Teaching English Online: The Nomad Experience vs. The B&M Classroom

For the last year and a half, I have enjoyed life as a semi-nomadic VIPKID teacher; however, prior to teaching online, I was a high school English teacher for eight years. I can honestly say that VIPKID came into my life when I really needed it.

I was extremely burned out from teaching in a regular classroom or, as it’s known online in the VIPKID Facebook groups, a “B&M” (brick and mortar classroom). I dreaded waking up in the morning to go to work. I felt bullied by my students and parents as well as unsupported by my administration. I was at the point where I wanted to leave teaching altogether. Luckily, I am so thankful I clicked on a random person’s referral link for VIPKID in a Facebook group. As frustrated as I was with teaching, I knew I couldn’t leave it.

But, after taking a year off from teaching in a B&M, I am going back into the classroom as a 6th grade Language Arts teacher. Don’t worry, I won’t be leaving VIPKID, but I will have to cut down on my hours as I adjust to my new job. As I am on the cusp of going back into the classroom, it makes me think about the pros and cons of teaching online for VIPKID versus teaching in a B&M classroom.

Freedom to Set Your Own Schedule

The biggest advantage I found with VIPKID was that I can set my own schedule because I am an independent contractor. When you teach in a traditional classroom, the district sets your schedule. You can’t just randomly decide to take a week off in the middle of the school year.

I’ll never forget in August last year when I was able to take a week off from teaching with VIPKID and go on a vacation with my husband to Sedona, Arizona. All my teacher friends had gone back to school already, and I was able to take a vacation. It felt amazing.

Like I’ve also mentioned before, teaching with VIPKID allowed me to travel with my husband to Morocco for five months. I never could have done that without a flexible job like VIPKID. If you are looking to travel, teaching online is the way to do it. Teaching with VIPKID gave me something to do during the day as well as allowed me to bring in extra income while traveling. Additionally, Morocco has great peak hours. I normally taught from about 11 AM to 3:30 PM while my husband was at class. I was even able to schedule a break between some of my classes, which was something I could never do when I had to start teaching at 4 AM in Arizona.

Lack of Stability

On the other hand, since you are an independent contractor, you are not guaranteed bookings. Lately, many teachers have expressed concerns about lackluster bookings and not being able to completely fill their schedules. No one is quite sure why this is happening, but there are many theories:

  • Over hiring of new teachers
  • Not enough students
  • Possible incentives for trying new teachers

Personally, I haven’t experienced a lack of bookings, and I don’t really know why other teachers have. I hope it improves soon for teachers because many rely heavily on this job as their sole income or to help supplement their incomes. It’s scary to not know if you will be able to pay your bills each month because your bookings dropped off.

With a B&M job, you are guaranteed a set paycheck. With VIPKID, I always had a goal for how much I wanted to make, but it wasn’t guaranteed I would make that much. You also need to be motivated to work. There were many times when I really should have been working Friday and Saturday nights, but I decided I really didn’t want to, so I took the night off.

4 AM

4 AM. Need I say more? I work on the West Coast, which means my peak hours are 3 AM to 7 AM. There are definitely some mornings that were pretty rough waking up at 3:45 AM to get ready for work. On the other hand, I also really liked being finished with work by 7 AM each morning. I was able to actually have a life during the day and get a lot done. So the early hours are kind of a double edged sword: it stinks to have to wake up so early, but it’s also kind of nice to be finished with work before most people have even woken up.

With a B&M job, you most likely won’t be going to work at 4 AM (or at least I hope not). A typically B&M schedule might be something like 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Unfortunately, as most teachers know, you never just work your contracted hours. I always had to do work on the weekends or stay late after school. With VIPKID, I worked a fraction of the hours compared to a B&M.

Sick Time

For the last year and a half, I have lived in semi-terror about getting sick and having to cancel classes for VIPKID. Overall, I have been pretty lucky. I have only had two teacher no shows due to my alarm not going off and I’ve never had to cancel class. That being said, I have also taught when really sick and with no voice. About halfway through my time with VIPKID, they implemented soft and medium cancellations but I am still afraid to try to use one. So I teach pretty much no matter what.

I have to say that one thing I am looking forward to a lot with going back into the classroom is actually having sick days. One thing I will tell new teachers is don’t be afraid to use your sick time. No one will give you a gold star for coming into work sick and still teaching. Your sick time is there for a reason. Use it.

Grading

As an English teacher in a B&M, I spent so much of my time grading. I think on average, I graded about 18,000 assignments over the course of a school year. Yes, 18,000 assignments. I am not even joking.

Not having to grade was a huge bonus for VIPKID. Frankly, I am kind of dreading having to start actually grading papers again. Yes, you have to write parent feedback after each class, but once I found Feedback Panda, that became so easy. I am actually trying to figure out a way to incorporate Feedback Panda into my grading for my new teaching job.

Benefits

One of the big reasons I hear that people go into teaching are for the benefits like health insurance and retirement. Working as an independent contractor for VIPKID, you have to have your own benefits. You also have to pay your own taxes, which can be pretty high. VIPKID doesn’t take out part of your paycheck for taxes each month. You also have to save for your own retirement.

Pros and Cons

Overall, after working in both environments, teaching online and teaching in a B&M both have their pros and cons. I really enjoyed the freedom that I had with VIPKID, but I am also looking forward to having some more stability with a traditional teaching job. I am also looking forward to actually being able to take time off if I am sick or not having to worry if I would be fired if I missed class or slept through my alarm.

In the end, I am so thankful for VIPKID. It allowed me a much needed break and gave me back my passion for teaching. I also got to teach some really amazing Chinese kids. It’s going to be hard to not teach as much for VIPKID during this upcoming school year, and I am going to miss my regulars like crazy. Luckily, I have the flexibility to open spots when I can on weekends, holidays, and summer vacation.

Happy Teaching!

Teacher Caryn EU