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.

 

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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.

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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!

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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Fidget Spinners: Another teacher complaining?

Yes, I am.

I read this article about fidget spinners and couldn’t agree more. Check it out.

http://time.com/…/4774…/fidget-spinners-adhd-anxiety-stress/

My two cents as a teacher? I have always kept a few foam squishy toys to *discreetly* offer my constant tappers, wigglers, fidgeters, standers, and walkers because it is something that has worked for my anxiety (I am a tapper). I have only had two students actually benefit from my “fidget toys”. One was a student who compulsively picked off his SKIN AND HAIR, and having something to mutilate other than himself was a huge benefit. Every day when he came to class he would ask me for it, and eventually I sent him home with a few to keep at all times. Another was a boy who was absolutely brilliant, but could not sit still and could barely get through a thought without being distracted. A fidget toy made a SMALL difference for him refocusing his energy. The rest of the students I tried this with have always just caused a distraction with them. Two students out of hundreds that I have taught actually saw a benefit, and one was so marginally small I don’t even know if I can count it. Put that in  your research.

And this particular toy is no different. There is no cure all for ADHD, ADD, Anxiety, Depression…To mass market a product like this and give hope to struggling parents is terrible…but it’s more terrible to turn mental disorders into a children’s toy for recess. I’m sorry, but I am pretty sure the entire 5th grade class does NOT have ADHD…Just sayin…