Fed up with having to put on pants every day and drive to work? Well, have I got a job for you!
All joking aside, maybe you’ve heard of this nifty thing called VIPKiD? It’s one of those websites where you teach English via webcam to students in China. It’s a pretty good opportunity if you have unusual hours and no work visa, so let’s dive in to how this whole thing works!
The application process
The first step is just to submit a bunch of documents. Boom, sorted. You do need to be a native English speaker, and I think they give preference to a US or Canadian accent. You also need to have a Bachelor’s degree (doesn’t matter what its in, any degree is fine). Teaching experience, especially with ESL students, is a plus but not required. So you upload all your documents then sign up for an interview.
Your interviewer will ask you a couple of standard interview questions about your experience and why you want to work for VIPKID. Then you will do a mock lesson, with your interviewer (an adult with advanced English) suddenly pretending to be a 5 year old who’s never seen English in their short life. It’s honestly quite jarring.
When I did the interview, I honestly thought I had failed. I was still not comfortable with the style of teaching and keep using waaay too much incidental language (words and phrases beyond the target sentences, which can confuse a student who knows literally nothing). But apparently it was enough, and I passed to the next step.
After you’re accepted, you can have one, two, or even three mock classes. My first mock felt miles better than my initial interview, but I still went over time and I was convinced I would have to do Mock 2. But right after I finished, I got an email saying I was hired and ready to start taking trial classes. Maybe I’m just a serial self-doubter, and I’m just too self-critical?
The first 5 days or so I had only trial classes. These are classes for students who are trying out the program and haven’t yet committed. Most of them are very basic, and you’re always teaching the same level, so it’s pretty easy to learn all the slides and quickly get the hang of it. The only downside to trial classes is that there are a lot of no-shows, which you only get paid half your usual rate. But, as a bonus, if the student signs up after your trial class, you get a $5 bonus!
Within a week, I was getting students actually enrolled in the program from levels 3 – 5. This is a bit more challenging because I’m seeing new material I haven’t practiced much yet all the time, but once you understand the structure of their lessons you don’t need to review or prep much beforehand.
So… how much can you actually make?
I started teaching on November 10. I had 59 bookings. I taught 47 of those classes, with 12 being student no-shows or IT problems. At the end of November I had made over $500 USD. From what I’ve read, the amount of classes you book can vary widely, but for my current situation if I make $500 a month, that’s plenty for me. I have two other jobs teaching people here in Spain that brings in another 200€ per month. Murcia is very cheap, so about 700€ a month is more than enough. Plus I have great schedule flexibility, as you can close slots on whichever days you want without asking anyone for permission.
So… what’s the catch?
Like any job, there are some downsides. The company is very strict with teacher cancelations. They’re very strict about how and why you can cancel a class, and they only allow a small number of cancelations before they will not offer to renew your contract at the end of six months. There are also IT issues which are annoying and frustrating. The parent feedback can also be very harsh, because the expectations of parents can vary wildly.
Another downside for me is that I don’t have a lot of space or money to spend creating a really comfortable teaching area for myself. I have a light that I shine directly into my face (otherwise it would be too dark), and an uncomfortable folding chair that I sit on. I have to lean forward a lot so after 2 hours my back does get sore. I don’t usually teach more than 3 hours in one day so that I don’t become a crippled old woman.
The biggest issue that I haven’t personally experienced but heard a lot about is the hiring practices. I’ve heard a lot of very experienced teachers complain that they didn’t get hired after doing Mock 1 and Mock 2, or even being eliminated after the first interview. I can’t watch their demo lessons, so I can’t say what happened, but I do know that the VIPKiD method of teaching is very specific. I had a lot of difficulty with it at first, and I’m still trying to improve a month in.
I also know that cultural expectations to evaluate English teachers can be different from what we Americans and Canadians think is important. My interviewer (who was Chinese) straight up said to me “You’re good-looking” as one of my strengths. I know being white, blonde, young, and pretty works in your favor, especially in Asia. I’ve heard many stories of Asian Americans having a hard time finding jobs teaching English in Korea or Japan because there is a pervasive cultural myth of what a native English speaker looks like. (Hint: they look white.) I do not know exactly how heavily these criteria weigh in your favor. There are certainly plenty of teachers who are older, not blonde, not white, but perhaps if you have a weaker but still suitable performance (like I felt I did) but are pretty and young, you can get hired whereas someone with the same performance who doesn’t have the same appearance won’t get hired.
To be clear: they do not only hire white girls or extremely pretty people. I don’t think they discriminate by age, race, or appearance. They are plenty of people of diverse appearances working for this company. But we can’t pretend like appearance has no influence on who gets hired, in all fields, in all countries. We certainly can’t act like U.S. companies have never chosen a good-looking candidate over someone who’s not as pretty, or chosen a white person over a person of color. I think your performance with their teaching style counts far more than your appearance, but your appearance may earn an extra point in your favor.
So… should I apply?
Yes, if you have the experience and motivation, go for it! Read more about it and see if it’s a good fit for you. And if you decide to apply, use my referral code! (I get a bonus if you get hired.) My code is 05J76H.
I will write a more about VIPKiD as I get more experience and things change. So stay tuned for Part II!