Failing at your own business–Teaching Chinese kids online

Camille Online

Now that I’ve moved my home office to La Yacata I thought I’d try my hand at teaching at one of the many Chinese online schools since they pay double what I make teaching kids in Colombia. Of course, there are the ungodly hours to contend with since China is on the other side of the world. But again, since my office was now at my home, I figured I could get up early enough and then tuck myself back into my bed after teaching a few hours.

One of my friends has been promoting a school she works with (gogokid). There was a sign-up bonus for her, so that’s where I started. I also decided to hedge my bets and responded to an email from a recruiter on Linkedin. Of course, invitations to interview came rolling my way.

Apparently, the platform my friend works with is in demand, at least for interviews. When I tried to sign up for a slot, there weren’t any available for at least a week. I kept checking back and some evening interview slots came open. Again, since I’m now at home, an evening interview wouldn’t be so bad so I signed up.

I checked in 30 minutes before the interview since it used a video conferencing platform I wasn’t familiar with. I checked the teacher recommendation list provided by the school as well. Believe it or not, one suggestion was NOT teaching in your pajamas. Umm, well, I had my pajamas on, but I put a sweater over it so you couldn’t tell.

Another suggestion or rather as it turns out, a requirement, was adding pretty visuals like words and cutouts to the background. I have some stuff I kept from my elementary and kindergarten teaching days, but they were stored neatly in the boxes piled under the steps and I really didn’t want to dig them out for the interview. The blue background required by the company I already worked for would have to do.

I looked over the slides provided for the sample teaching class. They were simple, maybe about a preschool level. There were some interactive aspects. Clicking on various sections of the slide would cause music to play, chimes to sound and the figures to dance around. Well, ok. And the vocabulary was hand/arm. I figured I could use some TPR (Total Physical Response) to present the material.

I was also able to check my latency or lag time during the interview. I found that on average my latency was around 200 milliseconds behind, which considering I’m in the middle of nowhere Mexico, I didn’t think was too bad. I’m not sure all every online school would be ok with that though.

The interviewer was a young lady from China, in her early 20s if I were to guess. She looked to be in a cubicle at an office, probably the main headquarters for this particular school. She asked me questions about my teaching experience the answers of which she could have easily gotten from my resume. She seemed confused when I explained I had a degree in Education with a specialty in English as a Second Language and not a TESOL certificate. I explained that I also have a teaching certificate from the state of Nebraska and a teaching license from the state of Virginia and have been teaching kindergarten and elementary students in Mexico for the past 10 years. I have also been teaching adults and children online for the past 2 years. Again, all of this was included in my application.

The next segment of my interview was to teach a 10-minute sample class. The interviewer would pretend to be a 5-year-old Chinese child. This part went pretty badly in my opinion. I don’t know any Chinese and this “student” didn’t know any English. I used some TPR and managed to muddle through the lesson but I could tell the interviewer wasn’t impressed.

The feedback the interviewer was quite harsh. She said I should watch videos on YouTube to learn how to use TPR. She said that I should put pretty things in the background. She said that teaching Chinese children was completely different than teaching Mexican children. She said I should design an additional reward motivation system to encourage the child to interact even though the platform provided up to 5 stars that I could give the child for motivational purposes.

Although I kept smiling and nodding as she ripped my teaching session apart, I was feeling quite discouraged. It left me somewhat traumatized in that I have no desire to respond to the other email requests for interviews that are piling up in my inbox. After a day or two, once the negativity was tempered with time, I thought back at her comments.

Yes, teaching Mexican children is completely different than teaching Chinese children. Although I’m by no means an expert, over the years I’ve learned what sort of things motivate participation, what sort of references to use so that the very young understand and I have had the decided advantage that if all else fails I can use my Mexican Spanish for classroom control and basic clarification in addition to my clownish TPR efforts. I didn’t have either Chinese cultural background or the first clue about its language structure going into this interview.

I could have used more TPR. I could have added pretty cutouts to the background. I could have come up another sort of reward system. I could have also put on a business suit instead of teaching in my pajamas covered with a sweater if I was really serious about succeeding.

So I can say, that I did learn a good bit about how I might improve my interviewing skills for this type of position. The question remains whether I really want to.

While I think perhaps teaching Chinese 5-year-olds online isn’t for me, several ladies of my acquaintance do quite well teaching Chinese students online. I follow one blog China Figure it Out who actually lives in China and has been teaching with VIPkids for some time. She chronicles the challenges she has had with cultural issues and teaching techniques. I recommend reading her extremely helpful posts BEFORE taking the plunge into early mornings and late night teaching sessions.

There are a huge number of Chinese online schools out there (Whales English) and it can be quite lucrative when compared to teaching for pesos at a Mexican school so don’t be discouraged by my failure. Rather use my experience to learn what NOT to do and carry on! If one interview goes bad, improve what you need to improve and try again. I’ve included links to some of the online Chinese schools in the post if you want to give it a go!

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1 Comment

Filed under Employment, Teaching

One response to “Failing at your own business–Teaching Chinese kids online

  1. Thanks, Camille! Good to hear from your perspective, as I’ll be jumping into VIPKid in January . . . if we get faster internet before then. I’ll absolutely check out your friend’s advice! (And I’m very glad I heard yours, too!)

    Liked by 1 person

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