VIPKid: Teach from anywhere (REALLY!)

I’m rapidly approaching my one-year anniversary with VIPKid! I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed. There will be some time for reflection soon, but today I wanted to focus on one of the major selling points of becoming a VIPKid teacher. All the literature says you can teach from anywhere, and I can now safely say I’ve tested that claim.

The first of many makeshift classrooms. This first one was in the theater of my apartment building. The conditions inside my apartment were unsuitable for teaching. This isn’t pretty, but it looked decent enough in frame.

The first of many makeshift classrooms. This first one was in the theater of my apartment building. The conditions inside my apartment were unsuitable for teaching. This isn’t pretty, but it looked decent enough in frame.

After the Flood

In December, some areas of San Diego were impacted by flash flooding. Unfortunately, my home was one of the places affected. I watched in complete shock and horror as water ran in through the doors and seeped through the walls of my apartment. Having to deal with the damage and move was pretty devastating.

Even though I was going through a tough time, I knew that I wanted to continue to work. I had gained momentum in my teaching schedule, I loved my regular students, and let’s be honest — dealing with the aftermath of a flood is expensive. I decided that I would be very selective about cancelling my classes so that I could keep doing what I loved. I received soft cancellations for two days of classes after submitting my documentation. Though I never intended to be a semi-nomadic teacher, the Universe had other plans.

This was in the conference room of my apartment building. The theater was in use, and I had a fully-booked Friday evening. I had to relocate. I still had access to all my props at this point.

This was in the conference room of my apartment building. The theater was in use, and I had a fully-booked Friday evening. I had to relocate. I still had access to all my props at this point.

Thank goodness for workshops

Although I never planned to take my classroom on the go, I took an excellent workshop about teaching as a digital nomad. (It is called “VIPKid for the Digital Nomad”, and it’s facilitated by an awesome teacher named Mandy B.) The workshop happened, and then about 2 days later, the flood happened. Thankfully, I learned how to do things like check my internet speed and connection stability, use my phone as a mobile hotspot, and reconfigure hotel rooms to create makeshift classrooms. Even if you don’t ever plan on taking your classroom on the go, I highly recommend checking out this workshop.

Here is one of several hotel set-ups. I wound up taking the shade off the pictured lamp and bringing in a floor lamp ( sans  shade) to create better lighting.

Here is one of several hotel set-ups. I wound up taking the shade off the pictured lamp and bringing in a floor lamp (sans shade) to create better lighting.

The things I carried (props, background, and tech)

As I frantically tried to get my life in order, I made the wise decision to grab some items for my accordion file. I mostly use 2-D props, so this organizational method made the most sense for me. Here is the list of props I grabbed:

  • Reward systems: I took my magnetic Dinos, butterflies, and my monkey/ banana rewards. I keep a giant gold star on hand when I award stars in class.

  • Reusable stickers and backgrounds: I have a set by Melissa and Doug. They were great because I could use them for all animal lessons, and they could also function as additional reward systems.

  • Flash Cards: Letters, numbers, colors, weather, family, and feelings are among the most common things I teach. These all fit nicely into the accordion file.

  • Flags: I always carry my Chinese and American flags with me. I was teaching a lot of Level 2, Unit 12 at the time.

  • Meg and Mike 2-D figures: I use them for teaching pronouns and introducing the characters.

  • Assorted foods and furniture: Nothing beats a giant hamburger to add a bit of humor to a lesson.

  • Dino Doll: I never leave home without him.

  • Magnetic Whiteboard (x2) and Markers: My whiteboards are small. I used one for hanging my magnetic rewards. The other one was for sentence frames and demonstrating grammar.

  • Grammar aids: I love my conjugation sheet. This thing saves so much time. I can also use the back of this laminated sheet as an additional whiteboard. I kept my adverbs of frequency visual and my tenses graphic with me too.

I realize this may sound excessive to you minimalists, but I don’t use ManyCam or Google Slides. I just operate better when I interact with the physical props. If you are super tech-savvy, then everything I just said probably sounds superfluous. Also, props to you! (No pun intended:)

Here’s my camper set-up. Note that the sunbeam and fly-swatter were not visible during class. This was where I worked for most of my 3 months of displacement.

Here’s my camper set-up. Note that the sunbeam and fly-swatter were not visible during class. This was where I worked for most of my 3 months of displacement.

Tech Stuff

In addition to having props on hand, I also had to carry all the equipment necessary to run a stable classroom. Here’s what I had:

  • Laptop (of course): I actually had my regular teaching laptop and my backup. Occasionally, one of them would get finicky during equipment checks, so I could swap it out for the other one. One of the main things I learned from the workshop was that I should keep a backup for my backup. I know some people prefer to use an iPad for their teaching. I acknowledge that this would have saved space, but I do not own an iPad.

  • Wireless Mouse: This is a classroom essential.

  • Headset: This is a given. I know my computer has a built in microphone and speaker, but I didn’t want to skimp on this.

  • Smartphone: I used this to set up a hotspot when my connection was not reliable.

Backgrounds and furniture

When I was packing my props file, I also grabbed a map of the United States and an alphabet strip from the Dollar Store. I’d been keeping these items in reserve for a rainy day. Boy, did it rain! Of course, if you have a background, you have to have a way to secure it. I grabbed a roll of packing tape and some scissors on my way out the door too.

I got tired of having things strewn all over the table. I re-purposed some old tins and borrowed some more props from Mom. I was able to keep all my essentials within easy reach. Again, this is not a model classroom. This is real life!

I got tired of having things strewn all over the table. I re-purposed some old tins and borrowed some more props from Mom. I was able to keep all my essentials within easy reach. Again, this is not a model classroom. This is real life!

I didn’t take furniture with me, but I did rearrange a lot of furniture. In the hotel rooms, I found it best to place my laptop on an ironing board. I propped one of my whiteboards on the ice bucket, and achieved optimal lighting by moving lamps and removing shades. I took into account which location in my room was least likely to disturb other guests, which area I could light most effectively, and which spaces had enough wall space to allow me to control what was in frame.

When I was at my friends’ home, their kitchen table served as my desk. I had minimal lighting in the kitchen, so I borrowed a lamp from another spot to add some brightness.

My parents’ camper has a dining nook. I converted the table into my desk. The divider that separated the bedroom from the dining room was perfect for affixing maps and other decorations.

Things I acquired while I was between homes

Lighting

As I moved from place to place, lighting was always a bit of a nightmare. After a little research, I learned that I could use a selfie ring light to greatly enhance my classroom lighting without having to remove any lampshades. While it’s not as fancy as a professional setup, it made things look a ton better. It wasn’t super expensive, and it’s well worth the money— especially if you’re going to be on the move a lot.

Mobile Hotspot

The internet on the mountain where I was stayed for most of my time wasn’t strong enough or stable enough for conducting class. Using my cellphone was fine in a pinch, but there’s only so much data on my plan. (Even if you have unlimited data, it is possible to use all your high-speed mobile data. You’ll be left with a throttled service that just won’t serve you for live streaming.)

This was my first standing classroom. It looks chaotic because this is after a full morning. The glare on the tape was not so noticeable when I had my ring light on and adjusted. I had no furniture in my home at this point, so I taught a few lessons from my kitchen counter.

This was my first standing classroom. It looks chaotic because this is after a full morning. The glare on the tape was not so noticeable when I had my ring light on and adjusted. I had no furniture in my home at this point, so I taught a few lessons from my kitchen counter.

I went to Best Buy and got a Boost Mobile Wireless Hotspot. It was about $50, and I put 10 GB of data on it for another $50. Considering how many classes I had on my schedule (35-40/week), I knew I needed to have data to spare. Between my phone and the hotspot, my data needs were mostly covered. My brother was also nice enough to let me borrow his tablet, which served as a back up for my back up.

More Backgrounds

After I realized I was going to be staying in the camper for about 2.5 months, I decided I could invest in some inexpensive background items to enhance my classroom. Mainly, I knew I wanted to have something to hang for Chinese New Year, and I didn’t exactly have that stuff lying around.

I also bought some sparkly hearts and paper doilies from the Dollar Tree for Valentine’s Day.

This was my final temporary classroom. Since I still didn’t have furniture, I would up using a trash can box as my desk. As slipshod as this looks from this angle, it looked just fine from my students’ perspective. Keep calm and teach on, my friends!

This was my final temporary classroom. Since I still didn’t have furniture, I would up using a trash can box as my desk. As slipshod as this looks from this angle, it looked just fine from my students’ perspective. Keep calm and teach on, my friends!

The End Result

All said, my entire setup (minus a few of the larger Chinese New Year decorations) fit into my backpack. I taught in about 9 different classrooms over the span of almost 3 months. Two and a half of those months were in a camper, where I could have a semi-permanent setup. I’m happy to say that my regulars stayed, I gained a few new regulars, and I even got certified in a few new levels. It’s totally possible to teach from anywhere!

Now I’m in a new, permanent classroom. I like the stability of being in one place. My hat is off to the folks that travel and teach as a way of life. This flood turned my life upside down, but I was so grateful that I was able to continue working. Since my VIPKid job can travel, I was able to go to my childhood home to collect myself without having to take vacation days.

I should also note that the company was very supportive of me during this time, and the parents and students were great. Not a single one abandoned me as I worked through this — not one. The kind messages from students and their parents encouraged me to keep moving forward.The love of my friends and family as well as my VIPKid family — the compassionate students, parents, and staff — made this possible. We may be half a world away, and we may speak a different language, but we were all put here to help one another walk in this world.

Are you feeling inspired to apply to VIPKid? You can always use my referral link or code (ANGEL0305) to join the family.