Using Find A Star as a VIPKid Classroom Reward

I LOVE classroom rewards. I loved earning them when I was a student, and I love using them in my ESL classroom today. I even sometimes have fun and use rewards in my job in corporate America. Yes, even executives smile when you give them a glittery star!

I wanted to take some time and walk through each of my favorite types of rewards in more detail. If you aren’t familiar with it, this will give you a good overview. If you are familiar with it, maybe you’ll learn some variations to change it up in your classroom!

Today, our focus will be on my personal favorite: Find A Star (FAS).

What is Find a Star?

In your VIPKid classroom, kids should be rewarded with stars throughout class, but it’s also recommended that you use a secondary reward as well. Find a Star is perfect because it brings both things together! You have a set of numbers or pictures, and students take turns guessing the number or picture. When they choose one, you reveal what’s behind it, and it’s either a star (YAY) or something else (also YAY!) When they find a star, you also reward one in the classroom.

How to Introduce Find a Star

At the beginning of the lesson, I simply say, “When you do a good job, you get a number! It will be a star or a ______. Ok?”

When it’s time to pick, I say, “Good job! You get a number. What number do you want?” If they struggle with this, you can give them options: “Do you want one or two?” They usually get the hang of it quickly. I even use this with most level one students!

Print vs. Digital

This game can be played using 2-d printed stars and numbers or digitally. You will see in the video below that I use a combination. I play the game digitally, but I do have a printed number grid posted in the background where I put stars when they find one.

To use a printed version:

  1. Print out cards with numbers on them. I prefer games that use 10 numbers. That allows for all five stars to be found and then you have five others.
  2. Print out as many stars as you want to give out. Make sure they fit behind your printed numbers.
  3. Print out the remaining number of images that are not stars. You can use anything for this: frowny faces, My Little Ponies, Ultraman – basically, use anything that you think your student would like. That makes the non-star finds fun too!
  4. Before class, arrange the numbers with each item behind them on a whiteboard, cookie sheet, or clipboard. You can make these magnetic by taping magnets to the back, or you can use scotch tape. Use what works for you!

To use a digital version:

  1. Find your favorite digital FAS! If you aren’t using them yet, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/vipkidgs/ and check out the announcements to get started!
  2. Get ready to play!
  3. You can use printed stars in conjunction with a digital FAS, but you don’t have to. It’s totally your preference

See it in Action

You can see how I use Find a Star in this video! I talk about all things Google Slides, but you can fast forward to about 3:23 if you want to see Find a Star specifically!

Google Slides is an easy way to integrate technology in the ESL classroom!

In this video, I held up my phone to reveal the rewards. Since then, I’ve begun using OBS that allows me to display it in my classroom or even use a green screen.

Using FAS with green screen in class.
Displaying FAS using OBS.

Find a Star Variations

There are many ways you can change your Find a Star game if you want to make it different. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Use different numbers. Instead of 1-10, add increments of 10 (10, 20, 30, 40, etc.) or use higher numbers (11, 12, 13) or even random numbers (48, 72, 123.) This can make the game more age-appropriate. If you are printing cards, you can either use pre-printed flash cards to do this, or you can have a stockpile of different numbers. With Google Slides, you can make a copy of any reward and just change the numbers.
  • Use letters, pictures, or vocabulary words instead of numbers. Many google slides options already have these. You can usually find them by searching in Slidekick by the lesson number.
  • Use 3-d objects for your FAS. I have a few puzzles that I’ve hidden stars behind the pieces. This can be a fun change of pace.
  • Use different types of stars. No one says you have to use the same stars all the time. You can have stars that reflect the lesson content, or have funny stars, or character-themed stars. My favorite thing to do (when I have time) is make custom rewards with unique stars in digital form and then print off copies to use. My students are usually surprised by this, so it makes it fun for me. If you’re looking for some ideas, I’ve started putting a few of my stars on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Extending with Find a Star

My favorite part of any reward is using it as extension in the lesson. Here are just a few ideas for how to do this. The list below starts with younger kiddos and moves to more advanced students.

  • Just having them choose a number can sometimes be extension enough, especially with your youngest students!
  • Have them ask for the number in a complete sentence. Instead of “1” have them say “I want number one.”
  • Have them also tell you the color of the square. “I want the red number one.”
  • When they find a star, have them tell you how many stars they have. “I have three stars.”
  • If you are using stars that are different colors, have them describe the stars, too. “I have two red stars and one blue star.”
  • When they don’t find a star, have them answer questions about the item, picture or gif that they find. “How does he feel?” “Do you like ___?” “What is it?”
  • Have them guess what will be under the number. “What do you think it will be?”
  • Have them describe the star or the picture to you. (Remember to always encourage complete sentences!) You can change it up by having them ask questions about it, make exclamations, etc!
  • Have them answer an open-ended question about what they find. “Tell me about a time you saw a _____.” “How does _____ make you feel?” “Why do you think ______?”
  • Give them a sentence about what they find and have them correct spelling, grammar, or punctuation in the sentence.

However you choose to play, Find a Star can make a fun game to reward your students and extend on the lesson. Do you have other ideas on how to play? Let me know in the comments!

How Much Do You Make with VIPKid Part Time?

“Would I recommend VIPKid? Will I keep teaching with them? The answer to both is a resounding YES!”

This past year was my first full year with VIPKid. I started teaching in September 2018, and so the first few months were pretty slow. But in 2019, I was up and running, and so I wanted to share a few highlights and lowlights.

First, I’m a big numbers person. Most of us do this to earn money (otherwise we would just tutor for free!) So here’s the nitty gritty on what I made. Remember, I teach VERY part time. I have never taught more than five classes in a day (that’s 2.5 hours) and I very, very, very rarely ever teach on a weekend. My normal schedule is M-F from 5:30 am – 7:00 am, so 1.5 hours a day or 7.5 hours a week.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • $7,572 earned
    • $5,752 from classes
    • $1,427 from incentives (participation incentives, finished class incentives, and new VIPKid trial class signup incentives)
    • $400 from referring new teachers

This was made up from 716 total classes with 632 “as-finished MC courses.” These classes were split up among 109 different students. My top 3 students last year were just over 200 of those classes, but there are other students that I taught monthly, or perhaps just once or twice!

To further break down the class pay:

  • 94% of my class pay was from MC classes (Major Course)
  • 6% of my class pay was from supplemental courses
  • Less than 1% of my class pay was from trials

In my first few months of teaching, I taught a lot more trial classes. I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to expand to some of the specialty, supplemental courses that are available for more tenured teachers. So over time, your income sources will vary. But the more things you are eligible to teach, the more booking potential you have!

Here’s a breakdown of monthly pay since the time I began teaching with VIPKid:

You’ll notice a big drop from January 2019 to February 2019. That was by choice. I LOVE teaching so much, so I had stretched my schedule out to 5 per day. While the money was great, I found that it was too much for me on top of working full time and maintaining my personal committments, so in February, I scaled back to three classes per day.

Here are some frequently asked questions:

  • “There are already too many teachers. Will I ever get classes?” — YES! I was teacher number 37,028 on the VIPKid platform. You can see that while bookings were not immediate, I have not had any trouble getting (and staying) booked!
  • “Do you have to blog, make You Tube videos, etc?” — No! I do both because I enjoy it. To me, it’s a fun hobby, and it’s an added bonus that I can help other teachers. Eventually, I hope to have more passive income from these sources, but so far, I haven’t earned anything. For example, I started running ads on my blog in July of 2019. In that first six months, I “earned” $58.27, but that has not yet been paid out yet. I don’t have enough You Tube subscribers to run ads yet. (You can always help me out by subscribing!!) Here’s one of the fun classroom makeovers I recently posted:
An easy VIPKid classroom makeover along with tips for quick setup!
  • “Do you make any other income related to VIPKid besides what’s listed above?” — Not yet. Again, eventually I’d love to have some other passive sources of income, but I’m still learning! I’ve begun incorporating a few affiliate links with Amazon, but they are a) only for items that I use in my classroom and b) not yet generating income.

After my first full year, I think the main questions are: Would I recommend VIPKid? Will I keep teaching with them? The answer to both is a resounding YES!

My highlights are the students … ALL THE WAY. I love them and their sweet families SO MUCH. And the extra income is amazing as well.

Really, the only lowlight was my need to cut back last February. It’s hard to say no, especially when it’s something I enjoy. But I’ve now found a balance that works well for me and my classroom.

If you have any questions, please let me know. I’d be happy to answer if I can!

And if you are just getting started or would like some help getting hired with VIPKid, please contact me! You can get started with the VIPKid application and these tips, but I would love to help you through the process!

Happy new year, and happy teaching!

Book Report – Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve by Lenora Chu

I’ve always loved to read, but my taste tends to land on fantasy or young-adult dystopian novels. So it’s rather uncommon for me to read a non-fiction book. But since I’ve been teaching English to Children in China, I realized I needed to try to better understand their environment.

I sometimes see questions from frustrated teachers where a parent has said they are “low energy” for yawning or that they lack discipline for taking a sip of water. The comment I see over and over from teachers is, “But we are people, not robots!”

While this is true, it’s been my experience that students, teachers, and parents usually have a higher level of self-control than their counterparts in America. This isn’t a criticism; it’s simply an observation. It’s a known fact that people will see the world through their own personal lens. That lens is constructed from their experiences with family, environment and culture. I know what a huge influence school was for myself and my kids, so it only makes sense that these kids (and their parents) would be highly influenced from their time in the Chinese educational system. Little Soldiers: An American Boy, A Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve is the perfect way to get a glimpse into that system from an American perspective.

Lenora Chu, the author, is an award-winning journalist and provides a unique perspective as an American parent living in China. She and her husband chose to enroll their three-year old son (Rainey) in a public Chinese school while in Shanghai. They quickly learned that along with the many benefits that come from the rigor of this educational system, there are some troubling side-effects as well. This book offers a fascinating insight into the schooling, training, and expectations that our students face outside our online ESL classrooms in their day to day worlds.

While the book isn’t written by an ESL teacher and isn’t specifically for ESL teachers, I can now better understand:

  • Why are my students so well-behaved?
  • Why do parents apologize for things that I don’t even notice in class? (For example, I have had parents profusely apologize for their child’s posture in feedback.)
  • Why is being called “serious” in feedback such a high compliment?
  • Why do students have such different reactions to our reward systems and games in class?
  • What is at stake for our students? Why are exams such a significant impact to our students?

Would I recommend this book for ESL teachers? ABSOLUTELY!

It is the perfect balance of narrative and fact to keep you interested while ensuring you understand the facts. There are “behind-the-curtain” interviews with teachers, students, and leaders associated with the Ministry of Education. There are moments that will shock you, and moments that will make you so proud of your own students. You’ll come to love this sweet family, and especially Rainey. I’m still rooting for Rainey to succeed!

If you’d like to check it out, it’s available in hardback or Kindle. I have included an affiliate link below, so you can click right through and purchase your own copy (or a gift for that special ESL teacher in your life!)

Little Soldiers: An American Boy, A Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve

Little Soliders: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve is a must-read for any online ESL teacher!

Have you read the book yet? Let me know what you think in the comments!

If you have questions about VIPKid or becoming an online ESL teacher, I’d be happy to help! Please contact me, and I can get you started!

VIPKid Facebook Groups

Social media can be a great thing. For those of us who work from home, it can provide a great sense of community. It can also be a great source of knowledge!

I want to offer my warning though. I tell new people that going to Facebook for answers can be like going to Web MD for a headache. If you’re not careful you can get overwhelmed and feel like it’s the end of the world!

To help get you started, I’m going to list the many groups that I belong to. Most require you to be a VIPKid teacher already, but all will have people willing to help you get started if you’re looking for a mentor. I’ll list my top four first, and then the rest in alphabetical order. More than likely, if you have an interest, there is probably a VIPKid group for you. If not, then I would encourage you to start one!

VIPKid Education (Official VIPKid Group)

This is the only page that VIPKid moderates. They have a “VIPKid Advocacy” team that includes VIPKid staffers as well as members of the builder’s program that are Community Ambassadors. This is a good source of “official” information. If there are outages or issues, there are often announcements here as well as in the Houtong. If you have a problem that you’ve been unsuccessful resolving via ticket, this might give you another avenue to get assistance. That said, with almost 30,000 members, there can be a lot of negativity. Sometimes teachers can feel unsupported, and it’s important to remember that with so many members, the VIPKid team can only moderate a certain amount.

VIPKid Positivity and Praise

As a perfect complement to the official page, I adore the VIPKid Positivity and Praise group. It’s easy to tell that the main purpose of this group is for positive support. The content is all uplifting, and if you are having a problem, you are promised kind, caring input. Mocking and rudeness would not be tolerated, although you never really have to worry about it. If you join this group, you are looking for positivity.

VIPKid Google Slides Group (Official)

I’m in this group almost every day. This group is actually larger than the “official” group, with over 33,000 members as I write this. This group is for teachers who use google slides as a teaching tool in their classrooms. This is an AMAZING tool, and it’s totally free. There are currently over 6,400 rewards and props for every (?) lesson with VIPKid. You get access to the Slidekick app and all of the files by being a member of this group, and there is also a free planner, feedback, and lots of resources to help you get started.

VIPKid – Videos and Props

This is a group of over 28,000 teachers, and it’s one of the best places to find printable props and rewards. This group was started by Jennifer Anderson, the “2-D Prop Queen” and it is an amazing source for things in your classroom.

Other VIPKid Facebook groups

In alphabetical order, here are the other groups that I am somewhat active in. There are a few groups that aren’t regularly updated that I didn’t include. This is just a drop in the bucket. There are many more amazing groups I encourage you to check out. But I hope this gives you a starting point!

  • 3rd Shift Teacher’s Lounge – this is one of the smaller groups that I’m in; however, it’s a good one. With only 42 members, the admin of this group is one of the most business-minded people I know. She has very good advice about websites, branding, and social media in general. I’ve learned a lot from this small but mighty group.
  • All Things China for ESL Teachers – the admin of this group is Daniel Cai. He lives in Shenzhen and offers to answer any questions. It’s a great group to get translations or to ask questions about Chinese culture. He often posts sights and sounds from “a day in the life” so this is one of the more unique groups to get to know Chinese culture.
  • Christian VIPKid Teachers – This group has over 5,000 members. Some posts are normal questions/community posts while others are related specifically to topics of faith.
  • ESL Teacher Props and Gift Ordering Service – This is a great place to order swag for yourself or gifts for your students.
  • Feedback Panda Users – VIPKid – for those of us who adore Feedback Panda, this is a place to share tips or get answers.
  • Nancy Taylor’s VIPKid Teacher Group – This is another space where teachers offer peer-to-peer feedback on common questions.
  • OBSessed: VIPKid + OBS – this is a group specifically designed for teachers who use OBS to display digital effects in their classroom. There are probably other similar groups for teachers who use ManyCam, CamTwist, or other programs. But there are lots of tutorials and Q&A to help if you are starting to use this software.
  • Team Black Part Time VIPKid Teachers! – This group was formed during the paintbucket challenge by teachers who teach part time and so didn’t qualify for the more aggressive challenges. It’s a supportive environment for part-timers, but all are welcome!
  • VIPKid: 7 Baby Steps To Financial Freedom (the Dave Ramsey plan) – There are almost 4,000 members in this group. It’s specifically for VIPKid teachers who are following the Dave Ramsey plan. They are not open to discussion about other financial strategies, and the topics are all financial in nature. It’s a great place to find support if you are working through the program.
  • VIPKid – All About Taxes – this group gets really busy every spring. 🙂 I would caution you, please don’t take advice from Facebook over that of an accountant or tax professional. But if you are looking for info on what other teachers do, you can certainly take a peek here.
  • VIPKid Branding Yourself – This group was designed to help teachers who are trying to improve their branding. You can get good, objective feedback about your profile pictures, videos, and more.
  • VIPKid Chinese – Say What?? – This is a group with around 14,000 members. It was started by Ed Nace, who has written several books about effective communication as an ESL teacher. This is a great place to go for help interpreting unusual feedback or understanding more about Chinese culture.
  • VIPKid Community is one of the larger groups I’ve seen. It has almost 18,000 members. I haven’t seen any specific “goals” of this group, but it’s just another group for teachers to share ideas.
  • VIPKid Digital Nomads – I am not a digital nomad; however, my first two referrals are! One immediately moved to Spain, and the other hops around Europe (although she may be in Africa by now!) I come to this group for advice to help them.
  • VIPKid Health and Wellness – This is a group dedicated to helping teachers stay healthy. It’s hard to stay healthy when you are working an irregular schedule (sometimes nights.) This is an amazing group that offers exercise, eating, and general health tips.
  • VIPKid Meetup Hosts – If you are interested in hosting a meetup, this is a great place to get or share ideas!
  • VIPKid Meetups Unofficial – the group for those of us who love meetups!
  • VIPKid Mental Health and Wellness has over 1,000 members. It’s another very positive and supportive group. It’s a safe space for members to share personal problems and very real issues that they may be facing and get support from their fellow teachers.
  • VIPKid Online Teacher’s Lounge has almost 9,000 members. This is a relatively new group, and it was designed to be a drama-free place to share ideas.
  • VIPKid Referrers (Not So Anonymous) has around 1,600 members. It’s a place to keep up with the latest hiring processes, and some of the top referring teachers in the company share their tips and tricks. I find this a very helpful group if you are interested in referring new teachers.
  • VIPKid Teachers – Digital Effects Users is a group for those of us who use digital effects. That could include Google Slides, Stars 2 Apples, Many Cam, OBS, CamTwist, etc.
  • VIPKid Teachers: Tips and Tricks has around 11,000 members. The purpose of this group is to get and share tips and tricks for VIPKid lessons, the company, classroom setup, and organization.
  • VIPKid: Using Chinese Social Media – if you are interested in using WeChat or Weibo, this is a great starting point.
  • Where’s My Student? (VIPKid Teachers Only) – Honestly, I’ve never found another teacher in this group, but I keep hoping. When you join the group, you create a hashtag for yourself. You can then sign your T-2-T feedback with it. (I’m #TeacherAmeliaU.) That way if you share a student with another hashtag teacher, you can go to this group and find them to communicate!
  • VIPKid Regional groups – I’m going to lump these together because these will vary based on where you live. I am a member of four:

Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

If you are a new teacher just starting out, don’t panic! You do not need to join any of these to be a successful VIPKid teacher. All the information you need is provided in the Houtong and the weekly updates sent by VIPKid. It’s just nice to know that communities are out there, though, if you want them! I should also give a shout out to **VIPKid Newbie Teacher Island ** – while I am not a member there, I know that they accept all teachers or prospective teachers, and I’m a big fan of the founder, Teacher Lauren. So it’s always going to be a good one to add to your list.

If you have any questions, please reach out and let me know. I’d be happy to help, wherever you are in the process. Just contact me!

Happy teaching!

Picture Perfect – The Value of a VIPKid External Camera

This week, many VIPKid teachers received an email explaining that the quality of their camera was not sufficient, and they were given thirty days to upgrade their camera.

While I understand that this can be frustrating, especially if your video looks good from your perspective, I wanted to share my experience when I added a new external web cam.

What cameras are recommended:

According to the VIPKid, email that has been sent out, they recommend one of the following:

  • Logitech HD Webcam C270
  • Logitech HD C310
  • Logitech C615 Full HD 1080p
  • Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920
  • Logitech HD Webcam C525
  • Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam
  • Logitech Webcam C930e
  • Logitech Webcam Pro 9000
  • Microsoft LifeCam Cinema HD Webcam
  • Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 HD Webcam
  • Microsoft LifeCam Studio HD Webcam

What are the benefits of an external webcam?

The most surprising benefit to me was the impact the camera had on my lighting. Even without making any changes to the light at all, my face and my classroom appeared much brighter on camera!

I also noticed a difference with sharpness, especially with items in my background. Numbers and letters were much more readable when I used my external camera.

Another benefit I realized a few months later was that I could download the free Logitech software and also take better still-frame photos and record better YouTube videos as well! The software (which I don’t use in the classroom) includes tilt, zoom, and other fun features.

What difference does it make, really?

Well, since a picture is worth 1,000 words, see for yourself! The big reveal is at around 1:45 (spoiler alert!)

If you need to upgrade your camera, I suggest checking for black Friday/cyber Monday sales (or Amazon Prime Day, like I did) but here’s an affiliate link if you would rather point and click than shop around:

https://tinyurl.com/y248n6xe

I know that it’s never fun to learn you have to spend money on something extra; however, I’d like you to think about it from your students’ perspective. They only see you in that tiny little window. Don’t you want to be as clear as possible for them to see?

Hopefully, if you find yourself in the market for a webcam, this will be helpful and make you feel a little bit better about the investment.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!

Happy teaching!

Like Clockwork: A Day in the Life of a VIPKid Teacher

I distinctly remember making fun of my dad when I was younger. One evening, I heard him walk into the kitchen, and I told my aunt, “He’s going to stir his coffee three times, then go to the bathroom, then come in and ask if we want to play cards.” It happened just like that. As an adult, I could anticipate exactly what day and time he would call me on his commute to work. It was 7 minutes later than normal on days when he filled up his truck with gas. It was 12 minutes later than normal on car wash days.

Now, as an adult, I find comfort in his routines (as well as my own!) Yes, it’s true. I am as much a creature of habit as he ever was. For those of you considering a side-hustle, extra job, or even a new hobby, and you’re wondering how to fit it in, I thought I’d share my schedule! I realize I have the luxury of no small children at home, so that simplifies things. But if there’s something you truly want to do, there’s always a way to fit it in.

Monday

My alarm goes off at 4:20 am central time. I have my apple watch set to vibrate so I can hit snooze without waking my husband up. It goes off the second time at 4:29, giving me one minute to turn off my backup alarm. I hop out of bed, shower, and put on my makeup for the day. By 5:00, I’m dressed for teaching in my orange VIPKid shirt and jeans. I grab a diet coke and head upstairs to my office.

Once upstairs, I close the door so I don’t disturb my sleeping son, and I turn on my computer. Then I drink my diet coke, surf facebook or instagram for about 10 minutes, and dry my hair. At 5:15 (or 5:20 at the latest) I sign into my classroom, make sure my props are ready for class, and by 5:25 I have my headset on and am applying lipstick, ready to teach.

I teach three classes: 5:30, 6:00, and 6:30. From 6:55 – 7:30 I finish my diet coke, write feedback from my classes, and straighten up my classroom. I might also prep for my classes the next day so I don’t have to think about it later. (It only takes me about 10 or 15 minutes total to get ready – sometimes less.)

At 7:30, I go downstairs and get my dog Buster out of the bedroom where he and my husband are usually still snoozing. I feed him, let him out, and make my breakfast. I usually change into a non-orange shirt and then am ready to start my day.

At 8:00 am – I am ready to work at my day job. Because I work from home, I don’t have to worry about a commute. I teach from the small half-bath connected to my office, I can seamlessly switch from one to the other. I work until 5:00 on most weekdays, then I wrap up and head downstairs to get ready for dinner. I’m in the bedroom by 8:30 and reading or watching tv. I’m in bed alseep by 9:30. When I get less than seven hours of sleep, it’s not good for anyone.

Tuesday

Tuesday is almost identical to Monday, except… it’s TACO TUESDAY! Every Tuesday, a small group of friends made up of soccer parents, band parents, and church friends gets together to get $2 tacos each Tuesday. Our little band of friends has been as small as two and as large as ten, but regardless of size, we always have fun. Without kids and school events, it’s a little harder to stay social since our schedules aren’t filled with their activities. So this is our way of making sure we spend time with our friends and don’t lose touch.

Wednesday

Almost the same as Monday and Tuesday, except Wednesday is church day. I’ll be the first to admit that I have not been as regular going to church as I would like, but Wednesday service is actually my favorite service of the week. I find that when I’m the most stressed or overwhelmed, that’s when it’s most important to slow down and re-calibrate, and our Wednesday evening healing service is the perfect place to do that. It begins at 5:30, so I have to make sure to finish up work by at least 4:45 to have time to let Buster out before heading to church. It’s “come as you are” so I don’t have to change clothes. After church, we have Wednesday night supper, so unless it’s poppy seed chicken, we often eat there! Often, there are meetings and other programming on Wednesday night, so it’s usually straight to 8:30 chair time when we get home.

Thursday

Repeat Monday-Wednesday. (Are you seeing a pattern yet?) As you might know, the reason I started working with VIPKid is to help earn money for our new worship space at my church. We broke ground in May, and so it’s an exciting time at our little Chapel. I am the chair of the building committee, so every other Thursday we meet from about 6:00 – 8:00. I try to make my Thursday evenings time to work on building-committee related things. Then I grab fast food on the way home. Then guess what – it’s chair time!

Friday

Wash, rinse, repeat. I don’t work or teach on the weekends, so I always enjoy Fridays as I look forward to 5:00. We almost always go out to dinner on Fridays, and we might run some other errands after work. We try to keep Friday evenings open to do whatever we want. After all, it’s the weekend! Many teachers opt to teach on Friday and Saturday nights (since these are weekend days in China) but I choose to keep these reserved for family time.

Weekends

I get to sleep in! Granted, when you’re used to getting up at 4:30, 7:00 is a luxury. And my dog wakes me up at his normal 7:30 if I’m not already awake. Weekend mornings are my quiet time. I usually sit in the living room (where I am right now!) Weekend mornings are my time to blog. I work on my social media pages, and sometimes I edit YouTube videos. I am an editor for the Google Slides VIPKid group on Facebook, and so I also try to edit 5-10 submissions each weekend. My dog sits on the couch, and we hang out in front of the fire. My husband usually gets up around 9 or 9:30 but we aren’t ready for breakfast and social interaction for a few more hours. Once we roll out around 11:00, we run errands or do whatever strikes our fancy on the weekends. We go to church at 5:00 Sunday night, so it allows us a lot of flexibility. I usually spend about 15 minutes preparing for my Monday classes, but that can be done really anytime.

Do you have a routine that works for you? Or are you more of a “short-notice” fly by the seat of your pants person? Either way, VIPKid can work for you. I love the flexibility it offers that works with almost any schedule. If you’d like to learn more, please send me a message!

VIPKid Time Management

Remember the “Rule of Five” and you’ll be a five-apple teacher in no time!

Some time ago, a fellow teacher asked me for tips on time management. As I thought about it, I follow a very simple process. Even though classes have a slightly different number of slides, you can use a technique I call the “Rule of Five” to help keep track of your timing. The example below uses the format of a standard 25-page MC course, but in a longer lesson, just divide the content by 5 and do the same.

Check out the below visual I put together, and let me know what you think in the comments!

VIPKid Time Off

It’s November. As a student, that marked the beginning of holiday season and lots of non-school days. Even as an adult working in corporate America, most of my companies had several holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day – so I was guaranteed to have a few short work weeks. This is all great, right?

Then came VIPKid. While I eagerly looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, my students in China don’t celebrate these. So I was faced with a few dilemmas:

  • Do I take time off from teaching, or do I continue to keep my regular schedule?
  • If I do take time off, how should I tell my students’ parents?

Let me start by saying that there is no right answer. Every teacher is different, so you have to choose what’s best for you. But hopefully the below will help you make these decisions!

It’s also worth pointing out that with VIPKid, there are no limits to the time you can take off. You are an independent contractor, so you can open as many (or few) time slots as you wish.

Benefits of Teaching on a Holiday

If you are able to teach, there are some definite advantages. Many teachers DO take time off, so you are likely to have better bookings. If you are a new teacher, this is a great opportunity to find some new students who may not be able to book their usual teacher! Because fewer teachers are working, VIPKid also often has lucrative incentives, extra tokens, and more. Of course, it’s a great way to earn extra holiday spending money, and depending on your teaching schedule, you could potentially be done before your family even wakes up. And if you have a day job like I do, and you are off work, that’s an opportunity to teach extra classes.

Disadvantages of Teaching on a Holiday

For most of us, we teach early in the morning or late at night. So you are giving up your opportunity for extra rest over the holidays. Burnout is a very real thing, and time off is important for our health and well-being. You might be traveling over the holidays, or people might be traveling to visit you. Classrooms could be displaced, or you might need to teach from a new location. These aren’t show-stoppers, but they do usually result in extra work. Finally (and this is the big one for me) it takes time away from my family. I have three college-aged boys who are usually home around the holidays. Even though they would be asleep while I teach, I would likely wake them up with my awful singing! And there’s just something so luxurious about being able to lounge around and not have to get up when the rest of your family is doing the same.

How to Notify Your Students’ Parents

When I am going to be taking time off, I try to notify my parents two weeks in advance. I do three things:

  • Include my time off in my class feedback to any regular students.
  • Create a standard response to decline any priority booking requests I receive for those days.
  • Post an update in We Chat.

Sample Feedback Message

I should begin by saying that I do not speak Chinese. There are several Facebook groups that offer translation services if you want a more thorough explanation for your parents. The below is my simple version. I have run it through an online translation tool and it translates fairly accurately.

“November 28th is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. I will not teach between November 27th and November 29th because I will be with my family. I apologize for any inconvenience. Happy Thanksgiving!”

For Thanksgiving 2019, I will begin using this message on Monday, November 11. Parents are given the opportunity to schedule their next class as soon as their current class is finished. Since most have already booked for the following week, they will likely be requesting times for Thanksgiving week. Additionally, this will allow me to send them the same message two times in feedback (if I teach their student once per week.)

Sample Priority Booking Request Response

You do not have to respond to booking requests. However, I normally try to. Here is an example of how I would respond on a day that I have taken as a holiday:

“I am sorry I cannot accept your booking request. November 28th is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. I will not teach between November 27th and November 29th because I will be with my family. I will be available to teach again beginning Monday, December 2nd. Thank you!”

Sample We Chat Message

In We Chat, I tend to provide more details. I have a personal relationship with parents I’ve connected with on We Chat, and I know they will ask questions if something doesn’t translate well. Below is what I plan to post this week. I might post it a few times with different and fun Bitmoji pictures!

“My schedule will be different during the last week of November because of the Thanksgiving festival in America. I will be spending time with my family and eating special meals with them. I will only be available to teach Monday, November 25th and Tuesday, November 26th that week. My regular schedule will resume in December. Thank you for understanding. Happy Thanksgiving!”

Do you plan to take time off during the holidays? If so, I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

As always, if you have any questions, please let me know.

If you are looking for a job that’s flexible enough to let you take time off when you want to, VIPKid could be a great fit for you! Please contact me, and I would love to help you get started!

Teacher Essentials

As I scroll through Facebook, I often see posts from new teachers asking, “What _____ do you use?” We all want to be the best teachers possible, and why should we re-create the wheel when others have tried “all the things” already?

I have three disclaimers to give before I start sharing.

  1. You should not need to buy much to be a successful teacher. Yes, there are some basic technical requirements, but all of the props and things are optional. You probably have most of what you need around the house already.
  2. Most of the links I’m sharing are affiliate links, so I get paid something if you use them. I don’t know how much. So far I’ve earned a whopping $1.11 since I started with Amazon. 🙂 So I won’t get rich, but if you’re going to order something anyway, you can help a fellow teacher out!
  3. I will not share any links below for things that I don’t personally use in my classroom*. These are my recommendations, and I’ll stand by them!

*The one exception is my paper cutter. The paper cutter I have actually got poor reviews, so I substituted a similar model with better reviews!

Technology

laptop

Before you purchase a laptop for use with VIPKid (or any teaching platform) be sure you check out the minimum system requirements. Here are the requirements for VIPKid.

Here’s what I use:

Dell Inspirion 15.6 Inch HD Touchscreen Laptop

Pros: It’s very inexpensive, as far as laptops go. I have no trouble running the VIPKid PC app, multiple Chrome windows, and OBS (to display google slides.) I also love the touch screen functionality. It’s much easier to underline and circle with my finger than with a mouse!

Cons: If money were no object, I might upgrade to this one that has more memory and a backlit keyboard, but those are really conveniences not necessities.

headset

I use a Logitech USB headset. I couldn’t find an affiliate link for the one that I use, but here’s the regular link for it on Amazon. I generally by the least expensive Logitech USB headset that has a microphone. I have tried wireless ones, and I’ve tried other brands, but I always come back to these. I have two sets – one that stays in my classroom for teaching and one that I use on conference calls for work.

Pros: They are inexpensive, and they don’t hurt my ears (even though I wear glasses.) I have never had complaints about my voice volume or audio, and they last a very long time.

Cons: If you have a large classroom and are far away from your laptop, perhaps a wired solution isn’t the best. But the cord is rather long, so I can’t imagine a scenario when you would be that far away! 🙂

external camera

The camera in my laptop worked fine. I did not receive any complaints about it, and it met my needs. However, I always wanted my classroom (and my YouTube videos) to be a little bit brighter, so I decided to add an external camera. I have LOVED this one. It’s recommended by many, many teachers and also my husband!

Logitech C920 Camera

Pros: The use of an external camera (with no other changes) made my classroom and my face so much brighter! The images are crisper, and I just love them! I also downloaded the software that has great tilt and zoom features. Because I use OBS in my classroom, I don’t use the software during class, but I use it during my YouTube videos and for taking still pictures in my classroom.

Cons: Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT use the microphone built into the camera. It has awful sound quality. But the camera rocks. Before I started using OBS, it would have been helpful to have a camera cover. For just a few dollars more, you can get this model that does.

The best testimonial I can give for this camera is in my live un-boxing video. Skip ahead to 1:45 to see the transformation when I plugged it in.

Classroom Supplies

lamination

My lamination adventure is a funny story. I did not buy this when I became a teacher. I already had it. And for the life of me, I could not figure out WHY I had it. My husband later reminded me that it was when we owned a restaurant. Perhaps we laminated menus? In any case, I use mostly digital rewards, but I do have some props and rewards that are 2-D, and I prefer to have them laminated. There’s a big debate over matte vs. shiny lamination pouches, but I’m cheap and I have never had trouble with the shiny ones, so I still stick with the basics. Here’s what I use:

Scotch Thermal Laminator

Scotch Thermal Laminating Pouches

paper cutter

The paper cutter that I use is actually a Westcott, and it’s not available on Amazon. Interestingly, it had pretty terrible reviews, although I never had any trouble with it.

The model below is similar – it is a rotary paper cutter (vs. a guillotine) and I like this because I am always afraid I will cut my finger off. This seems like a safer option to me.

CARL Professional Rotary Paper Trimmer

magnets

Jennifer Anderson turned me on to the benefits of small magnets and packing tape to attach things to my whiteboard in my classroom. I use these on stars and other 2-D reward systems. I also use them to change the background in my classroom. They are quick, easy, and inexpensive to use. Just be careful if you have small children or pets who might eat these. (I have neither.) Also, I tried to order the same magnets from Ali Express. Yes, they were cheaper, but despite my specifications, they were much smaller and took a very long time to arrive. I hate them. I will order these forever more.

10×2 round magnets

Packing tape

I’m sure any packing tape will do, but I like Scotch. You can buy the first one with the dispenser and then just buy refills for it.

Scotch Packing Tape

Organization

rolling utility cart

This was definitely a splurge, but I love it, and I use it every single day! Because I teach in a tiny half-bathroom, I don’t have a lot of space to stage props and things. I purchased this rolling utility cart that stays in my office until it’s time for class. I keep a box with all my 2-D stars on the bottom, and I set up props for my classes on the top two shelves. I have my scissors, lipstick, dry erase markers, etc. on the end within easy reach. I have my tape hanging on hooks. It works GREAT! After class, I roll it out of the way again!

Grammercy Cart by Recollections

Hanging wall organizer

This is inexpensive, but was a game-changer for me. I have two of these hanging out of sight (off-camera) in my classroom. I keep my most commonly used props here (animals, food, grammar, etc.) That way I can reach them without looking if I need to in class.


Godery 5-pocket Hanging Wall Organizer

You can check out a walk-through of my classroom organization on Instagram!

Props and Rewards

Like I said above, you don’t ever have to buy props and rewards. Between digital options and things you already have around your house, you can teach. But, I love to incorporate fun things with my classes. So if you are looking for a few fun extra’s check out these recommendations from The Prop Report! In each issue, I share pros and cons about each item and also a quick demo video that talks about how I use these in my ESL Classroom!

I hope you have found these suggestions helpful. As I think about other useful items that I have discovered since becoming a teacher, I’ll add them here! If you have questions or ideas of your own, please let me know in the comments!

Happy teaching!