I am simultaneously excited and overwhelmed by the fact that 2017 is already planned out for me. In April I am flying to Boston, in June I will be in Korea, in July I will be back in the East Coast, and then I will return to the UK to begin the wedding preparations (did I just type that?! Ahhhhhh). Due to all this back and forth, I have (reluctantly) accepted that a stable career is not an option for me right now. Side note: the feminist/independent voice inside me is screaming, but as I’ve said, I know that I currently have other priorities I need to settle in order for me to find my next steps. That being said, I turned to a few online English teaching companies so that I could do some work during the interim periods. Another side note: Despite my teaching experience and TEFL certification, I never thought I would return to teaching.
The first company I went with was VIPKID. I have to admit that initially I was very wary, for several reasons: my exposure to China, my knowledge of Asian work culture, and my thoughts on (private) companies teaching English purely for profit. After watching a few YouTube videos (here and here , among many), I was VERY drawn to the possibility of creating your own schedule and by how passionate the teachers seemed to be. The videos were really encouraging and useful; I recommend checking them out if you are interested in VIPKID!
Also…..I DO enjoy interacting with little kids and have a tremendous amount of patience when it comes to dealing with the worst behaved critter in the classroom. So I created an account, uploaded my resume, and was encouraged to schedule an interview immediately. I hesitantly scheduled an interview two days later.
In terms of prep, a lot of the blog posts and videos I saw recommended that I buy an orange shirt (company color), props, and a white board, along with handmade flash cards. I wore an orange polo borrowed from my fiance’s closet (I don’t own orange!), utilized the only two stuffed animals we had, and printed out the powerpoint my interviewer emailed over. Let’s be real: I was scheduled in for a 10 minute demo lesson; I was not going to spend endless hours preparing and buying props that I would never use otherwise. However, I did memorize the lesson and instructions (SUPER easy and simple) and practiced 3 times before the interview. I entered the portal an hour prior and timed my demo another 3 times to make sure I had it down right. You’ll have to take my words for granted when I say that I felt confident about my demo, and I was not particularly nervous.
Right. So…..first off I read the reviews from ESL Cafe and Glassdoor. I was not surprised to see negative reactions and honestly, I was a bit prepared for it myself. Quick side note: when I applied with EPIK I knew it was a case of the interviewer liking me in the end that would determine if I landed the job; but I also felt that he took me seriously and tested all of my qualifications. Importantly, I felt that he himself was qualified to consider me for a candidate. For VIPKID I had the feeling that it is a private company interested in profit; they want foreign teachers in bright orange shirts teaching AMERICAN English, and for them to teach English like Big Bird and Elmo on Sesame Street- wherein the balance becomes blurry- are you a teacher, or an entertainer for the child’s amusement? Do they even care about the actual curriculum and protocol? I know for every job the interviewer liking you is certainly a factor, but I did not have a good interview experience.
Second, I am happy to say that because I was a publicly hired teacher, my colleagues encouraged me to use my creative strengths and listened to my feedback intently. From experience, my friends who worked for private academies and companies were rarely allowed to be “creative;” they were instantly fired if they did not stick to the rhetoric they were told to convey to the kids, even if the curriculum was boring AF. I am not someone who can teach a textbook verbatim; I enjoy personalizing it for myself and for the classroom. I did not get the sense that VIPKID allowed this (OF COURSE I could be wrong).
Third, if hired, I would be dealing with international bosses. If I had a complaint or problems with payment- who would take up my case? Let’s be real again, there is no firm guarantee of stable contracts and payment. I did briefly consider this, but I was very enticed by the flexibility of my own working schedule.
Anyways, let me elaborate on my actual interview.
1. My interviewer and I were both early, so we began the interview 20 minutes before the scheduled time. She did not smile once nor ask me the typical greeting questions. This did not particularly bother me; I chalked it up to cultural differences. What did bother me was the intense unprofessionalism she displayed. Was she even qualified to conduct interviews?? She asked me three questions: Where are you from and do you have a passport/Are you certified/What is your highest degree?- and moved on abruptly without letting me finish my answer (Was she just asking for yes/no answers?).
2. I ensured that my connection was stable, as VIPKID made it clear that was essential to securing a position. The internet connection was TERRIBLE on her end and she was blaming me for the lag in communication! She asked me to type out a few words I was saying, and even then could not understand me (I was using very simple English). I am NOT trying to be high and almighty here; I recognize that it is a Chinese company with many employees, but if you are trying to market an American teaching brand, then shouldn’t your interviewers be able to carry out BASIC English conversation and NOT blame the interviewee for the language obstacle?! Note: I promise I am not trying to offend here.
3. We began the demo and it was going well- I stuck to 10 minutes exactly. Except there were FREQUENT delays in response as her connection was not very strong. At the end of the lesson, she chastised me for the internet connection, my props, and claimed I did not have enough interaction (you will have to take my word for it when I say that I DID have student interaction). I pretty much knew then (maybe even from the start) that I was not lucky enough to have an interviewer who liked me, and did not hold high hopes for getting hired.
4. Sure enough, I received a generic email stating I was not hired- what upsets me most is that I feel that this was a case of the interviewer LIKING you that gets you hired; not your actual qualifications. As bitter as I sound about not securing a position with this company, I am more astounded by the lack of professionalism and the BS that came along with it.
5. Unpopular opinion: From my experience, I feel that a lot of Asian companies seek WHITE AMERICAN English teachers- it is an awful feeling to harbor but it does seem that this may have been a slight factor. I am not saying all Asian-American teachers are/were not hired, but I am not ruling this out completely.
All that said, I do think that the opportunity this company provides is fantastic and I hope the interview process and the actual teaching becomes improved with more and more amazing teachers out there.