What I Have Learned After One Month Of Teaching With VIPKID
I know it’s just the honeymoon phase, but so far it’s pretty sweet.
If you have ever dabbled with the idea of teaching online as a mainstream teacher, side-hustler, or someone on the look-out for a flexible job, continue on.
After teaching for one month, I have found a gig which allows me to work without bringing paperwork and further lesson planning home.
Don’t get me wrong — I love teaching mainstream. I have taught three short years in the public school system. In a few months, teaching within the public school system will still continue to be part of my life as I volunteer at schools who need and want the service at their school. It’s not that I am leaving my love for teaching. More rather, I am working on my relationship with teaching — an intervention of sorts — to transform teaching from lukewarm complacency into an extraordinary life-long commitment.
I still plan on making these last two months strong for my students. This is the worst time — if given opportunity — to slack off.
Slacking off should never be an option, but this is the sad reality: in the public sector, especially in teaching, slacking off is common.
I work in the inner-city where the schools in the area have the reputation of being in the ghetto. Some of my students take pride of the label; others have realized that success and breaking the cycle of poverty are still possible but will mean that they will have to work even harder than others.
In honesty, we all need to work harder, regardless of where we come from.
To break the cycle of complacency in teaching, I came to terms with what I had to do…
I had to stop postponing my big dreams for small ones.
These big dreams, of course, are attained by the small steps we take every day.
The small step I took?
I prepared, applied, and began teaching online through VIPKid — an online China-based teaching and educational company that serves Chinese students.
But it does not only serve Chinese students. It serves the teachers, as well.
Here are a few things I have learned after teaching English online for a month.
1. Time Management
You don’t really value time until you are forced to value it or have had life experience to realize the importance of it.
Benjamin P. Hardy highlights how it’s not about managing your time, but managing your energy. I’m still working on that part, but can honestly say that management of my time has gotten better since I have started teaching.
For me, it is because I am forced to put my wants to the side.
Of course, waking up at 3 am is a choice.
I can always sleep in and let distractions get in the way, but at the consequence of leaving an online student hanging, affecting my integrity, and losing one hour of time in which I could actually be doing something that adds value to my life and the life of my student.
Now that I teach online alongside teaching in the mainstream classroom, I have to be even more hyper-aware of how I spend my time and to use my time intentionally.
2. One-On-One Engagement Is Critical
So many times have I gotten lost in trying to teach by content first, rather than by student.
I admire teachers who have gotten to a point in their lives where differentiating for 30–35 students at a time happens as easily as breathing.
Of course, the reality is that in the public school system model, nurturing a differentiated model for each student is a challenge.
Micro-managing and differentiating the process between students reading along the spectrum of third grade level to tenth grade level, another with specific accommodations due to special needs, and students who just simply do not have any interest in the subject matter all in one class is hard.
The thing is, it is not impossible. It’s just a difficult feat which requires stamina, consistency, creativity, and an entrepreneurial mind to building a sustainable process to micro-manage the diverse needs in the classroom.
The problem is that the public school system nurtures an environment and mindset that caters to the masses and a multi-tasking mentality, instead of focusing on the “one”.
Teaching online, I am able to see what engagement and growth looks like on a one-to-one basis. VIPKID (as well as other private and online teaching companies) realizes the importance of one-to-one focus.
These companies serve and engage students as much as they serve and engage the teachers.
They focus on the one — getting good at it — then duplicating the process. Multi-tasking is eliminated and teachers and students are able to get their needs met in a positive, engaging, communicative way of learning.
3. The Public School System Is A Joke
In middle school, structure is so important in the lives of the adolescent brain. At this point in their lives, you are teaching them the strategies that they need to be successful in reading and writing primarily. The socratic seminars and deeper-level discussions happen after.
The most highly effective educators are the creative ones who merge the consistency of structure with the elements of delving deep into literature and writing.
The terrible part of the public school system is that it encourages and supports a factory — assembly line — model to teaching rather than a communicative, collaborative approach to teaching. It has been like this for hundreds of years and it has stuck. It has stuck especially in the inner city and the result of it, more often than not, is a failed school system, failed test scores, minimal engagement, and high teacher turnover rates.
It’s an injustice.
But instead of complaining about it, our responsibility as educators is to break the cycle for ourselves. Complaining about the public school system is not going to cut it. If we don’t like it, we have two options:
- Change what we can do within our locus of control within the classroom.
2. Get out of the system entirely and pursue another means to teach (or mix 1 and 2 together).
The public school system’s recycled use of the cookie-cutter teaching model does not do our students any justice.
Especially in the inner city, it perpetuates the cycle of poverty while being swept under the rug for the rest of society — invisible — and a joke in the eyes of the students because of the unfair card they have been dealt.
3. External Incentives Work On Teachers, Too
Do you want a cookie? Kidding.
But humans naturally respond well to external praise and positive reinforcement.
In the public school system, you might find golden nugget schools that consistently praise their teachers. Sometimes, you will see public schools which nurture a positive environment in which teachers thrive and make the personal choice to pursue professional development and workshops of their own by their own free will.
It’s not that public schools don’t have these opportunities.
It’s that they do not nurture the environment where teachers decide to take their teaching in their own hands to grow personally for themselves and their students.
No growth will happen if teachers feel obligated or if the school environment stifles the choice of a PD and turns it into a dictatorial requirement.
Teachers want just as much freedom and autonomy as students do, but we all know that if we are not continually learning, no change can occur.
What private educational companies do right is tap into the psychology of teachers in the way they do for the students.
While we all should strive for internal motivation — external incentives — can help catapult external to intrinsic.
To use VIPKID as an example, a built-in reward system is used for both teachers and students. Students can earn up to 5 stars and eventually exchange their stars for raffles and other prizes.
On the other side of the coin, teachers are also rewarded.
On top of base pay, teachers earn more money with every time a trial student is converted into a regular student. Teachers can earn bonuses from referrals, beginning and ending class on time, getting 5-apple ratings, and participating in the monthly promotional opportunities. Teachers even get their own “tokens” just by engaging in the online community by participating in challenges such as responding to discussion posts on their forum (Hutong) or simply by reading blog posts and answering challenge questions.
The engagement strategies of VIPKID for teachers and students are legit intense and numerous that beyond doubt, I’ve been won over by the company and its process of engagement.
Intense, meaningful engagement works and if the public school system can duplicate the process as effectively as private companies can, the world of public education would change.
4. You Do Not Need A Huge “Follower” Count
When starting out teaching with VIPKID, I read and heard woeful stories of teachers not getting bookings (or very little) for months when starting out.
I count my blessings that this month has been filled with fruit and a high ratio of parents making the choice to book me as their son or daughter’s teacher.
For many online teaching companies, you are hired as an independent contractor. There are some online teaching companies that provide bookings for you, but VIPKID provides autonomy for parents by allowing them to make the choice on which teacher they want to teach their kid.
Parents also have the choice to “follow” a teacher.
At the moment, I have 10 follows.
It’s not a lot, but it has not affected the amount of bookings I have gotten thus far. I am aware that booking rates will inevitably fluctuate month-by-month, but at the same time, I still have 10 follows, no matter how small number it may be. Even during slower months, I will always have my regulars.
10 follows means that those parents and students want you to be their regular teacher. You have meshed with them and you are what they are looking for. They are the ones who will often opt into a priority booking request so that they can get teaching services from you.
That’s special (with the consequence of being a stroke to ego).
While growing a “follower” count is still important, it should not be the emphasis. What should be emphasized is engagement with what you have to build a stronger foundation and relationship.
I don’t worry about the “follow” count because my main focus is engagement and quality. So far, it has been working, and I have been able to maintain a 5-apple rating. Knock on wood, let’s hope it stays that way.
5. You Need To Advocate For Yourself
Due to the fact of the horror stories of teachers not getting bookings with VIPKID, I knew that pre-booking, I had to make sure that my profile popped out to parents browsing from the pool of other teachers.
I highlighted my teaching experience, created a simple yet vibrant introduction video, and picked the best profile photo that would illuminate my teaching personality. I took all the certifications for all of the classes so that I could have a competitive edge.
There is always someone better, but if we allow ourselves to focus more on other people’s successes, we leave little room to advocate for ourselves to create our own success.
First impressions are everything and the best advocate to any venture will always be yourself first and foremost. When you advocate for yourself, you will find like-minded people to help you, become proactive, and set out to do the things you said you would do.
6. What’s Next? Don’t Aim For Perfection. Aim For Personal Best.
So what’s next?
I have a short amount of time in the public school system, but teaching for a private educational company has helped shape my teaching in this past month in the classroom.
I’ve noticed how significantly more consistent I have become with my students and expectations. It’s not perfect, but it’s progress.
Just as equally imperfect, I have personally grown better about time management and making the moments count.
Teaching online has helped to make the personal development concepts that I have been learning more concrete.
It’s the honeymoon phase.
But with a growth mindset, I can find ways to repeat the process and recreate moments which will challenge me to stretch beyond my limits and live an intentional life aligned to my core values.
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