What’s the truth about VIPKid? Hear it from me: a VIPKid teacher.
I am an ESL teacher and I want to share the truth about VIPKid. Quite frankly, I love it. But it’s not all sunshine and roses. To be clear and upfront, VIPKid offers a referral incentive to teachers who successfully help others get hired. That is NOT the goal of this post. In fact, my referral code won’t be included anywhere. So relax. This is just the honest truth about my job with ZERO ulterior motives. I am not trying to recruit ANYONE with this post. Because then it would be biased and ain’t nobody got time for that. You came here trying to find out the TRUTH. So here goes…
What is VIPKid?
Simple put VIPKid is a program for kids in mainland China (and soon to be elsewhere) to learn English. The very extensive curriculum includes 1:1 lessons with a native speaker. So for 25 minutes at a time, the kids get to go through a pre-prepared lesson with me, their doting teacher. The VIPKid curriculum includes oh so much more of their end though.
As a teacher for VIPKid you must have a 4-year degree and SOME sort of experience with children. Of course, a teaching degree is a huge plus. The interview process can be a little intense, and people do get rejected, but if you stick with it you are likely to be hired.
The curriculum is divided into levels, each of which you need a certification to teach. It is not hard to certify for different levels, but it can be time-consuming.
Bookings work a little like a dating site. You set up a profile for parents to view and decide whether or not to book you. You do not choose your students.
Now that you get the gist of the job, let’s dive into my personal experiences and opinions.
The Awesome truth about VIPKid
Man, it pays to be a VIPKid teacher. I mean it! The pay structure is a little weird, but what it all boils down to is me making 20$/hr. You get a base pay amount per class, a finished class incentive (teaching x amount of classes/month), and a participation incentive (literally and an extra dollar per class just for showing up). Occasionally, there are other incentives too. In my first month, I made a little over 200$. Now I make between 700$ and 900$ a month opening up 24 slots (12 hours) a week.
The honest to god truth about VIPKid schedules is that you choose when you teach. Simple as that. There are peak times for teaching, during which you are more likely to get booked, but you can open any time slots you want. I currently teach 5-7 am (6-8am during DST) 6 days a week. Those times are what lines up with the peak times parents are looking for so I am usually booked up.
Aside from choosing the time, you can also teach from pretty much anywhere. During the past 10 months, I have taught in 3 different AirBNB’s, my brother’s house, my dad’s house, my in-law’s house, a car (totally non-ideal), and my usual spot in my basement. I use a minimum of props in general, so I can put my entire classroom in a backpack and just… go.
I am so incredibly attached to some of my students it’s insane. some of them book me 2-3x a week and I have wormed my way into their lives and them into mine. I love them. Their parents and I talk regularly, we share pictures and stories, and we have a connection deeper than a shared PowerPoint. I enjoy ALL the kids I teach, but there are some that I cannot wait to see in person someday. I know I won’t ALWAYS be their teacher, but there is definitely an impact on their lives and mine from our time spent together.
The not so pretty truth about VIPKid
As I mentioned before I work 5-7 am (or 6-8 am) 6 days a week. That means I am up at 4:30 am on most days. I have two young kids too, so sleep can be hard to come by. My schedule also books up to 2 weeks out, so I’m locked into those classes. This can make it hard to have any sort of life after 9 pm or have a spontaneous date night with my husband. I am not a napper by nature, but even I have embraced the power nap after living these hours.
As a teacher, I am required to submit feedback after each class. When I first started feedback took me a LONG time. Now I am down to feedback taking about 2-3 minutes per class, but it can still be a pain. I take notes during class on things I want to note, but oftentimes I need to go back and review the lesson to jog my memory.
Parents are also able to leave feedback for you but are not required to do so. Parental feedback can make or break a teacher. It is also a holy grail when you’re first starting. So I have to list it as a harsh truth. It can be HARD to get a parent to rate you when you first start. And once you’re up and running one parent can really throw you off with a negative review.
There are built-in rewards in every class, but they always suck. There is an amazing group of teachers who make digital rewards via google slides, but they also get old. Especially when you are teaching a regular. I spent a significant amount of time as a new teacher picking rewards for each of my students, but now I find myself winging it. I have students who just want to talk to me, some that want to show me their toys, and some that really want those google slides. When I develop a relationship with a child I usually hit the nail on the head with a reward system, but sometimes I find myself showing a stoic kid funny cats with no reaction.
Teachers can get dinged for NOT using a reward, but some of my students just don’t care for them. They’d rather just TALK to me. It can be a hassle planning rewards that you can use for multiple classes, and the kids usually will go along with whatever you do, but I always want to do something specific to the student themselves. Until you find a groove, rewards can take even more time than feedback. Which is all time that you AREN’T paid for.
My secret weapon? Crocodile Dentist. Just sayin’.
Unless you’re a WeChat user who can somehow make the awkward jump of asking a parent to add you, there are very limited ways to communicate with students and their families outside of the VIPKid classroom. I have a handful of parents that I communicate with through WeChat, but it took time to get there. You can send cards to the students, but the text is pre-written, so it’s not personal. If you want to dive deeper with a student you gotta get a little weird asking for their contact info. You can, however, ask for their physical address through VIPKid if you want to snail mail something.
The ugly truth about VIPKid
You cannot get out of a booked class easily. The parents can cancel anytime, but you cannot. I have had to cancel a handful of classes for family emergencies, but the only time I didn’t get a deduction from my paycheck was when I was able to submit the actual flu test results, with names and dates, to VIPKid. When I had to fly out to be with my dad when he was on life support I could not get a soft cancellation (One that ‘doesn’t count’) without some sort of formal documentation. Which I couldn’t get thanks to HIPPA. I sent in a picture of me next to my dad on his respirator, but the best I could get was a medium cancellation. Meaning my contract wasn’t in jeopardy, but I had a pay deduction.
When you work for VIPKid you are an independent contractor. You will get a 1099 for tax time, but no income taxes are withheld. This means that you may be in a position where you owe money. Thankfully this is not my first rodeo with 1099’s, so I was able to plan accordingly. However, this can come as quite a shock to some people.
No control over bookings
Here’s one very harsh truth about VIPKid. You get to open the slots you want to teach. Then…. wait and see. Slots might be booked, or they might not. You can send e-cards to students saying ‘book me!’ but that’s about it. Some people wait a loooong time for their first booking. Others have a hard time keeping a consistent schedule. It’s an unfortunate kink in the job. There is no way to guarantee a specific amount in your paycheck. For example, my schedule for next week is below. I am only 2/3 booked, which is not normal for me. Granted, one of my regulars typically doesn’t schedule until later in the week, but that’s only 2 of those 8 empty slots. Assuming I don’t see Jeff next week, I’m making 80$ less than I would normally make that week. For reasons I may never know.
Is it worth it?
If you’re reading this looking for the truth about VIPKid and trying to decide if you want to teach my official advice is: DO IT. It costs you nothing to get hired. After that you can open slots, or not, it’s all up to you. You can get hired, teach a couple of classes, and then bail if you want to. Or you can fall in love. Honestly, it’s a total crapshoot. But the only way to know for sure is to try it. And I’m all for trying things. I hope this post helped you understand what it looks like to be a VIPKid teacher, and decide whether or not it’s something you’d like to do. And, as always, I’m always willing to talk to people who are thinking about trying this crazy job. But in the only way I know how to: through brutal honesty and awkwardness.