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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VIPKID: How do I pass the Interview and Demo Class?

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Simple answer. PREPARE.

The interview was the most nerve wracking part of this process for me. I had never done anything like this before. It almost felt dirty, performing in front of a camera for someone halfway around the world. I had worked myself all up…and I shouldn’t have. Here is what will happen.

The Steps:

  1. You will receive an email congratulating you on making it to the next step, and then receive instructions on how to schedule the interview and first demo class. You will have several options, but try to do it as quickly as possible. Remember, *most* of the interviewers are in Beijing, so *most* of the times will be early mornings and late night. (They have started having a few American folks do the interview since I applied, so you might get lucky and score a normal time.)
  2. Make sure you review the material that they provide for you. You will immediately have access to the power point slides you will be teaching from. USE THE MATERIAL THEY GIVE YOU IN THE PORTAL. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. GO OVER IT AGAIN AND AGAIN. You will be teaching a lesson that targets a very young child with little or NO English ability. Keep that in mind as you prepare. Practice your pacing. Time yourself. Watch yourself teach (even if you just open the camera on  your computer.).  Watch other VIPKID teachers on Youtube (but be careful which ones…some are not so good…I will share a list of the good ones later on). Have some props. Nothing crazy. All I had was a whiteboard, a stuffed animal, and some dollar store flashcards. For my interview, I had also already set up a small, plain background with some good lighting (Check out my recommendations HERE. Get AN ORANGE SHIRT. Go to Goodwill. Spend a dollar. Wear it backwards if you can’t find one without a logo. That’s what I did (and still do now that I am teaching). It is VIPKID’s official color. If you look like you already have the job, chances are you will project that during the interview and demo class.
  3. The interview will be a total of 30 minutes. You will not have access to the actual teaching platform until about an hour before your interview time (or so they say). I was able to access it four hours early. Your email should have given you a .pdf with detailed instructions on how to get into the platform and use it! Get in there as soon as you can. TEST YOUR EQUIPMENT. Practice things like clicking through the slides, drawing lines and circling on the slides. This is an important skill to demonstrate. The first half of the interview will be basic interview questions…Nothing hard. “Tell me about your education” and “Tell me about your experience with children” were the only two things my interviewer asked me. I had a young Chinese man interview me. They are stationed in a busy call center with many distractions. He looked like he couldn’t WAIT for me to stop talking. Don’t let this intimidate you (because in the last half of the interview he has to pretend to be a 5 year old child in your class). SMILE. Bring lots of energy and animation. Talk at length about your experience with children. For the second half of the interview,  you will present the sample lesson as your interviewer takes on the role of a small Chinese child. My interviewer was easy going and did not give me a hard time. Greet your “student” warmly. Speak slowly. Be energetic! Remember to use SIMPLE LANGUAGE. Try not to add any words that are not on the slides. Use lots of hand gestures, and give praise often. Use the reward system. When I did my interview, you had to draw teeth on a smiley face. Some people may tell you to use your own reward system…Don’t go there yet. Keep it as simple for yourself as possible right now. Try to relax and have fun.
  4. If they cut you off towards the end, don’t worry. They have to keep a tight schedule, and you will (hopefully) soon find out that staying on schedule is a very important part of VIPKID. They will ask if you have any questions. This is your chance to ask anything you want about the company, the process, or even how you did! At the very end, they MIGHT ask you how much money you would like to make per hour. I have heard reports both ways. They asked me, and I told them. I got exactly what I asked for. Obviously, don’t tell them something ridiculous like $40/hour. The current range is $14-$22/ hour. Be sure you justify the amount that you wish to make with your experience. For example, “I would like to make $XX/ hour because_______________________.”.
  5. And that’s it. A little preparation will go a long way in this process.  You will do a lot of work to get hired, but then it will be smooth sailing!

After the interview is over, it could take up to 48 hours to hear anything from the company. I got the results in my email within an hour. They will provide a rubric with what you did well, and where to improve if you advance to the Mock 1 Class. Keep in mind, the Demo Class is where the majority of your points are scored from, WHICH DETERMINES  HOW MUCH MONEY THEY WILL OFFER YOU. Many people with advanced degrees have failed the interview due to lack of preparation for what VIPKID expects. They have standards and a company philosophy just like any other job you have worked at, and you must conform to those standards if you want to survive.

Here are some videos that I found extremely helpful, and in my OPINION, give a good idea of what the company is looking for. These three teachers all have different styles, so you can see some variety and different ways to do things. Click the links below to watch!

Nancy Taylor, Hope Williams, and Jennie Anderson are amazing!


So you got that happy email? Find out about the Mock 1 experience next time!

Interested in starting the process? CLICK HERE to apply!

Did you find this information to be helpful? If so, follow me in WordPress! I am full of good information you didn’t even know you needed.


VIPKID: How do I apply?

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So I clicked that annoying Facebook ad. The initial application process is simple. You must complete a short form that basically only asks for your level of education and experience working with children. I honestly put less than five seconds of thought into my application because I still wasn’t convinced that it was a legitimate offer.

The Application Requirements:

  • You need a Bachelor’s degree. It can be in anything. Seriously.
  • You must have some type experience working with children. Again, this can be ANYTHING. Babysitting, Sunday school, volunteer work…heck, even just being a mom would qualify.
  • You need a webcam, a headset, and good internet. (I got a headset for $7 off of Amazon that has worked perfectly.)
  • The last thing that they stress is that you must be able to work some pretty strange hours. It is no longer a company requirement that you work a certain number of *peak time* shifts, but it is definitely recommended if you ever want to teach a class…especially in the beginning.
  • And that’s it. Really.

Somehow, with the bare minimum of information that I included, I received an email invitation for an interview within one hour of submitting my application. I was so excited! Until I realized this meant an awkward conversation over a webcam to sell myself as the perfect VIPKID teacher.

On the next episode…I tell you how I got through the interview and demo class, and then passed my Mock Class on the first try (which is apparently next to impossible to achieve).

VIPKID: What is it?

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One day (very recently) I was stressing about money. I have a new baby. I am the only source of income for the two of us. The medical bills are piling up. Not to mention I live in the most wonderful country in the world…which means the three months maternity leave I took were unpaid. I am also a teacher in the most wonderful country in the world. I am hurting for cash.

So what did I do? I wasted precious hours of my life watching other people’s happy, care-free lives unfold on Facebook, wishing I had been financially responsible much sooner in my life. Suddenly, I noticed one of those ANNOYING Facebook ads…It was for a company called VIPKID. They were offering $14-$22/hour for online English tutoring…Hmmmmm…No way this is legit. Googled it. High ratings. Hmmmmmm…Alright Facebook.

I clicked the link…and things got even better. The hours are crazy. But crazy PERFECT for me. Since the children you teach are in China, you have to teach during peak hours in their time zone (if you want to get any classes booked). I am in CST, so our peak hours are 5AM-9AM during the week and 8PM-9AM on Friday and Saturday.

Why is this perfect, you say? My baby is 5 months old, and I want to spend every minute I can with him. This job allows me to work before he wakes up and after he goes to sleep. I don’t need to worry about putting him in daycare while I work over the summer. I don’t have to find an employer who is sympathetic to a nursing mother determined to pump milk for her baby as long as possible. Plus I am a teacher already so it would not be a significant amount of extra training…

Next time…What happened when I clicked “Apply”.


Are you interested in applying? Click here to apply and receive a $25 referral bonus upon hire.

The Quest for the Perfect Side Job

I am interested in too many things. I dabble here and there, and stumble across some good opportunities along the way.  Even my current teaching position was obtained by pure chance in an email from an alternative teaching certification program that I was no longer active in.

After college, I tried really really REALLY hard to maintain a job in my field of study. Art degrees, am I right?  Basically, this meant spending several years barely making more than minimum wage for various sign shops and small photography studios. Making a decent living meant keeping up at least one part time job on the side. Unfortunately, even with all of that working, I still managed to run  up a pretty penny’s worth of credit card bills and other debt associated with being a young, uninsured artist. YOLO, they said…Do it big, they say…And I did it. All of it. But they forgot to tell me I would eventually have to pay for it.

I have had some pretty decent side gigs and I have had some pretty shady ones too. I have freelanced design and photography. I have waited tables. I have done BPO photography (which required creeping down people’s streets to take photographs of their soon to be foreclosed homes). I have done transcription and captioning work. I have graded standardized test essays. I plan to elaborate on all of these in a later post.

My most current side job conquest seems to be the best so far. It’s a company called VIPKID. It seems kind of corny at first, but I got hired and I am actually really excited about it. The job is teaching English to young students in China online. I can literally work in my pajama pants. Which is great considering my new working hours are during times normal human beings are asleep. It really is wonderful for me though. As a mother who is nursing a young baby, my options for a decent wage are limited. I can’t really stop in the middle of a restaurant shift to pump milk for my baby (who would have to be in daycare that I couldn’t afford to pay for). VIPKID lets me set up my own hours and my own schedule. I can work while the baby sleeps, and have my summer days free to spend with him. Did I mention the pay is great?

This will be my first full week of classes since being hired in April, and I am planning to document this journey in the months to come. Stay tuned!

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