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!

The Prop Report #4 – Make a Critter Blocks

Because there are so many different combinations, these will never get boring!

Introduction:

Welcome to the fourth installment of my series: The Prop Report. In this series, I plan to share my favorite props and rewards that I use in my ESL classroom. The link to the product is an affiliate link, so if you choose to purchase the item through the link, I get a little bonus. For more info about this series of posts, you can read my overview and full disclaimers here.

The product:

Make a Critter Blocks

Manufacturer:

Crocodile Creek

Recommended for ESL classroom?

Yes! These are perfect for Halloween, but they can actually be used for excellent extension in a number of different lessons.

Recommended for hands on learning?

Yes! I think that you could really have fun making challenges for hands-on learning with kids. The older they are, the more complicated scenarios you can encourage.

Pros:

I have the “critter” blocks, but there are several other different options that I’ll include below too. These are versatile, and because there are so many different combinations, they will never get boring. I especially love:

  • The bright, colorful monsters
  • The ability for kids to choose monochromatic options or crazy color combinations
  • The fact that the monsters have many different types of accessories and clothes, perfect for level 2 extension

Cons:

They are just a little bit bulky to handle in the classroom. It takes a little bit of practice to get comfortable “rolling” the blocks or moving them to let the students choose. It is also a little bit difficult for me to hold all three (or six if we make two monsters!) But this is not a big enough con to stop me from using (and recommending) this fun reward!

It’s also a little bit more expensive than most rewards I use. (Ok, I usually use free digital rewards.) But I really enjoy using a few physical rewards mixed in, so for me, it’s totally worth it!

See it in action:

You can see my unofficial product demo here:

In summary:

This reward is a definite yes! 

If you would like to purchase it, here’s my affiliate link on Amazon.com:

Crocodile Creek – Make a Critter Blocks

For other issues of The Prop Report:

VIPKid Soft Cancellations

Well, it finally happened. I had to cancel my three classes one morning earlier this week. Without going into too many details, when I got up to teach my classes, I found that my son was very ill and we had to take him to the emergency room. (He’s ok now.) At the time, there was no question of not going. I knew that I had to cancel my classes. Fortunately, I had read up on the process before so I knew how to do it. Sometimes, in the midst of an emergency, it can be stressful enough that you don’t remember how to do things like this, so I thought I’d put together a quick help guide.

What is VIPKid’s cancellation policy?

If you are a current teacher, be sure to review the Cancellation and No-Show procedure online in the support center. Things may change, and my blog is NOT the definitive source. At the time I’m writing this, teachers may miss up to six appointments (appointment = up to 3 classes in the same day in Beijing) within a 6-month contract before our contracts are reviewed and we are at risk for contract termination. Depending on the situation, there may or may not be financial penalties incurred or an impact to your ability to earn a raise. Factors that can influence this are the reason for the absence and proper documentation as required by the policy.

How do you cancel a class?

I chose to cancel my class from the phone app. I went to the class (just like I was going to look at the student or the materials.) Then I clicked the three dots in the upper right hand corner and it gave me the option to cancel the class. It allowed me to choose a reason and also offer up an alternative timeslot that would be reserved for only that student (if they want to book it.) You can also do it from the PC app or the web portal by going to the “bookings” page and clicking on the class you need to cancel.

How do you apply for a soft or medium cancellation?

Soft or medium cancellations have less negative consequences for teachers. They do not count against your six for contract purposes, and they may or may not result in a financial penalty. You may request this change within 30 days of an occurrence. Again, VIPKid has a full support page dedicated to this process, so I encourage you to review this page before beginning. To request a change, log into the teacher portal via the PC app or a web browser. Choose the “All Classes” tab and then click on the orange button that says “Cancellations & No Shows & Change Finish Type.”

Place a check mark next to the classes you wish to request be changed, and then click on “Soft/Medium Cancellation.” You will then be prompted to input the reason and attach supporting documentation.

How can I make sure my request results in a successful soft or medium cancellation?

There are no guarantees. However, I do have a few tips to help increase your success chances.

  1. Most importantly, read the VIPKid support pages on the topic in the support center before submitting your request. They tell you step by step what to do, what is required, and what to expect.
  2. Wait until your emergency has passed to submit your request. You only have two opportunities to request that a cancellation be changed to soft/medium. If you are in a state of distress, you are more likely to make mistakes or omit important information. Remember, you have up to 30 days to submit your request. That said…
  3. Don’t wait until the very last minute. Once your emergency has passed, go ahead and submit the request. It does take some time to process (although mine was resolved within 2 days.) But it’s always better to allow a little extra time if possible.
  4. Keep your sentences short and simple. Avoid unnecessary details. Keep the request related to the verbiage in the policies. Be sure to list the class date, time, and student for clarity.

Examples of “Soft Cancellation” Request

Current policy:

Effective October 2019, here’s what the policy said about “serious illness.” Serious illnesses or diseases are sudden, health-related events that render a teacher incapable of teaching a class.

Note: Since the spectrum of illnesses, and the severity of cases, varies widely, only instances that require hospital visits are considered. If your child needs medical attention, please ensure that the documentation provided includes a shared last name (or supporting evidence).

Please note: All other illnesses (common flu, headaches, and stomach bugs) are not categorized as an applicable scenario for Soft Missed Appointments. However, they may apply to Medium   Appointments. Please send in ticket to ask our agents. For Soft Missed Appointments, dentist visits, or notes from the school/office explaining that you are ill are not included in this definition of serious illness.

Bad example

I need to request that my class with Suzie have the finish type changed. My daughter woke up with a headache and nausea and we thought it might be a stomach flu. When the symptoms continued, we took her to the urgent care center. They suggested that it might be the flu, so we took her to the hospital and they wrote a note excusing her from school for the week. Please don’t let this count against my contract. I need this job and cannot afford to be penalized.

Things to improve

  • There are many details in here that are not required. It is not necessary to share the diagnoses or every step that you took in trying to reach that diagnosis.
  • There are several things listed that are not eligible for soft cancellations, even though a hospital visit is. Only list the most relevant facts.
  • The request doesn’t list the specific finish type or the class details.

better example

I need to request that the following class be changed to a soft cancellation:

Class Date: 10/12/19

Class Time: 8:00 pm BJT

Student: Suzie

Reason: My daughter, Amy Barker, was seriously ill and I had to take her to the hospital. We were at the hospital from 6:00 pm BJT until 11:00 pm BJT, forcing me to miss my class. I have attached the note from the hospital and her release papers that include a timestamp. Thank you!

I hope you don’t ever need to use this information, but if you do, I hope that it’s helpful. Once again, please always refer to the VIPKid support center for current processes and procedures. If you have questions, feel free to let me know in the comments, and I will do my best to help you find the answers!

A Tale of Three Teachers

On this third day of Blogtober/Vlogtober, I wanted to share a short story about three teachers who I introduced to VIPKid. With all of the changes in referring, I thought these experiences might help shed some light into what does and does not make a ‘good’ referral. Spoiler alert: If you prefer videos, you can skip to the end and watch my YouTube version!

Teacher One

I met this person in a Facebook group. The group had nothing to do with VIPKid, but another member (not this teacher) had asked about “work from home” jobs or jobs she could travel with. I responded with some general info about VIPKid, and this person was one of several who replied. After we chatted back and forth, she told me she wasn’t ready to start, but she would contact me when she was. I didn’t think much more about it, and a couple of months later, she said she was ready! I walked her through the application process and helped her through the hiring. As soon as she was hired, she moved to Spain, and we stay in touch today! Even though we are not a “real life” friend and have never met, I love her to death. We have built a relationship and so I was able to be a trusted helper to her through the process, and we remain in touch today!

Teacher Two

This person found my blog and reached out with some questions. She emailed me and said she was thinking about finding a mentor. I helped her through a few questions and then she added my teacher code and then we went through the hiring process. Ironically, she already lived overseas (and continues to today.) So once again, I have never met her face-to-face but I consider her a friend. Our first interaction was a conversation, not a blind referral.

Teacher Three

One day a new name popped up on my referral tracker. Today (in the new world) we won’t have full names or contact info for our referrals. Previously, we did, so I reached out to her to see if she needed help. She made it almost all the way through the process before she responded, and I did very little to help her. Once she was finally hired and had taught her first class, I asked her how she came to sign up using my code. She responded, “No offense, but I didn’t mean to. I have no idea.” She was trying to sign up with a friend’s code, but ended up with mine instead. The reason she never had any questions was that she was asking her friend, yet I was getting the bonus. (I did offer to send her friend the bonus money.) I’m sure what happened was that she read a blog or watched a video and clicked through to the application page. She probably completed the signup process using my link without realizing that it was *my* link and it would stop her from adding her friend’s referral code. It’s my opinion that THIS is the type of referral VIPKid is trying to prevent. No, you don’t have to be best friends or family with every person you refer, but our activities as a referring teacher should be more intentional not accidental.

Remember, we are teachers, first and foremost. Yes, we get a bonus if we have a successful referral get hired and begin teaching, but the goal is to share the opportunity with those we can help and who will make fantastic teachers. The goal is NOT to throw our referral code out into the world and see what sticks.

So if you are having some anxiety about the new process, think of my tale of three teachers, and perhaps it will help.

Happy teaching, and happy referring!

VIPKid Business Cards

With the recent changes in VIPKid recruiting policies, there has been a lot of discussion about what is (and is not) appropriate. A quick disclaimer: If you are a VIPKid teacher, please refer to the Teacher App or portal for the official policy! The below is just how I’ve interpreted a piece of it!

One of the biggest changes is that VIPKid says, ” Referral codes and links must be shared with third parties that you know personally, such as your friends and family. You agree to not solicit, spam, or mass email anyone who you do not personally know with your Referral code or link.” Obviously, that leaves those of us in cyber-space a little bit detached. Does it stop you from getting help? No – absolutely not. But signing up with a code will not enable you to talk 1:1 with another teacher. That makes good old-fashioned communication even more important.

To help prepare for this, I had some business cards printed up today. I included:

  • My logo (MINE – not VIPKid’s!)
  • My name, of course
  • My title (English/ESL Teacher, VIPKid) I am a teacher, NOT a recruiter, hiring coach, etc.
  • My contact information

I did NOT include my referral code. Under the new policy, if someone wants to sign up and work with me 1:1, we will be talking or communicating already, and I can send them the link that way.

When I placed my order, I was ambitious. I ordered 200 business cards. Like many teachers, I was a little uncertain about the future of referring. But 200 cards should last a good, long time.

If you believe in fate, premonition, or just dumb luck, you’ll appreciate what happened next. When I picked up my order, they printed 2,000 business cards not 200. What a deal! Some may say that it was an employee not paying attention, but I say it’s the universe telling me to keep going! It might take me a few years to work through all those cards, but I’ll have plenty to last a while (and they are in line with the new policies!)

Whatever the reason, I’m grateful. If anyone is looking for an easy template, I can share what I did. In the meantime, if you (or anyone you know) is looking to start teaching online, I’ve got a card I can give you!