During the 6 months I have been teaching English online with VIPKID, I have traveled non-stop. I’ve visited and taught in places like Bali, Thailand and Cambodia, and currently, I am backpacking through Europe. Thankfully, during this time I have managed to keep a consistent schedule, keep my regulars and non-regulars entertained, avoid IT and WiFi issues and make my minimum of at least $1500 each month all while traveling the world with a 40L backpack. Along the way I have learned some tips and tricks to avoid getting “Teacher No Shows”, “Teacher Cancellations” and “Teacher ITs”. Since I know quite a few of you are interested in teaching with VIPKID while traveling or vacationing, I figured I would share my insight.
So, whether you are just going on vacation for a few days or are a long-term traveler like myself, you will find these tips useful for teaching with VIPKID while traveling.
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What You’ll Find in This Article
- Tips for WiFi
- Tips on Background/Lighting
- Tips on Props/Rewards
- Tips on Where To Stay
- Tips on How to Schedule Classes
Tips for WiFi
When traveling and teaching, one of the biggest concerns is WiFi. Will the WiFi be strong enough; will the place even have WiFi, what’s the speed, etc.? Well, here are a few tips to help you figure out the WiFi situation when heading to a new destination.
1. Get a Backup WiFi Source
Buy an International SIM Card
If you have an unlocked phone, you can purchase international SIM cards in any location and tether WiFi from your phone to your laptop to teach classes. Although this can be a cheaper option at first, the pennies will add up. Constantly having to buy a new SIM card for each destination will get expensive and annoying, especially if you don’t speak the native language.
WiFi Hotspot Device
A WiFi hotspot device is the best option for backup WiFi in my opinion. If you are a frequent traveler, like myself, and staying in one location just isn’t your thing, a WiFi hotspot is cheaper and a more permanent backup.
I personally use Teppy from Tep Wireless as my personal pocket WiFi. And because I bought their global pocket hotspot, I have access to unlimited WiFi in over 150 countries for one flat rate and I can pay-as-I-go, rather than pay per day. For $9, I get unlimited 3G/4G WiFi access for 24 hours. I personally find it super reliable and ideal for times when my WiFi unsuspectingly goes out or there’s a power outage. It’s worth every penny, and it has saved my butt on a couple of occasions. Also, if you don’t want to purchase a WiFi hotspot you can just rent it by the day during your vacation! If you are interested in learning more about Tep Wireless, you can read this article here or ask me!
2. Call Ahead of Time
If you’re staying somewhere where you can contact the owner, do so and ask about the WiFi speed and stability. When I am renting an apartment via Airbnb, I usually ask the host something along the lines of, “Hey, I work online and it’s very important for me to have reliable and stable internet for my job. Can you please send me a screenshot of a speed test for your WiFi? Thanks.”
However, be aware that the speed test is only accurate for the time it is being used, that same speed will not be guaranteed while you’re teaching! It’s really just to give you an idea of how fast the internet can be. Also, checking reviews on properties is a good way to find out about the WiFi’s speed and stability.
3. Ask Other VIPKID Teachers
There are a good number of VIPKID teachers who are travelers and have taught in many different locations around the world. Most of these teachers are more than happy to share their WiFi experience in specific locations and even for specific hotels/hostels or rentals, so utilize this resource! You can find those teachers on the VIPKID Teachers Who Travel FB group.
4. Know These Useful Things
- VIPKID classes use about 60-100 MB worth of data per class.
- You can improve your internet connection by using an Ethernet cord and plugging it directly into the modem or the Ethernet plug in a hotel.
- If your laptop doesn’t have an Ethernet port like my Macbook Pro then consider getting a USB to Ethernet Network Adapter or a WiFi Range Extender to boost the WiFi signal.
- A good WiFi speed tester is speedtest.net. Download speed is what matters in the test as you really won’t be uploading anything(except the ppt), and the ping needs to be in relation to VIPKID servers, not your local server.
- You can monitor your internet connection (ping) and data usage while in the VIPKID classroom. You can learn more about it here.
- Avoid having any other sites or apps/programs open that will use the internet while you are teaching
- Though VIPKID requires a connection speed of 20Mbps, it is possible to teach a class successfully with lower speeds, however know that the video quality won’t be spectacular.
Tips on Background/Lighting
1. Invest in Noise-Cancelling Headsets
The first months of teaching, I was completely against having huge headphones (I am a minimalist traveler) especially since I had earbuds that worked perfectly fine. But I quickly learned that they are essential when traveling and teaching, as unwanted background noise is inevitable. Teaching a class while construction is going on, or while your neighbors are having a mini rave party next door isn’t fun with earbuds. Trust me! Noise-cancelling headphones are the way to go if you don’t mind the extra space they take up in your bag.
Here are two highly recommend headphones:
Logitech Clearchat Comfort H390: Cuts out background noise, rotating microphone, in-line audio controls, USB connection and compatible for Windows PC and Macbooks
SADES 902 PC Gaming Headset 7.1 Surround Sound: Adjustable microphone, cuts out external sound, soft, comfortable and ventilate ear cushion which doesn’t hurt the ears when using it for long hours (i.e 12 classes back to back). Bonus: It comes in a VIPKID orange and black color!
2. Use a Piece of Felt/World Map
Some teachers are concerned about their background being boring or want some consistency so their students don’t know they are traveling, so my suggestion is investing in a piece of felt or in a world map. Most places you’ll travel to will sell these items for a few dollars. If not, I am sure Amazon has something. Also, if you bought too much felt, you can use the leftovers for props and rewards. What I love about these two items is that they make great portable backdrops as they fold up nicely and they take up little to no room in your travel bag.
3. Utilize a Lamp/USB Desk Lamp
If your classroom is too dark, use a desk lamp to brighten up your classroom or sit directly under a light source. Another option is increasing the brightness of your computer (the brightness will reflect off of you when it’s dark). If you don’t want to worry about having a dark classroom, invest in a USB desk lamp. This device connects to your computer via the USB port and lights up the area around your computer, making you brighter.
4. Use Natural Light
If you are teaching during the day, natural light coming from the windows is your best friend (sometimes!) You will have to position yourself perfectly so no matter how the sun is positioned, it doesn’t mess up the lighting of your classroom. This skill really comes with practice by doing test runs before teaching your class.
Tips on Props/Rewards
As mentioned earlier, I like to travel light, which means if it doesn’t fit in my 40L backpack, it’s not coming with me! I don’t carry a million and one props or rewards for my students. To be honest, I don’t think you need that much stuff. I have found that my basic classroom, silliness, and child-like behavior is more than enough to fill up all my time slots! My regulars love me!
Remember, quality is better than quantity. If you have limited props don’t feel like you can’t teach a class or win your kiddos’ heart. All you have to do is start with the basics and be creative. “Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you tried.” (yep, I just quoted Dr. Seuss)
First, here’s what I use for my classes:
- 2 dry eraser marker
- A cardboard whiteboard (not magnetic)
- ABC flashcards
- A pack of crayons
- A notebook (to draw things and to take notes for feedback)
- A hand puppet
- Handful of laminated props (Meg, Mike, nametag, foods, numbers, animals etc.)
- 4 laminated VIPKID reward system (Bananas, Ice Cream, Birthday Cake w/Candles, Body Parts)
1. Use Your Whiteboard
Your whiteboard is your best friend! If you asked any VIPKID teacher if they could bring only one prop with them, what would it be? 99% would say a white board! Why? Well, it’s pretty versatile! It can serve as your visual aid and as a blank canvas for any reward system you may come up with (build a house with shapes, hangman, make a face, add pedals to a flower, etc.).
P.S. Assorted color dry erase markers compliment this tip well :)
2. Use Things Around You
There is nothing quite as awesome as a resourceful and minimalist traveling teacher. I have used an apricot as a ball for my “catch a ball in a cup” lesson. I have used welcome candy from my host as a reward system for my students! I have even turned empty toilet paper rolls into “binoculars” and mics for singing the “Hello” and “Goodbye” songs. The possibilities are endless! In the words of Dr. Seuss, “It’s not about what it is. It’s about what it can become.”
3. Let Your Inner Child Out
Don’t be afraid to be silly or childlike, even when your student is as serious as a stone! They’ll love that you are silly and will act silly with you! I have won over so many of my kiddos’ hearts this way.
4. Create Rewards Based on Their Interests
My best rewards are the ones I create based on my kids’ interests and likes. For example, I have one kid who is in love with superheroes, so as a reward we act like one of the many superheroes. There is another student (who I am sure owns a toy store, because the amount of toys he owns is ridiculous) who loves to show off his toys, so for his reward he gets to show me his toy and play with it for like 10 seconds. One of my kiddos loves to dance, so every time she gets a star she gets to play a song and we have a mini dance party. There’s another student of mine who loves to type (but he types ridiculously slow), so every time I give him a star he gets to type two words of his choice (this way it doesn’t take 20 years for me to finish one slide and he gets to type). This way your regulars won’t get bored if you are constantly making new rewards based on their interests.
5. Download ManyCam
Though I personally don’t use this option, I have looked into it (still considering it) and many VIPKID teachers highly recommend it. ManyCam allows you to have virtual and interactive props and rewards right in your VIPKID classroom. This can be a good option if you want to eliminate buying new props or overloading your backpack with props and rewards.
Tips on Where To Stay
Airbnb is my go-to rental. I don’t bother with hostels, co-working spaces or hotels (if I can avoid them). Why? Well, the idea of sharing my WiFi connection with 100s of people, or trying to teach in a common area sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. With Airbnb, I have my own private space, private WiFi, and a modem close by that I can reset if I need to. I find the extra money I dish out to rent out an entire apartment via Airbnb is totally worth it, plus you can make the rental fee back in 3-4 classes depending on your VIPKID salary.
Here are some tips for booking an Airbnb rental:
- Contact the host before booking and ask a million and one questions (ask about WiFi reliability, modem whereabouts, will the WiFi be shared, etc.).
- Book an entire apartment instead of a private room, as you don’t want to be a pain in the ass with your teaching to the people you are sharing the place with.
- Check reviews for mentions about WiFi speed
- Utilize the pictures to determine if the rental space has ideal locations to teach. I usually look for lamps, a desk, a table, or even a separate room before I book a place. A rental with a lot of windows is also nice for natural light when teaching during the day.
- Use an Airbnb coupon code. With our Airbnb coupon code you will get $40 off your next booking.
- Some rentals have monthly and weekly discounts, so if you plan to stay at a location for longer, look out for rentals with these discounts as you can save a lot on accommodation.
If Airbnb isn’t your thing, you can also check out other rental listing sites such as Booking.com.
Tips on How to Schedule Classes
1. Don’t Teach on Travel Days/Do Trial Runs
For me, the first day in a new location is spent scoping out my accommodation and testing the WiFi. This allows me to figure out the ideal spot to teach (good lighting, good background, etc.), what things I need to move around to create the ideal teaching spot (desk, chairs, trash cans), potential props I can use for class, determining the WiFi strength, etc. If the WiFi is not up to par (this is when the backup WiFi comes into play), I also have enough time to find a new place and curse out the rental owner, just kidding (not really)!
Once you have scoped out your new location and everything is up to par, open your time slots and potentially make some extra cash with short notice bookings. Those extra two bucks go a long way.
2. Update Time Zone
When I know I am crossing timezones I don’t open any slots up for a few days. This helps avoid any accidental “Teacher No Shows” and gives you time to figure out the time difference and the best times to teach. Along with taking time to recover from any possible jet lag, you also have time to alter your schedule and update the timezone on VIPKID’s Portal. P.S. This is something you need to do manually, it’s not automatic.
On that note, always remember to check the time zone difference when traveling to a new country/destination.
3. Create A Schedule For Yourself
Since I have been traveling and teaching, I have created a schedule for myself that allows me time to explore places while still making enough money to support myself. I have found that teaching only three days a week (on the same days every week) and exploring a destination the other four days to be a healthy balance no matter where I am in the world. Because of this, I am able to open my time slots ahead of time so my regulars can continue to book me as I have a “consistent schedule.”
A consistent schedule forces me to plan ahead. As a spontaneous, go-with-the-flow traveler, I hate planning things, especially since nothing ever goes according to plan. But I quickly learned if I wanted to sustain my travels and my job with VIPKID, I needed to plan at least 2 weeks in advance (A month or more would be too much for me. Baby steps.). So now I know, no matter where I am in the world or what I am doing, I need to make sure I am somewhere I can teach with good WiFi on those three days.
For example, if I am doing a road trip around the USA and I know I teach every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I will make sure by Monday night I am heading to a quiet place where I have good WiFi, the background is ideal, and I can teach with no issues, i.e. not the woods or at a camping site
Well there you have it, my tips for teaching English with VPKID while traveling the world! If you have any questions or tips to add, feel free to comment below!
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