Covering Content: The Flipped Classroom and VIPKID

If you join any VIPKID teacher facebook group, especially one for new teachers, you will probably see at least a couple posts per day from brand new teachers who are worried about getting through the material on time. Their concern is understandable! It can be a bit unnerving to open up that materials link for your first booking and see that you are expected to cover 35+ slides of information in just 25 minutes.
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So, how can I thoroughly teach that much stuff in less than half an hour?? Answer, well…you can’t! At least, you don’t really have to. There are two reasons. First, the VIPKID curriculum is very repetitive (for good reason…more on that later!), so the student is going to get a review of that material again. The second reason, and the one I’d like to focus on, is because VIPKID uses a flipped classroom approach.

What is a flipped classroom? VIPKID explains it here. Basically, a flipped classroom…flips the traditional classroom. Growing up, you probably had lecture-style instruction from the teacher, busy work to fill up the day, and then homework at home to reinforce what was taught. So, the majority of the teacher’s instruction time was focused on introducing the concept to the students. Because the teacher was introducing a new concept, there were probably a lot of breaks for questions from the students, as they were processing the information for the first time.

A flipped classroom is the opposite. Work done at home, typically in the form of a video lecture or reading, introduces the concept, and the student has time to sort of play around with the concepts on their own first. Students can watch videos explaining concepts instead of listening to the teacher lecture, and they can do it at their own pace. This way, when the student gets in front of the teacher, they are already to the reinforcing part of the equation. Now, the teacher can focus on clarifying aspects of the concept that the student finds more challenging, or the teacher and student can extend on the concepts. So, instead of going deeper into the material at home with traditional homework, the student gets to go deeper into the material with the teacher (or with other students in the classroom). More efficient, right? And, despite the reliance on technology and online resources, it is actually *more* interactive.

How does VIPKID use the flipped classroom? Well, VIPKID students cover some of the material at home first. You are, in general, not introducing 35+ slides worth of new material to the student. Whew! You are the reinforcing part of the equation. So, when little Brucie flies through the 4 slides of “n-ap…nap!” you can give him a star and a high five and move on pretty quickly. That way, when get down to the 24th slide, and Brucie looks at you like you have four heads when you say “away,” you can take a little more time (and TPR) to reinforce that particular word. That is the beauty of the flipped classroom. Easy concepts are covered quickly by the student on his or her own time. Then, the teacher has a chance during the interactive time to focus on things that are, for one reason or another, tricky for the student. And, the great thing about the VIPKID method is the interactive part is one-on-one. So the teacher can really focus on clarifying and correcting the tricky things for that particular student.

So, how can you plan for that?! Good question. You can’t simply do the math; dividing the number of slides by available minutes isn’t going to work. There isn’t a “right” answer. But you can give yourself some guidelines. I like to aim for about half the slides in a little less than half the time. The slides in the second half of the lesson tend to take a little bit longer. I also like to move quickly through the first few slides since they are mostly review. One great thing about the VIPKID curriculum is the slides that best lend themselves to extension tend to be closer to the end. So, you can progress quickly, then start extending more and slowing down as you near the end, depending on the time you have left. So, if you aren’t sure about how fast a new student is going to move through the slides, simply meet the objective and go for the first slides, then start extending later on. Don’t spend time extending on the earlier slides unless you are familiar with the student and their expected pace. You can always slow down, but it can feel rushed toward the end if you have to speed up. You probably don’t want to end with a really rushed feeling, right?

Any more quick tips for getting through the slides in an appropriate amount of time? Keep your props simple and handy. You don’t have time to dig around for a certain prop. It is distracting and it takes time. Also, keep timing in mind when you are choosing a secondary reward. Don’t pick something that needs a ton of explanation if the student is too young or too much of a beginner to get it. I always use a simple reward for new students, and then I can have more fun with rewards for regulars who I know a bit better. And super important…keep that incidental language out! It takes time, and the student doesn’t know what you are saying. Your words/TPR should have purpose…otherwise you are wasting precious time and probably confusing your student too.

To recap, the flipped classroom approach means that your student has probably already seen the material, plus the curriculum is designed with repetition in mind. You don’t have to worry about introducing and thoroughly explaining every single thing you see on the slides. That is not your job! VIPKID gives you the objectives, which are mostly reinforcing what the student has already been exposed to, so keep your focus on what you are being asked to do. And remember, you are the fun part of the equation. You get to make the language come alive! Show the kids that communicating with someone in English is pleasant, not scary. Be a smiling face and offer tons of encouragement. The flipped classroom approach makes your job easier, so relax a little and have a good time.

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Get started here…

Thinking of applying to teach ESL with VIPKID? Maybe you’ve seen posts on Facebook from teachers claiming that they make $1000 a month teaching from home in their jammies, and you can too if you’d just PM them for details. It seems like an ideal gig for brick and mortar teachers looking to supplement their income or for a stay at home parent hoping to work while their kids are sleeping. Is it really? Or, too good to be true? Start here with this list of FAQ to see if VIPKID would be a good fit for you. 

What is VIPKID, exactly?
VIPKID is a company that contracts Americans to teach English online to Chinese school children. Students generally range from about 3 years old up to 12 years old. Teachers follow a series of PowerPoints, occasionally supplementing with extra conversation, props, rewards, and games. Teachers use the VIPKID platform, and IT and parent issues are all dealt with by VIPKID. You just log on, teach, fill out quick feedback, and go on with your life. No lesson plans, grading, etc.
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Seems legit. How much do I get paid?
You might see a lot of comments on Facebook or other social media promising upwards of $1,500 a month with VIPKID. Is that possible? Meh, maybe. But the payment system is a little tricky, and there are a few things to keep in mind before mentally calculating your potential earnings. First, base pay is $7-9 per 30 minute class. After 30 classes per month, you add another $.50 per class to all classes taught that month. After 45 classes, you bump up to a $1 extra. If you are scheduled for a short notice class (within 24 hours), you add $2 for that class. If a trial student signs up after you teach them (more about that later), you add an extra $5 for that class. So, your potential earnings range from $14-22 per hour. Second thing to keep in mind is the available hours. You are working morning/evening Beijing Time, plus their weekends. You have to be available when the demand is there, otherwise you won’t get booked. That means a 4 AM wake up or an occasional all nighter. Keep that in mind when adding up your potential paycheck. Payment for the month gets directly deposited into your bank account by the 15th of the following month.
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Pretty good! So, I could easily work 2-3 hours per day and get a substantial paycheck, right?
Maybe. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are not guaranteed any bookings. You are an independent contractor. The way it works is, you open up times when you are available to work, and either the VIPKID sales team or the clients schedule a class. Since parents won’t know you when you first begin, most new teachers rely on the sales team to book trial classes. Some new teachers get booked immediately, some do not. While there are many theories as to why some teachers are successful from the start, it’s clear that some new teachers do everything right and still get off to a really slow start. Don’t quit your day job (at least not right away)! Which brings us to our next question…
$20 an hour is more than I get teaching at my brick and mortar school. And I would have to deal with administration, parents, lesson plans, etc. etc. Maybe I should just quit and do VIPKID full time?
Nooooo! At least, not at first. Maybe down the line, doing VIPKID full time might work for some people. However, you are an independent contractor with very little control, and that’s a risky spot to be in if you are relying on that income alone to pay the bills. Remember, this gig isn’t offering any benefits, and you will owe taxes on this income.
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Wait, taxes?
Yes, VIPKID will send you a 1099, and you will need to pay taxes on this income. Many people set aside about 30%, but it’s different for every situation. You need to talk to a CPA to know what’s right for you. On the plus side, you can write off things you buy (like props, rewards, etc), but again…a CPA is the only one who can really answer these questions for you.
Ok. Still sounds pretty good. What are the requirements for applying? I’m not a classroom teacher/don’t have an education background/never taught ESL/whatever. 
Requirements are fairly straightforward. You must be American or Canadian, a native English speaker, have at least an undergraduate degree, and have some experience working with kids. They are fairly flexible with what that experience can be, but it must be something.
I have a graduate degree/twenty years of classroom experience/etc. Am I an obvious choice? Will my pay reflect my professional achievements in the field of education?
No. It probably won’t hurt, but it might not help at all. One thing that’s hard for some applicants to wrap their head around is that their outstanding achievements in the wonderful field of education don’t really matter in this context. You aren’t teaching in the traditional sense, and VIPKID is a for-profit company. They will hire you if you are good at doing what they want a teacher to do: energetically walk the students through their set curriculum.
Ok, I’m really not that perky or creative. Should I pass on this?
Not necessarily. You do have to maintain a certain level of energy to be engaging in an online teaching environment. These are young kids, and you are just a face on a computer screen. However, you might have seen some pretty overly obnoxious youtubers giving tips and tutorials, and you definitely don’t have to be *that* crazy. You probably do need to go a bit out of your comfort zone during the interview process, but you can generally mellow out a bit once you get a good feel for your students.
Commenters on social media want me to use their referral link. That sounds scammy.
Anyone promising tons of easy money for little to no work is scamming you, so scroll past those guys. But no, VIPKID isn’t a MLM scam. Established teachers get a referral bonus if someone applies using their referral link and makes it through the referral process to teach a class. Basically, it’s an incentive for teachers to help mentor new teachers because the process can be a bit confusing. Help from the company is half a world away, and the language barrier can be tricky. It is nice knowing that, if you sign up with a referral link, you don’t have to feel bad about bugging the mentor with questions since they are getting a bit of cash to do it. But, it’s not free money. Anyone making exaggerated claims is probably just trying to get that referral fee. If someone promises you $1000 a month right off the bat…nope. You can use mine (here; code 065HH8), and I’m happy to answer questions honestly, plus help you with set up and lighting and whatnot. However, if you have a personal friend already with VIPKID, that would be the ideal way to go.
I applied for VIPKID, and I didn’t get the job. Should I try again?
Maybe! Some people seem to have good luck with waiting six months and trying again. Other people attempt to re-do the application with a different email address. However, it might just not be a great fit for you. I would re-evaluate before investing anymore time, energy, or money into VIPKID.