Becoming a digital nomad has been the biggest perk that Bridge graduate Olivia Gilmore, from New York, has enjoyed while teaching English online. Previously a musician and music teacher, she has been teaching English classes to kids with well known online tutoring company, VIPKid, for two years now. She shares details of her experience as an online teacher and gives tips on how aspiring ESL teachers can also get into this growing field.
How did you choose VIPKid?
I found VIPKid by chance while searching for further teaching work. I already knew that I had a passion for teaching from my work as a music teacher. I never imagined that I would be teaching English, mostly because I found English grammar so scary (less so now, after taking the Bridge course!). However, I gave VIPKid a try, and it has been a life-changing job for me!
Had you ever taught English before being an online teacher?
My work at VIPKid was my first experience teaching English, but I have prior experience working with children who do not speak English and with children who speak English as a second or third language.
Learn more about how your non-teaching skills can apply to teaching English online.
How did you land your teaching job at VIPKid? Can you tell us about the application process?
The application process was pretty straightforward.
I applied with my resume and got selected for an express interview, given my experience. I watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to give an impressive first interview. After uploading and passing the interview, I moved on to the first mock class.
I remember being so nervous about the mock class! I was asked to teach a sample from a higher-level (intermediate) lesson and a lower (beginner) lesson. I was especially good at teaching the lower level lesson, so my mock class mentor suggested I move on with that level.
Then, I had my final mock class and moved on to teach my first class. I watched a ton of sample YouTube videos throughout the process. If you are going through the VIPKid interview process, you can find a lot of material online to coach you through the process. You can just Google VIPKid interview, VIPKid first mock class, or VIPKid second mock class.
Overall, the process was as follows:
I believe you receive your contract after your interview is passed. However, I went through this process about two years ago, so it might be a bit different now. It is always good to connect with VIPKid teachers, through Bridge, who can help you through the process.
Who are your students?
I work mostly with beginner students aged from 4 to 10 years old. I was placed at this level during my first mock class. As you continue working for VIPKid, you have the option to become certified for levels that you were not originally certified for during your mock classes. However, I enjoy teaching the beginner levels and younger students, so I have decided to stick to those levels.
What’s your schedule as an online teacher? Do you make your own hours?
This job has been a lifesaver for me, as I was able to travel and continue my work abroad while still maintaining a good income from VIPKid. The job has also helped me continue working while being a full-time graduate student.
I make my own hours and have varied from working full time (five hours per day, seven days a week), to working three days a week on a limited schedule. While based in the USA, my hours are early morning (6:30-9 a.m.). However, when abroad I have had classes entirely in the afternoon (3-6 p.m.), or during the day (10-2 p.m.). The peak hours are from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Beijing time, so you just need to convert those times into whatever time zone you are in. The flexibility has allowed me to have a healthy balance with my studies and other hobbies I enjoy!
Do you like your job?
I love my job at VIPKid. The students are wonderful, the hours are great and flexible, the pay is great, and it has allowed me to work on other passion projects and spend time with my loved ones around the globe. I would say that I am completely happy working at VIPKid. There are challenges to teaching online, but nothing about my job that I do not like.
Additionally, I love working with young people and hope that my classes not only help them develop their English skills but also inspire a love of learning and confidence. I know how stressful language learning can be, as I am also a language learner, so I aim to create a comfortable and happy space for my students.
What are your favorite activities or strategies for your online classes?
I love to incorporate music into my English classroom as much as possible. I make up little songs for the students when they do a good job, and I like to use musical ‘rewards’, like making a song together on my iPhone piano. I find that if a class is getting dull or repetitive, one of the best ways to liven it up is to sing a sentence or two. A lot of my students really enjoy drawing, so I like to use drawing rewards as well.
The students like when you show them that you are a real person (not an online robot!), with interests and quirks. They especially love when you recognize their interests, so I like to incorporate as many of their favorite activities along with some of mine into my classroom. I find that this really helps with engagement.
The Bridge Specialized Certificate in Teaching English Online provides new online teachers with methodology, strategies, games, and activities for the virtual classroom.
What’s the biggest challenge and the best thing about teaching online?
Waking up early is not my favorite, but I got used to it! I think the biggest challenge I had to overcome was setting up all of my technology and making sure that I always have good Wi-Fi for teaching. I had this crazy experience where I was out in rural Nepal with my friends, and our Wi-Fi went down right before I had classes! In a scramble, we found a roadside tea shop at 5 a.m., where I was able to get a good enough hotspot to teach my classes! Thankfully, I was able to use props from the tea shop to teach my lessons, and my students and I had a great time. I even got some priority bookings for the next week from those classes.
This was probably my craziest teaching experience, so I wanted to share it. I would definitely not recommend trying it though! There are tools to make sure your Internet or hotspot speed is good for teaching.
I think my whole experience at VIPKid has been great in general. The best thing is probably having the experience of teaching students across the world from my living room!
You took the Bridge 120-Hour Master TEFL/TESOL course. Why did you choose this certification?
I have been working at VIPKid for a long time and had previously completed a less prestigious TEFL and VIPKid’s company TESOL. I decided that I wanted to improve my teaching skills and get a qualification from a prestigious company like Bridge. The course at Bridge has helped me a lot with improving my teaching skills and with my professional development. Currently, I am interviewing with more online English companies and feel confident in my skills, both from my teaching background and from my continued study at Bridge.
How has your course helped you professionally?
It has given me confidence and helped me improve my classes at VIPKid. I have incorporated a lot of the classroom management and creative pedagogy techniques I learned from Bridge into my lessons, and my students are loving it! My Bridge course has also encouraged me to become more involved in the online teaching industry, as I have applied to more e-learning companies.
Also, my Bridge Master Certificate has recently helped me get a job at BlingABC!
What are your career plans?
Right now, I am finishing my master’s degree in International Education and Development. Afterwards, I hope to move back to New York City to find a career in international education, possibly in an organization like UNICEF. I am also very interested in continuing work in e-learning, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, so I am looking for work in learning technology organizations as well. I plan to continue teaching at VIPKid long-term.
Do you have any advice for people new to teaching, who are now looking to get started teaching online?
I have had a great experience working with VIPKid, and I would definitely recommend applying for work in an online English teaching company. Right now, during COVID-19, it is a good time to get into the business. However, I know that many people are applying, so I would recommend applying as soon as possible. There are so many companies out there that cater to different teachers’ and students’ needs and interests. I think the majority are for kids, but there are also online schools for adult students as well. There are a lot of options for you as a teacher, and now is the time!
By the way, VIPKid only hires North American teachers – those with the United States and Canadian citizenship. However, there are many other companies that hire teachers from all over the world. Additionally, VIPKid features one-on-one classes, while there are other companies that feature small group classes. There are a lot of different options for online teaching, so you will find the company that works for you!