“Make $20/hr working a few hours a day working in your pajamas!” Sounds appealing, right?
When I decided to commit to finding a fully-remote position, Google obviously found out about it (as they do) and my Facebook feed was flooded with these types of ads.
Work a few hours at home and make a decent living? The cynic in me wanted to immediately report these ads as spam and remind every eager stay-at-home mom in the comments that if something seems too good to be true, it almost always is. BUT I was intrigued and already in my pajamas, so I clicked. Even after I submitted my application, I still wasn’t convinced it was legit. A few days later I got an invitation to a schedule a video interview with the hiring manager and do a mock class.
“Oh. I guess it is a real company.”
Fast forward, and It’s been almost four months since I signed a contract with VIPKID, a company that hires instructors to teach ESL (English as a second language) online to kids in China. Equal parts curiosity and the desire for an extra paycheck, made me take a chance on a job that I never in a million years saw myself doing (or even considered myself qualified to do).
I have no real background teaching children unless you count bossing around my younger cousins in pretend school. But I have a masters degree which means a lot to this particular company, and a background training adults which, on paper, translated as previous teaching experience.
While it’s not a complete scam, the ads are misleading and present you with the absolute best case scenario. There have been pros and cons to working with VIPKID, but that’s true for any job in almost any industry. Here’s a little breakdown of how my experience has been so far.
Working from home. Being able to be location independent was the most significant selling point for me. As long as you have a stable internet connection and a quiet place to teach (more on both of these later) you can work from pretty much anywhere.
The hours. The company headquarters are in Beijing and you will be teaching children who live exclusively in China. In other words, you need to work on Beijing time. I currently live in the Eastern Time Zone which is exactly 12 hours behind Beijing Time. The way it works is that you open up time slots for when you’re available to teach, and the students sign up for the times they want to take the lesson. Each lesson is only 25 minutes. According to VIPKID, the most popular that hours students sign up for are 6pm-8pm Beijing Time. Which makes sense since this is when the kids are home from school. That translates to 6am-8am EST. While these are the most popular slots, you can open up your classroom anytime between the hours of 8am-9pm Beijing time (8pm-9am EST). Here’s a glimpse at what my teaching portal looks like.
The boxes in white are slots that I’ve made available to students. This system works out decently for me on the east coast, but it’s definitely pushing it. And if you’re not a morning person OR a night owl, this may not be the job for you. I personally like working a few hours in the morning and a few hours at night and having my days free for my other work. This also makes it a great option for people working full time and are looking for another way to supplement their income and work around their 9–5.
There’s very little preparation required once you get used to it. The first few weeks of teaching were nerve-racking for me because I felt like I needed to have every minute rehearsed and planned out. After a while, the lessons begin to repeat themselves, and you catch your stride. Most days it takes me about 10 minutes to review the lesson before class and prepare the necessary materials (i.e., props, flashcards, etc.)
The pay is decent. You’re not going to get rich. And you’re not going to make $2k a month unless you fill 12 hours worth of classes, but it is decent. The starting rate is about $7 per 25-minute class, plus a $1 incentive just for showing up, so a total of $8 per class. If you finish 30 classes a month, your pay goes up to $8.50 per class, and if you teach 45 classes per month, your payment increases again to $9/class. That’s $18 for 50 minutes of classroom time. Which is…decent.
There is a friendly community of teachers. There are hundreds of Facebook groups dedicated to VIPKID teachers. Different states even have in-person clubs and meet-ups where teachers can come together and share tips and general camaraderie. I’ve yet to attend any of these meet-ups, but from the pictures, it looks like a lovely community to be apart of especially considering the isolation most remote workers face.
Very little accountability on the student’s part. Since the classes are fully virtual, and you may not be teaching the same student more than once, it’s tough to know what level your student will be at when entering the lesson. Specific lessons require homework, but there is no incentive for the students to complete the homework or even practice English when they’re not in the lesson. It can be frustrating and reflect poorly on the instructor if the student doesn’t perform well or show that they’re progressing.
Parents help them a lot. I’ve taught many lessons where the students parents are sitting behind the computer feeding them the answers. I don’t understand the point of doing this since the parents are paying money for their children to learn English and they’re learning nothing by being given the answers. It’s also funny when parents think the teachers can’t hear them whispering answers to their children in the background. But I digress.
Connectivity issues. Sometimes, the students have very slow internet connections, and since classes are only 25 minutes, this eats into valuable teaching time. VIPKID has an on-call IT staff that you can call during the lesson, but the company has grown at such an exponential rate that there aren’t enough IT people (or “Firemen” as they call them) and a lot of IT issues go unresolved which is frustrating for both teacher the student.
Not ideal if you want to work and travel. While this is technically a remote job, I would not recommend it for someone who is trying to be a digital nomad or travels frequently. You need a solid internet connection to make it through the lessons, and frequent connectivity issues will get your contract terminated. The company also requires teachers to use props and teach from a setup that looks like a virtual classroom. (Thing, cute posters, world maps and classroom decor background)
They’ve been rumored to cancel contracts with no warning. A few Glassdoor reviews tell a tale of teachers having their contracts canceled for having to cancel classes last minute due to illness or emergencies. The company also makes it very difficult to have another teacher cover your class, and once your slot is booked, it’s almost impossible to cancel without being penalized.
You need to heavily capitalize on referrals, to reach your full earning potential, which I hate. This system means you’re essentially a teacher/recruiter. Which is not what I signed up for, personally. I’ve noticed there are a lot of teachers who spam the work-from-home message boards and Facebook groups with their referral links and the promise of earning $2k a month. I’m not sure if it works or not, but the company offers upwards of $80-$100 per referral that makes it through the interview process.
You have to wear an orange shirt for every class. And I look terrible in orange.
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