Day 40 – Getting Started: What’s worked for me so far

Good evening everyone.  I wanted to try this blogging this out and make an update every 40 days regarding my experience with VIPKID.

How I heard about VIPKID:

To keep a long story short, I was transitioning back to the states after a 5-6 year stint teaching in South Korea.  I received several emails from a recruiter about VIPKID while traveling before returning back stateside.  I originally thought nothing of it because when you’re traveling, you want to be enjoying the moment without worrying so much about what’s to come.

After returning back and five weeks of reaching out to connections and applying to jobs to no avail, I decided to give VIPKID a shot.  Without going into too much detail, I passed the initial demo interview and eventually moved on to pass both mock interviews.  I found it funny that originally I came back to the states wanting to exit the ESL/EFL teaching scene… and here I found myself two months later coming back full circle.

My schedule from the first classes until now:

Jan 20th – Jan 22nd:  13 students (13 boys / 0 girls)
Jan 23rd – Jan 29th:  35 students (29 boys / 6 girls)
Jan 30th – Feb  5th:  47 students (37 boys / 10 girls)
Feb  6th – Feb 12th: 85 students (61 boys / 24 girls)
Feb 13th – Feb 19th: 105 students (68 boys / 37 girls)
Feb 20th – Feb 26th: 105 students (72 boys / 33 girls)

I have a weird schedule and sleep pattern in comparison to most people at VIPKID.  Being from the west coast (we get the worst of it in my opinion), I sleep from 6am – 1pm.  I have regulars from the first available time slots (usually 5:00 – 7:30pm)  and have no problems getting bookings from 11:30pm – 5:30am.  Fortunately I usually have the energy to plow through, get my feedback done before 6am, and then pass out.  I would say that 75% of my schedule now consists of regulars.  I’ve heard other teachers having difficulty with bookings and unfortunately it seems random and inconsistent.

Things I’ve done that I feel like have worked for me thus far.

My intent here is not to glorify myself on all of what I’ve felt I’ve done right, but rather to list what I believe has worked out for me (aside from keeping a consistent schedule).

A bio that focuses explicitly on education only.

I think my experience in Korea really helped with this after witnessing the grueling education system on the other side of the planet.  I mention that many educational facilitates are fixated on the mindset of “Did I teach what I needed to teach for today?” rather than “Did the students understand today’s lesson?”  This is of course, more often than not, no fault of the teachers but more of the policies that are unfortunately tied around the curriculum/teachers.  Anyone who has taught in Korea has witnessed this and kids that don’t understand are unfortunately left in the dust with limited intervention support.  I’m sure this occurs in other parts of the world as well.  I also mention that it’s important to allow kids the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge that is most comfortable for them (I’ll briefly go into detail below).  Finally, I state that I’m not perfect and hope to not only improve the confidence and overall language skills of ELLs (English language learners), but also improve my teaching skills as well.  I don’t mention anything about my personal interests or hobbies.

Not always stopping kids from being well, kids.  

When a kid is acting a way that may be deemed unacceptable in normal circumstances, I try to let the situation play out and see where it leads.  I have students who instead of circling the answers, draw flowers and trees over the answers but at the same time demonstrated their understanding, students who feel the need to jump up and down while talking at the same time, a regular student that I see almost daily who enjoys typing what she sees while saying the answer (she’s only 6), and a few screamers/shouters who say everything as if they are falling off a cliff.  I try to be a bit open and flexible about the way students portray their understanding and try to view things from their point of view.  I also make sure to make a note of that in the parent’s feedback.

Letting kids lead.

One of the proudest moments of my time teaching overseas was letting a 12-year-old girl teach the class using only English (I let her teach two times in total).  She would without question be considered a teacher’s pet to many.  She was so outspoken, accurate and assertive during class that I thought the hell with it and decided one day to let her teach.  Let me say that when she lead the class, it was absolutely flawless.  Her demeanor, attitude, the way she conducted the class, the way she corrected students in a non-aggressive manner.  My Korean co-teacher was also quite flabbergasted as well. With the students at VIPKID, I gauge whether I believe students can shoulder the responsibility of leading and give them as much of the power as they can handle.  I also enjoy playing the role of the student, making deliberate mistakes, and seeing if the student can catch these mistakes.

Simplicity and focusing on building rapport.

My station
My background
My reward system – I let students know that if they do a good job, I will give them 4 stars and draw a picture bit by bit.  If they can correctly guess the picture, I will give them their final star.  I let some of my regulars draw their own pictures when they earn stars and I try to guess what they are drawing.

At first glance, the background of my teaching station along with my reward’s system may seem lifeless and bland.  I like to keep things simple.  I have no fancy decorations and almost no self-made props.  I focus strictly on the teaching and the learning part.  I’m a huge Ken Robinson fan and one of my favorite quotes from him involves the focal point of strictly the teaching part of education: “If there’s no teaching and learning going on there is no education.  So if we’re going to improve education we have to improve that.  And everything else has to take a place around it and not get into the middle of it.”  Though I feel like props are excellent for enhancing the learning experience, I also feel like it can hinder learning if overdone or if the teacher is too wrapped up in them.

This is how I keep track of the pictures I draw among other things.  I’ve been a bit lazy inputting assessment scores and parent feedback.

Thorough and meaningful feedback.

This is what I believe really helped me and is probably the most important factor that has worked for me.  I personalize each and every feedback and do not use any cookie cutter, copy&paste, or generic feedback.  If a student excelled in class, I always mention where/what slide/which part.  If the student did something memorable or has a particular interest that I find awesome, I include that as well.  I’m a huge LEGO fan and I always make it a part to have 60-90 seconds to share some of our LEGO sets and mention that in the feedback.  A lot of these LEGO fans have become regulars.  One of the things I really look for is if a student’s fluency level is better than their accuracy, I point this out as a very positive thing in the feedback  Education in most parts of Asia are zoned in on accuracy (using correct grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary) and do not focus much on fluency, especially after elementary school.  I personally think it’s a shame knowing a lot of these kids build up their confidence and overall English language abilities in elementary school only to have it crushed when they enter middle school and start focus on testing and non-practical usages of English.  If a student is confident in their fluency (producing language smoothly and with confidence) I believe that accuracy will follow.  If it is flipped the other way around, students may be so centered into trying to be grammatically correct that output never occurs and thus confidence remains flat.  I feel like parents are aware that opportunities of practicing fluency are limited and mentioning a student has good fluency is a very positive and optimistic comment.  I don’t say it because it’s what I think I want the parents to hear, but rather I mention it because I believe it.  Sometimes I’ll even watch the replay and recall some areas where students shined or areas that I believe they need to improve in.  Now I’m not suggesting that everyone should do this as we all have lives and priorities to take care of.  However, spending a few extra minutes personalizing feedback, in addition to the overall performance of the class, could make the difference between a one-and-done and a regular.

Questions and/or comments. 

If you have any questions or comments I will be happy to answer them whether you are a current VIPKID teacher or are thinking of applying.  I do not care about referrals whatsoever.  Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone!

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