Every weekday morning, Jen Ross rolls out of bed around 5 a.m., throws on her familiar orange uniform shirt, breaks out her guitar and and walks five feet to her office, where she teaches English to students who live 7,200 miles away.
From her home in Mount Dora, Florida, Ross teaches Chinese children as young as 4 years old how to say words like apple, banana or monkey — or simply strums G, C and D chords while an especially energetic tyke writhes with joy.
She also has students who can carry on full conversations, dreaming about visiting the Statue of Liberty or Ross’s native Florida while teaching her about the biggest landmarks in China. She teaches the English language, but also the very concept of a conversation.
Ross does all this while working as an independent contractor for the online education company VIPKID, which the former public school teacher turned from a side gig into a full-time job last August.
Now, working for the company that employs 30,000 remote tutors, she’s able to pursue her true passion of writing and working toward a masters in fine arts while making $22 an hour — more than $520 a week, working 24 hours for VIPKID.
“And now I can live the stay-at-home dog life,” Ross says with a laugh.
The workload is a huge leap from her time as a public school teacher.
Here’s How This Teacher Ditched the Classroom for VIPKID
“I loved it,” she said. “I loved building relationships with the students and seeing them learn.”
To them, she was Ms. Ross, the guitar-strumming teacher who sang songs about writing.
But outside the classroom, she was burned out from 60- to 80-hour weeks and the lack of vacation. If she wanted to take time off, arranging for a substitute teacher — if she could find one — was often more work than it was worth.
“I always wanted to write, but I didn’t have the time or mental energy to write — at all,” says Ross.
In 2016, she quit teaching and took a job at a local Allstate office, where she learned to sell insurance. It was soon after that she saw an ad for VIPKID on Facebook.
After watching encouraging videos of current tutors on YouTube, she signed up. Two weeks later, she started the journey that would lead her to a true work-from-home lifestyle.
Interested Yet? Here’s Exactly How to Become a VIPKID Teacher
At its core, VIPKID is an a la carte, online educational service for teaching English to Chinese students.
Every day, thousands of teachers open up half-hour teaching blocks (lessons are 25 minutes long), then VIPKID users log in and choose the teacher and timeframe they prefer. (We’ll have more on how to make the most of this system below.)
VIPKID provides teachers slides and a lesson plan for each teaching block.
Because Beijing is 12 or 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern time (depending on daylight saving time), you’re best to do the lessons early in the morning. But weekends offer more flexibility, because the Chinese students aren’t in school.
VIPKID teachers earn a base rate of $7 to $9 per block they teach. But you can also earn a $1 incentive for each block if you teach 45 classes a month and another $1 if you finish the classes on time.
Ross, who just got a raise, makes the maximum amount per block: $11, or $22 an hour.
VIPKID requires a bachelor’s degree, one year of teaching experience, high-speed internet and the ability to pass a background check. But you don’t need to know Chinese.
After applying, you’ll go through some mock lessons. You’ll find plenty of information on how to breeze through those tests here.
It took Ross two weeks to get through the process, but she said she thinks she could have done it faster if she hadn’t been working full time.
8 Tips to Get the Most out of VIPKID
Ross doesn’t make her full income through VIPKID. She also teaches two guitar lessons and tutors four local students every week.
But she was able to finally quit that insurance job in August 2017, thanks to the $500 a week she was bringing in through VIPKID.
“At first, it was really scary,” she says. Now, she’s a pro.
Here are 10 tips and tricks Ross shared for aspiring VIPKID teachers to make the most out of the tutoring service:
1. Find a VIPKID Veteran for Advice
At first, running a gauntlet of back-to-back 25-minute teaching blocks can seem overwhelming. Having a friend, family member or former colleague who is teaching through VIPKID to guide you will help immensely, Ross says.
“Find someone who knows what they’re doing,” she suggests.
There are also plenty of helpful videos on YouTube.
2. Find an Original Angle for Your Teaching Style
You’ll be competing with thousands of other remote teachers for the attention of Chinese parents, so having an original bio and teaching style will keep regulars coming back.
Ross uses her guitar and sometimes plays along with students who break out their own instruments during a lesson. Here’s an example of a VIPKID-sanctioned musical number:
To see New Zealand is my wish
I want to eat some yams and fish
That definitely slaps with an electric guitar under it.
Ross also uses puppets during lessons, because the really young student might not even understand the concept of a conversation. She can summon a funny voice and use her puppets to help set the stage for the lesson of the day.
3. Stick With Mornings or Evenings — Not Both
As mentioned earlier, you have more flexibility working on the weekends. But Ross suggests picking either mornings or evenings to avoid burnout.
“Unless you don’t like sleep,” she says.
4. Be Prepared
You’ll get summaries of the lessons before you actually have to start teaching — so learn them!
Ross has been doing this long enough that she knows most of the lesson plans, but being unprepared can turn a 25-minute lesson into a stressful teaching experience.
5. Learn How to Pace Yourself
It’s a big learning curve trying to figure out how to limit — or stretch — a lesson to 25 minutes.
But Ross suggests not sticking to the allotted one-minute-per-slide rule and moving forward if your student finishes a slide early. That way, you’ll have time to linger on slides they’re struggling with. If you have some time left over at the end of the lesson, go back over some of the material you covered.
6. Pick the Amount of Work That’s Right for You
Ross tries to fit in 24 hours of VIPKID a week, working in a few hours each morning or evening, depending on daylight saving time. This offers several benefits: She’s guaranteed the $1 incentive and makes more than $500 a week.
But even if you only teach a few hours per week, the income can put a dent in your cable, utility or cell phone bill at the end of the month.
7. Recruit Qualified Friends
Ross has only recruited five or six of her fellow teachers, but this is another way to make extra cash with VIPKID.
You can make $50 to $60 per referral. Plus, you can serve as their mentor and help them get through their first few weeks on the job.
8. Get Ahead of Your Taxes
As an independent contractor, you’ll receive a 1099 form from VIPKID to file your taxes — which, regardless of this being a side gig, you do have to do.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to doing your taxes as an independent contractor. But Ross says it’s really not as scary as you might think.
VIPKID Can Be a Real Life Changer
Since she started working from home (and way fewer hours than the 80 per week she previously taught), Ross says she’s completely changed her lifestyle.
“I eat healthier and I exercise more,” she says. “There are so many things that go along with the whole package here.”
Later this month, she’ll take a vacation to Asheville, North Carolina. She’ll pack for the cooler weather and bring headphones and her computer.
And, of course, a few puppets, in case she wants to pick up a few VIPKID teaching blocks.
“There’s nothing like being able to pass the joy I have for reading, writing, and learning or playing guitar on to a kid,” Ross says. “There’s nothing that can match that feeling, and I’m so glad I found a way to keep doing that that’s more conducive to a healthy lifestyle.”
Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. As a drummer, he’s not sure how his musical talent would translate into teaching, but he’s really considering giving it a (rim)shot.
Great! Sign up for our newsletter to learn more ways to make extra money: