Teacher talks: Kathleen’s online teaching story

Meet the awesome Kathleen Primeau, a painting enthusiast, novice ukulele player and avid traveler. Kathleen has a multitude of teaching (and life) experience. She holds a Bachelor of Education from Nipissing University and over the past five years has taught in the UK as well as one of the most remote parts of Canada - the Northwest Territories.

This summer, Kathleen decided to make a return to her home province of Ontario. While she’s on the lookout for a permanent teaching position, Kathleen’s been supply teaching on the side and teaching ESL students, based in China, online.

At Teach Away, we’ve been seeing an explosion in the popularity of online English teaching jobs as more and more students - especially in China - gravitate towards learning English online.

While we’ve already talked about what you need to get ready to teach online as well as the many benefits of teaching English online in some of our earlier blogs, we were super excited to sit down with Kathleen to find out all about her experience teaching English online with VIPKID over the past year!

What first attracted you to teaching English online?

There are two things that initially attracted me to teaching English online.

The first was that I could work from home, which would eliminate the cost and stress of a commute.

The second was that I really wanted to be able to set my own schedule, seeing as I was supply teaching and looking for a full-time teaching job all at the same time.

Overall, it looked like a great way for me to supplement my income while I was finding my feet after moving back home.


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How did you hear about the opportunity to teach English online with VIPKID?

I actually saw an ad for VIPKID on Facebook one day. It popped up and my first reaction was “is teaching online really a thing I can do?!”

This led me to a Google search, where I discovered some really informative Youtube videos from other teachers working with VIPKID. Those videos gave me the push I needed to apply!  

What was the application and hiring process with VIPKID like?

For me, the application and hiring process was fairly quick. The process consisted of two interviews. All of the interviews are conducted online, through their online portal which is very similar to using FaceTime or Skype.

In each interview, I had to perform a teaching task, using the materials VIPKID provided.

In my first interview, I taught a mini-lesson to my interviewer, who pretended to be a five-year-old English language learner. The lesson lasted around ten minutes total, so not too tricky.

In my second interview, I was asked to teach a full, 25-minute class. This second interview was conducted by a VIPKID teacher mentor - someone with extensive experience teaching online who now mentors new VIPKID teachers.

Overall, I think the way the interviews are conducted really does help you figure out if teaching online is something you will enjoy or not. I found it very helpful and I really connected with the VIPKID team.

What I really enjoyed was that they give you lots of information, tips and support throughout the entire hiring process.

How does the schedule teaching online with VIPKID work?

Once you’re hired and you’ve set up your online profile, you’ll be able to access the online scheduler. It’s really simple and intuitive to use. VIPKID also makes it super easy to understand time differences to narrow down the best times to make your teaching schedule open.

One thing to keep in mind is that it can take up to a month before you get your first class scheduled. In my case, it took around three weeks before I got my first student, but from that point on, it really picked up and I was getting at least eight (or more) classes booked on a weekly basis.   

What did you need to get all set up with a virtual classroom of your own?

In order to teach with VIPKID you need a computer or laptop, headset and access to a good internet connection. These are the bare necessities you need to start teaching online.

VIPKID will also give you a bunch of great tips and advice on how to be an effective online teacher. They offer lots of suggestions on everything from your clothing and teaching props to your lighting and workspace setup.

Although their suggestions aren’t mandatory by any means, they certainly do help you become a more successful teacher - which is a must when you’re looking to build up a substantial student base at the beginning!  

How often do you work and what’s the pay like with VIPKID?

When I first got started teaching English online with VIPKID, I opened up most of my morning schedule (between 5:30 - 10:00 am). At the beginning, I was only getting one to two classes a week. Happily, the number of classes started to pick up fairly quickly around the one month mark.

VIPKID’s online scheduler uses a color code system to indicate peak demand times for online teachers, so you can easily open up your timetable during those times if you really want to maximize your earnings.

In terms of pay, this is usually established in your first interview. In general, (based on your job performance and past experience) you can expect a base rate of around $14 - 22 USD for one hour of teaching.

Most teachers are at the higher end of this range since the pay includes items such as showing up to classes on time. Additionally, VIPKID is constantly offering incentives and bonuses, so a teacher’s actual earning potential is much higher!

Any favorite online teaching props, tools or resources you’d like to recommend to aspiring online teachers?

Absolutely! I keep a teddy bear and some cheap (and goofy) dollar store props close at hand! These are really great to use at the beginning of lessons to grab your student’s attention and to help any shy students warm up to you a little more.

Do you have to do much lesson prep with VIPKID?

Lesson prep is super simple and it’s another thing I love about teaching online with VIPKID.

They use a specific curriculum they have developed and you teach by following along with a PowerPoint lesson while video chatting with your student. All you have to do is review the lesson beforehand.

I typically make a few notes and sometimes I’ll write things out on a whiteboard or piece of paper beforehand. I also try to find real objects to use in my class, instead of pictures. These are easy things that only take a couple of minutes, especially once you become familiar with the lesson styles and formats.

What’s your favorite thing about teaching online?

For me, the very best thing about teaching online is the students - and getting to work from home!

While working one on one with a student and seeing them improve their English skills is really rewarding, being able to do it while still in my pajama pants (which they can’t see, of course!) makes it all the better!


What are the top 3 things about working with VIPKID?

1. Being able to work from home. Or wherever I might be on a given day!

2. The flexible schedule. I could get my teaching out of the way before noon and free up the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted. Pretty awesome, right?

3. The students. Not only are they adorable, they’re also very self-motivated.


How have you found the experience of teaching students online vs. a physical classroom?

Teaching online one on one is definitely different to being in front of a classroom full of kids. If you have some classroom experience though, it will certainly help you in the online teaching environment!

One great thing about online teaching is that you work one on one with a student and at their appropriate level (which is already determined for you by VIPKID).

One slight con you might encounter is a student that has no interest in the lesson. In instances like these, it can definitely be a bit of a challenge to keep them engaged and learning. On the flipside, this is a great opportunity for you to really hone your classroom management skills.

Luckily, that doesn’t happen too often anyway. Overall, I found that VIPKID students tend to be quite enthusiastic!


What’s the ONE thing you wish you’d known before becoming an online teacher?

Remember that you are teaching students who are across the world! You need to research their holidays and time zones as these will impact the number of bookings you can get at certain times.


What advice would you give someone just starting out with teaching online?

Give it a good month before you decide whether you like it or not. And don’t fret if you feel like you royally screwed up a lesson! It probably wasn’t as bad as you thought and at least you learned something from it that you can apply to do better in a future lesson.

My advice is to practice, practice, practice! The best way to get better delivering your lessons is to practice saying them out loud. Teach to the mirror, teach to your old stuffed toys, teach to your pet - whatever you need to do to get more comfortable!

I also recommend you record yourself teaching on your phone. Doing this will boost your confidence AND your teaching skills, which will make your online teaching experience so much smoother and more enjoyable.

Finally, don’t forget to laugh! A VIPKID lesson, although it’s packed with plenty of learning, shouldn't feel like a slog for you or for your student. VIPKID wants you to project energy, excitement and happiness - which is contagious for your students. And don’t be afraid to get silly, your students will love you for it!    

We want to give massive props to Kathleen for sharing her perspective on teaching online with VIPKID. We hope you found it insightful - let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Pumped to apply to teach online with VIPKID? We thought so! Check out the VIPKID job posting here.