite obvious when they move. And they are a little wacky looking. AND you can find them for as little as $7.95 on a good day.


5) A super duper awesome low effort reward system.

This was probably one of my most frivolous splurges, but it has paid off big time. I use this reward every single day and it doesn’t get old. It works for young an old. I use these emoji magnets, and number them 1-12 on my white board. I printed and taped a huge cellphone with a blank screen on the whiteboard. They get to choose an emoji number to add to the screen as they get rewarded. Zero effort and prep time, and the kids love it. I have two separate sets so I can switch it up.



So there you have it. I like props that don’t take up much space and don’t require any real thought or explanation. You REALLY don’t need that much stuff. It is hard not to go overboard at first, but you will find as you go along less really is more. I hope this helps!

Did you miss my first blog about setting up your lighting and background? Check it out HERE.


VIPKID: Is Chinese Social Media for you?

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WeChat and Weibo are taking the VIPKID groups by storm. Teachers are gushing and gloating…and pleading  for followers and friends. I will admit I am getting slightly annoyed with it all. It is setting up an unrealistic precedent for many of us teachers who enjoy making our wages WITHOUT all of the extra curriculars dragging down our hourly pay rate.

It is bad enough that we have the Facebook hole and Hutong trap to fall into. Now we are being pushed into the expectation to also spend what little free time we have entertaining the parents and students OUTSIDE of the classroom. Nope.  No thank you. Not for me. Here’s why.

First of all, VIPKID HIGHLY DISCOURAGES THIS. I have been here for almost a year, and it was the policy when I was hired. They have also stated it time and again in numerous ticket responses about the issue,  and it is for the very same reasons I am against it. Everyone keeps saying “Oh, but we’re independent contractors.” Yes. This is true. But we work for a company who has expectations of our conduct, and they can still FIRE YOU if they don’t like what you are doing.

Next point. You are putting yourself in a place of vulnerability. VIPKID can’t (or probably won’t) protect you if a parent makes allegations of inappropriate conduct because you went against their recommendations..and…oh right, you are an INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR. For me this is a common sense thing. You would not chat with your students outside of class on a social media platform in a real school, and it is not appropriate now just because VIPKID an online program. I took virtual classes in middle school and high school. Do you think I had access to my teachers personal contact information? Of course not. All communication was done through the framework of the course for my protection and the protection of the teacher. It is unfortunate, but this is the world we live in.

I see a lot of teachers saying, “Well, I am just adding parents so I don’t see a problem.” It is a huge problem, especially from the company standpoint. Now you run the risk of being asked to tutor outside of VIPKID (whether free of charge or for money). How many businesses want to keep a contractor who steals it’s clients?  I know that is not what the majority of teachers are DOING, but I have seen more than a handful allude to this already, and it will only continue to grow as a problem as more teachers take the plunge into Chinese social media.

I don’t believe it is all bad. I understand the desire to build relationships with your students and their families, and to understand their lives better. I also think this is a great marketing tool for new teachers having a tough time filling up schedules and getting followers. HOWEVER, I feel like going through the company and requesting a platform to connect with parents and students is much safer. I don’t think the solution for this is to sneak around and hope you don’t get caught. They listen to us. They really do. Anytime the teachers rise up with something, VIPKID comes up with a solution, and I feel like they will for this as well.

I just don’t see enough benefit to outweigh the risks, but that is just my opinion. I enjoy keeping my hourly rate high, which also means that I like minimal prep, minimal grading times, and minimal outside contact with parents…just like with my own classroom IRL. I am NOT judging other teachers who take this route, however, I would proceed with extreme caution in this matter.


How do I set up my VIPKID classroom? Part 1: Lighting and Backgrounds

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 9.36.50 PMNow that you are hired, you have some decisions to make. How much are you willing to spend to make the perfect online classroom environment? It doesn’t have to be as much as you think. You will see pictures of teachers with custom classrooms decked to the gills with everything under the sun (that probably cost upwards of $1000). Then there are people like me who may have spent a total of $150 on setup, accessories, and props over two contracts.


One of the top priorities you should have is looking professional in the classroom. Chinese culture is very particular about appearances, and if you look the part you will get more bookings. I know that is part of the reason I have always been so successful in that area. All of us know this world is more forgiving of  beautiful things and people, as unfair as that may be.

This can be done with effective lighting and a nice background. I have many years of experience as a photographer, so this part came naturally to me. Don’t waste your time with elaborate halo selfie lights and 15 lamps set up all around you. All you need is one light. A simple fluorescent umbrella light will give you everything you need. Position your light high and slightly to one side to mimic the way the sun would hit you naturally.

The great thing about these is that the stand is skinny and can fit into tight places. I have mine set up behind my desk. Here is my recommendation for a light that is cost effective and does the job. I have this one and it is perfect (and you can’t beat $23 for the whole set up!). You can also upgrade to a 60 watt bulb if you think you need more juice.

If you are skeptical, there are also kits with two lights that won’t break the bank, but you really don’t need that much light. I recommend this set because it comes with a third, smaller table top stand if you need more flexibility. This set is $43 on Amazon.

This last option is great if you want to get everything at one time and you are too lazy to put together some type of background yourself (Hey, I’m not judging!). It is a two light set up WITH a background stand AND a plain, white wooden background. I am in a space that forces me to hang a background behind me, so if I had not already had the umbrella lights and a stand from my previous photography work, I would have grabbed this up in a heartbeat. It costs a little more at $87, but you are guaranteed to look like a pro.

You may be asking yourself why you are buying photography supplies to teach English online, but it actually makes total sense. You are teaching LIVE ON CAMERA. You don’t just have to look good for one snap…You need to be on your game for 25 minutes at a time. I promise this is one of the best investments you can make for yourself. I am able to teach with my computer’s built in camera *gasp* with high quality just by making sure I had great lighting and a nice background.

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My particular set up is using one umbrella light, an old rolling clothes rack and some large plastic dollar store chip clips to secure my backdrop. I like being able to roll my background away into the closet if I have company coming over so they don’t think I am insane. Another reason I like the hanging backdrop is that I can change it out in about two minutes if I get tired of it. Make sure you get a 4×5 or larger background or it might not fill the whole screen.

There are literally hundreds of awesome “hanging tapestry” options for less than $10 on Wish if you don’t mind waiting for them to come in. There are some nice options on Amazon also, but they cost a little more. I have even seen some teachers save money by using shower curtains!

Here are my top picks for some awesome backgrounds you can’t go wrong with between $8 and $20.



Click here to check out Part 2 about Props!

On another side hustle note….MTurk anyone?

While I have not been faithful to VIPKID these past months, I am always loyal to my hustle. I needed to find something that was low maintenance and not very time consuming that could also be done from the comfort of my room with a laptop or phone or tablet. Enter Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Work so mind numbingly menial they couldn’t even get a monkey to do it. However this couch potato is more than willing.

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First of all, lower your expectations. You’re not going to get rich turking by ANY means. The concept is this. Perform a multitude of short tasks for pennies that eventually add up to dollars. You will have to push yourself to hit minimum wage. BUT here’s the thing. I do this during time I would normally be jacking off on my phone looking at Facebook anyway when the baby is asleep.

Some of the tasks are actually fun. Sample work so far includes: detailing shopping receipt prices and items; looking at pictures of faces and deciding what emotion they are portraying; coming up with questions in relationship to verbs in a sentence structure; and my least favorite so far, creating bounding boxes around shipping label codes and tracking numbers. You can find anything from transcription work to university study participation. I enjoy the variety. I also enjoy that most tasks only take a few minutes, so in the event of an upset baby it is easy to finish quickly OR just set the damn computer down.

The more you turk, the more turkey you can make…Wow that was bad, but I can’t bring myself to delete it. If you are unable to decode my terrible pun, that just means the more jobs you do, the more access you get to higher paying work. Anyway, I say there is no harm in it if you are interested. I think of it as little mind exercises and only try to take jobs I find somewhat interesting. There are thousands of tasks available at any given time so there is bound to be something that tickles your fancy.


Taking a break from VIPKID: Why did you do it?

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So many of my previous blogs outlined my glorious life and work schedule as a VIPKID teacher…and then it went silent for awhile. Being a full time teacher in real life with a new baby finally caught up with me. For the months of October and November I racked up a total of two classes. Yep. Two. I took a break. I needed it.

Over the summer I had been completely consumed with the cult like nature of the company. It is still amazing, don’t get me wrong, but I felt like I was starting to neglect other more important aspects of my life. I did not feel comfortable with how often I had to choose between a “one apple rating”  or letting my kid cry.

I really put on the breaks back in September when the company announced “little helpers” were not welcome in the classroom. That had been a saving grace for me when my baby woke up crying unexpectedly at the end of a class and I could just pull him on my lap and finish the lesson. VIPKID made it very clear that it did not look kindly on those of us that kept our kids too close during teaching, and unfortunately, we just aren’t there yet with leaving him alone in his room. Sorry. But not sorry.

It also didn’t help that my little man has been sick as much as he has been healthy these last couple of months. Every mom knows that a baby’s unpredictable sleep pattern is even more unpredictable when they don’t feel good. He needed me more than I needed the extra money.

Now that I have had some time to recover from the exhaustion of the past 10 months, I am recharged and ready to dip my toes in again. The next few weeks I am going to start easing my baby boy into his own bed (still in my room) and try to add a few classes each week. Naturally the holidays have slaughtered what was left of my finances, so it feels like a good time to get back in it.

My advice…if you are feeling burned out, just step back. Step away from the computer. Stop clicking those 24 hour slots. It will all be there when you get back. I promise. It won’t make you any less of a teacher or person. I had to step away from a lot of the VIPKID social circles as I took this break, because they have an uncanny way of making you feel inferior when you aren’t logging a hundred classes a week. Whatevs. My baby is only a. baby once, and I only have this one body to take care of him with. As I always say, do what works for you.

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Donations for Hurricane Relief: I want to help, but what do I do?

Donations…During an event like this, most people want to help in some way, and usually the most convenient way is a monetary donation…However, I want to encourage my fellow humans to choose how they donate with care…Do your research please. Make sure you are putting money into the community, not into the pockets of those who are already wealthy. When I see on TV that the Red Cross is asking for monetary donations instead of supplies, that makes me concerned. It is BS. You need to know where your money is going…if you can’t physically buy and take supplies somewhere, check out some of the Amazon Wish Lists from local organizations, donate money directly to a local organization, or at least choose a national one with a good reputation of doing what they say they will do. There are so many ways to help, and the need is not going to go away anytime soon. Be smart with your money and donations, and don’t let your kind hearts be taken advantage of.

As a Houston resident, I feel extreme guilt for the massive media attention to our city, and the lack thereof for the smaller communities affected by this disaster. Don’t forget the little people. They need it more than anyone else. My personal favorite is the Texas Diaper Bank…I know that my donations will  help families all over Texas.

Here is a good place to start. Notice that the Red Cross isn’t mentioned on this…or many other lists of places to put your money…Just saying…


When do you sleep? Whenever my schedule says I can.

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I never gave much thought to schedules before motherhood. Sure, I was punctual and got to work on time, but I was always more of a “go with the flow” type girl when it came down to the events of daily life. Now I would not get anything done without them. You get to a point where it is just too much to remember if you don’t write it down. A schedule doesn’t have to be planned out to the hour (like mine), but finding a way to give yourself concrete goals and direction for each day/week will help you tremendously in managing  your life AND stress levels.

Here are two the schedules I use so you can get an idea of what may (or may not) work for you. Since I am off during the summer from my public school job, my current schedule has been a dream!

Summer Schedule:

4:00AM – Wake up to nurse the baby, snooze for 30 more minutes.

4:30AM – Wash my face, slap on some lipstick, and prep for my online classes.

5:00AM -6:30AM – Teach online.

6:30AM-7:00AM -Nurse the baby.

7:00AM-8:30AM -Teach online some more.

9:00AM-10:00AM – Catch an hour nap with the baby if he doesn’t wake up when I get back in bed. *This only happens because I trained  my baby to stay up LATE so I could teach longer in the mornings.*

After 10:00AM, the day is spent taking care of the baby, juggling housework, bills, errands, eating, and OCCASIONALLY another nap with the baby around 1PM if I am feeling exhausted. Usually though, I like to take this hour for some “me time” rather than sleep. You know, the finer things in life, like showering with the possibility of shaving my legs.

5:00PM – Baby and Mommy Power Nap!!!

8:00PM – Supper time and then I bathe the baby.

9:00PM – 10:30PM – Daddy gets home and takes the baby while I teach online.

11:00PM – Nurse the baby to sleep, watch 30 minutes of TV to relax (low volume with subtitles…better than nothing).

12:00AM – I finally go to sleep. Rinse, wash, repeat.

I am averaging 6-7 hours per sleep every 24 hours. It is broken into chunks, but it works. Unfortunately, in a few weeks I go back to real life, but I have a schedule for that too!


Regular School Year Schedule:

4:30AM – Wake up and shower for work, pack the daycare bag, and prep any morning classes.

5:00AM – Nurse the baby.

5:30AM -7:00AM – Teach online.

7:00AM – Wake the baby, nurse, and get him ready.

7:30AM – Drop baby off at daycare.

7:45 AM – Arrive at school, pump milk.

8:15AM –  Classes  begin.

11:45AM-12:15PM – Lunch and pump break. (Yes, I eat while milk squirts out of my body.)

12:15PM-3:15PM Classes.

3:15PM-4:00PM (Monday/Wednesday/Thursday) – Evening break. I do lesson planning on Monday. I have been teaching in this position for 5 years now, so most of my planning is done. I also take full advantage of our para and have her make my copies and help grade tests. Other days during the week if I feel exhausted I nap under my desk for 30 minutes. (I have no shame. I have floor pillows and the whole shebang.)

3:15PM (Tuesday and Friday) – I am allowed to leave early since I have a shorter break than the other teachers, so on Tuesdays and Fridays I peace out and spend extra time with my baby.

4:00PM-4:30PM- Work after school tutorials for extra money on MWTh.

3:30PM or 4:45PM – Pick up baby from daycare.

5:00PM – Nurse the baby/ Baby and Mommy Power Nap!!!

6:00PM-7:30PM – We eat supper, relax a little, and then I wash up dishes/throw on some laundry while the baby plays. He is finally old enough to entertain himself for a few minutes.

7:30PM – Bathe the baby.

8:00PM – Nurse the baby to sleep. (He comes home exhausted from daycare and starts sleeping earlier again.)

9:00PM – 10:00PM – Teach online.

11:00PM – I sleep.

I try to average 7-8 hours of sleep during the school year because I honestly need the energy. When I am fatigued, I cut out the night classes and go to sleep early. I DO NOT WORK SATURDAY NIGHTS OR SUNDAYS. NOPE. NOT GOING TO DO IT.

And there you have it, my life scheduled down to the minute. Do I always follow the script? Nope. Life happens. But I try my best to make sure I take care of my baby AND myself each day.



Goodbye, Chester. You didn’t know me, but I knew you well.

I am not going to say much about the epidemic of musician suicides, but this one hits hardest for me so far. This band was with me through the roughest patches of my life, at my lowest points of depression and addiction through high school and college. They put into words the things that I felt but could not say out loud. RIP Chester. I am sad for you and  your family, but I understand more than anyone.

I see a lot of people writing angry things about what you did. They have obviously never been in that position. Anyone who thinks suicide is a “cowardly” way out has never known just what type of mental state or amount of willpower it takes to go through with such an act.

Mental illness is a disease, but no one will talk about it. Depression is a dirty word that makes people uncomfortable, so we sit in silence while it consumes us. It is more acceptable to talk about an STD than it is to talk openly about depression. People that don’t suffer from it don’t understand why you can’t just get over it. You don’t get over it. You learn to live with a piece of yourself missing or medicate yourself to the point of being a zombie. Some of us deal better than others, but it never goes away.

Your music always gave me comfort that someone else felt the way I did, and even though I didn’t know you personally, I felt less alone. Thank you.

VIPKID: A Quiz and a Mock Class

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You got the interview…you passed the Demo Class…They even sent you a contract!!! Time to teach, right? WRONG. There is one more phase to the multi-level hiring process at VIPKID.

Teacher Prep. First, you will have a couple of days to review all of the teaching prep material and take a short quiz. You can take it multiple times if you need to. *Tip* The quiz is primarily about technology and standards, so make sure you read and watch everything from these two sections of the prep material.  I would also recommend reviewing the curriculum introduction for Level 2. They do not ask you specifically about curriculum in the quiz, so if you want to book your mock AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, I would get the quiz out of the way and go back and review the “Theory” for each level later once you have booked your Mock Class. The booking times for this are much more flexible because most of the Mock Class Mentors are American.  You will have six days after completing the quiz to do your mock.

The Mock Class. If you do AMAZINGLY well at your first Mock Class, you will be offered a contract and begin teaching. This doesn’t happen often, so don’t get discouraged if you need to do Mock 2. If you do a good job and the practicum instructor feels that you have the talent, but they believe you need to work on a few things, you will continue on to the Mock 2 class to prove your ability to take constructive criticism and apply it to your skill set.

So what can you expect at your first Mock Class? It is basically an extension of everything you did in the demo, except this time you will teach a full 25 minute class. Your target audience is still a very young student with little or no English speaking ability. Practice the same methods I discussed for the demo class. Use all of the feedback you received from your demo and apply it now! Also, if you don’t have a background and light set up yet, you probably should. See what I use HERE

Thisis what you can expect:

  1. The entire process is one hour long. Make sure you are there EARLY. I can not stress the importance of being on time and prepared enough.
  2. The first five minutes you will introduce yourself briefly to your Mock Class Mentor. You will most likely see an American face at this stage.
  3.  You will have about 15 minutes to teach slides 1-14. Timing is everything. Anticipate approximately one minute per slide. You can spend less time on the first few warm up slides to give yourself some breathing room later. If you  find yourself falling behind, make sure you at least touch on one or two of the items on each slide. Remember to encourage your student to speak in complete sentences, even if they are just repeating what you say.
  4. Once you have finished slide 14, your mentor will stop you and give feedback. Listen carefully to what they say, because you will be graded on your ability to APPLY this information in the second half of the mock. I was allowed to ask questions at this phase, but I was so nervous my mind went blank. That’s ok! But if you like to be super prepared, have some questions jotted down before you even start.
  5. Now you will finish the lesson slides 15-23. Again, USE THE FEEDBACK YOU WERE GIVEN BY THE MENTOR. If you do NOTHING ELSE, make sure to demonstrate that you can take their critique and apply it on the fly (with a smile of course)
  6. If your timing was good and  you finish on time,  your mentor will give you feedback again for the last 10 minutes and ask you questions about how you think you did, what you would improve upon, etc. If your mentor has to stop you before you finish, it’s not the end of the world. Use that as a talking point during the feedback.
  7. AND NOW, YOU WAIT! You will receive an email with your results, just like with the interview/demo. It could be hours or it could be days. The email will explain whether a) you are hired,  b) you passed to Mock 2, or c) you just aren’t what the company is looking for right now. If for some reason you fall into the last category, don’t be discouraged. We have more applicants than ever which means it is HARD to get through. The good news is,  you can take everything you learned and apply again with a new email address, or just wait out the three months.

I know, I know. This sounds like a lot. Too many hoops. But trust me, it’s necessary and totally worth it. Teaching in an online environment is a whole different animal than anything you’ve ever done before, and you will be grateful on your first day when you nervously await your first, sweet little Chinese student.

I will admit there are WAY TOO MANY “helpful” videos out there at this point. Save yourself some time and don ‘t get too caught up in the youtube hype. I only used a few to prepare for the mock, and Hope Williams was my favorite teacher simply because she teaches in a style that I am comfortable with. I also watched Sharon Tavares, and what do you know, she was my mock mentor! I want to stress how important it is not to copy these teacher videos exactly. Your mentors have seen them all (and some of them might have even made a few!). They want to see YOU. So if you watch a ton of videos, remember to use the information and make the class your own. There is more competition than ever for these positions, so bring them YOU, because you are unique!

***Please keep in mind that VIPKID regularly changes the hiring process. Things might not go down exactly as I have described. They’ve added some options that I can’t speak to because I did not go through them. However, the tips I have given here still stand and will help you get hired.

You want to teach with VIPKID? CLICK HERE to apply.

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