Tag Archives: teaching English online

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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Online teaching–Trial by fire

Camille Online

Me, hard at work by Clau Guzes

I waited anxiously over the weekend for my “onboarding” email to arrive. Finally, I received an email welcoming me aboard with the first training module attached. There were 6 training sessions in all and I didn’t have any problems reading and completing the “exams” over the period of two days. Each session took me about 45 minutes. I was compensated for my time.

Then a few days later, I received my meet and greet invitation. This was a required group session headed by my new instruction coach but also paid. That’s what I’m talking about!

I also watched ALL the example classes on YouTube to see how things worked. I was a little concerned though that the model teacher incorrectly corrected a student’s use of the word funnier. The teacher said he should use the word funner. FUNNER? Who uses that? Isn’t it more fun? Well, I guess I could do just as well as that guy.

I tried diligently during the week to pick up an extra class before I was officially on the schedule to get some practice in, but there wasn’t anything available. Finally, Friday came with my new schedule. I had 27 hours–WAY more than I was expecting. Furthermore, I was scheduled at all hours of the day and night, including hours when I was supposed to be teaching at the school. I panicked a bit and sent frantic messages to my instruction coach. I only requested changes to the 6 hours that overlapped my other job, figuring I would find a way to work the other ones. It wouldn’t do to be whiny the first week. I also mentioned that the hours I was scheduled were not hours that I had indicated that I would be available. Apparently, someone messed up when doing the scheduling. Those 6 hours were removed from my schedule and I was assured that the next week all my hours would be within the availability schedule I had submitted.

My first class was Sunday night at 11:30 pm. Then I had another one at 2 am. I didn’t think I could risk napping between classes since I was supposed to sign on 10 minutes before the shift to catch the JOIN button. So I didn’t.

I was nervous, to say the least. I really wanted it to go well, but I still felt underprepared, even after all the training sessions. I had to remember to log in, test my audio, allow microphone use for students, check in with them, see if I could resolve technical issues and teach the class. The topics were assigned and each class had multiple activities already set up, so I just had to direct the class and pick and choose the slides I thought would get the most interaction from the students. This took the hassle of planning out of the picture, which considering I plan 6 elementary classes and 3 kindergarten classes a day, was a nice reprieve.

There were 4 students in my first class. One student wanted to only listen in, which was fine. There was one student I never did get a response from, so I assumed she too was just listening in. Juan was from Venezuela and Maria was from Veracruz, Mexico and this was her first class.

I thought it went pretty well. After a bit of hesitation on Maria’s part when she began, both students were fully engaged during the class. The class was 45 minutes. Then I had time enough to do the student feedback before joining another class.

I was also supposed to fill out a self-evaluation form after my first class, which I did. I thought I needed work on the interactive tools and resolving audio problems, which I made my goal for the next class.

In the next class, there were some audio problems. The student, Marco, could hear me but could not use his microphone. It seemed he had a new headset and his computer wasn’t reading the microphone. I tried to help him set it up with the troubleshooting tip sheet I had received at the meet and greet. I probably wasted too much time trying to do that. Finally, I suggested that he type his responses in the chat box and I would go over the material so that he could hear it.

He was also very engaged. It was so nice to have students that were very motivated to learn and use their English. There are days in the elementary school that I just want to pull my hair out. The enthusiasm with these classes was very comparable to the kindergarten classes I teach. It was awesome!

And so and so forth. I had every type of class thrown at me throughout the night. Conversation, group, private, grammar, beginners, intermediates, advanced students. You name it, I had it.

I must have read the topic chart incorrectly because I was constantly surprised at the theme I was given upon entering class. So I pretty much had to wing it, every single class. Talk about teaching on the fly!

In between classes, I checked the google time chronometer obsessively. All classes are scheduled for Eastern Standard Time, and well, I don’t live in Eastern Standard Time so I had to make adjustments and calculations. Even with all that, I still somehow managed to miss a class. Oops.

I also must have had an out of body experience. Somehow I joined a class that I was already teaching. Or at least that’s what it appeared on the screen. I think maybe that was the class I had missed and the monitor jumped in under my name to teach it. Maybe.

I had a class or two where students didn’t show up. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I sat there in the empty virtual classroom and twiddled my virtual thumbs. All righty then. On the other hand, I virtually met people from all around the world, Uraguay, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador and so on. It was amazing!

The night stretched into day. I never did get to bed. I finished my last class at 6 am (7 am EST) then piddled around in my classroom until my first elementary class started at 8:30. I knew that if I went to bed, I’d NEVER get up. I taught all my elementary and kindergarten classes and finished at 1:30. At 2 pm (3 pm EST) there was yet another training class. It was compensated thus so totally worth the effort I made to prop my eyelids open. My final class online was from 3:30 to 4:30 pm (4:30 to 5:30 EST) and then I was free to collapse into my bed. Whew!

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