Today I am interviewing Hope O’Briant. She recently moved with her family to New York, but she’s originally from the small town of Milan, TN and spent most of her entire childhood there. She has an interesting new job that allows her to support her families’ schedule and I thought it’d be fun to share her story for those readers out there that are looking for a similar, more flexible work schedule.
Hi Hope! Tell me a little bit about your background.
I am new New Yorker/city girl! I spent nearly my entire childhood in the tiny town of Milan, TN where my dad is still an optometrist and mom was a special education teacher before leaving that profession to run my dad’s office.
I moved to Oxford, MS for college at Ole Miss and then to Memphis for law school where I stayed for nearly 20 years. We recently moved to NYC for my husband’s job, he’s in the financial industry. He’s been wanting to make the move to NYC for at least the last couple of years.
Our middle child, Lily Brooks, is a professional actress and was ‘Matilda’ in the US tour of the Broadway show ‘Matilda the Musical’. I am not a big fan of cold weather so I was a holdout. After Lily Brooks finished her run as Matilda, my husband said it was time for the move and I realized it was time for me to let go of things I love and find new things to love, because a move to NYC was truly the best thing for the majority of our family.
While I still REALLY don’t like the cold weather, I do LOVE NYC and we are thankfully settled into this lifestyle.
I do NOT miss driving everywhere and adore the subway and endless cultural opportunities at our fingertips.
Tell me about your unique employment background.
I was an attorney until the birth of our second child when I moved to practicing on a contract basis and stayed home with our children. When our 3rd child turned two years old, I quit practicing law and started a swim lesson business from my home. I had taught swimming lessons in high school and had been a life guard. Around the time I decided to stop practicing law, my dear friend, Erin Bladon, who had taught swimming in Germantown for 15 years, announced she was moving to Texas and I asked Erin who I should send other moms to when they ask about a good swim instructor. She said, “Hope, you should take over for me. You are a great teacher and would love this!”
I was reluctant because it had been so many years but I also had worked with my own children and other friends’ kids. It seemed to be a gift and I was passionate about making sure children knew how to confidently swim and enjoy it. I took my re-certification class and started teacher later that summer. I have always been intrigued by marketing and worked hard to build Ms. Hope’s Summer Swim School through social media and staying true to my philosophy to give parents the tools/information to help their swimmers to safely and confidently succeed as happy swimmers.
I posted tips every day and shared as much as possible to help parents understand what their children were learning and ways to help them improve their swimming skills before and after my classes. My first goal was to make a difference in these children’s lives and I wanted the parents to know every trick in my book to help their children to become safe in the water. The business part was second.
When you moved to New York, what inspired you to start working again?
Well, NYC is super expensive and after getting the family settled into life here, I knew I needed to find part-time work. I am licensed to practice law in TN, MS, and AR but not NY, so finding an attorney position wasn’t likely. I love to teach swimming but I realized it wasn’t exactly economically feasible with such limited access to pools.
A theater mom friend whose daughter was in the national tour of ‘Annie’ told me about VIPKid and how much she loved it. So I thought I would give it a try and see if it fit my schedule. I needed something flexible because we have three children, two who I home-school and one who has auditions often at the last minute. VIPKid has been the perfect fit.
Tell us a little more about the VIPKid program and your daily work life.
VIPKid is a virtual classroom for Chinese kids (approximately ages 4-12) to learn from native North American English speakers. The company provides pre-made lessons for students with varying levels of the English language. Each class is 25-28 minutes long and you (the teacher) click through the lesson slides with the student via a video chat program.
The teaching schedule is based on the needs of the students in China. Right now peak times on CST (I’m on EST time) are 6am-8am and also Friday and Sat evenings. My typical schedule right now is Mon-Sun & Friday from 6am-9:30 am and Saturday evenings from 9pm-11:30 or midnight. There’s a shift in the summer which begins July 1st and lasts until September 1 when their schools starts again. I hear the summer schedule can be as full as you would like.
VIPKid pays $14-$22/hour, depending on your experience, education, interview success, and work ethic each month. Since it is a Chinese company, the pay is a little different than what Americans are used to. Pay starts at $7-$9/lesson. Remember, each lesson is a 30 minute time block. Here are some specifics of how the bonus pay works.
*Not showing up for classes and/or not fulfilling your requirements results in a pay deduction. That said, if you are committed to the job, don’t let this pay process concern you.
What are the requirements to start working as an instructor with VIPKid?
The minimum requirements are to be a native North American English speaker (although you do not have to currently reside in North America), a Bachelor’s degree (does not have to be in education), and at least one year of teaching experience (does not have to be a formal public school teaching job). In my interview process I referenced my 8+ years of teaching swimming and my homeschooling teaching experience. You don’t have to have a teaching certificate. You do need a webcam and very reliable high speed internet.
The lessons are all pre-made, consist of approximately 25-30 slides, and are based on the student’s current level. They are meant to be very interactive so you may be singing, playing charades, drawing, and otherwise having fun with the students. Teachers are required to have at least a white board, flashcards or letter magnets, and a plushy/puppet – all of which can be purchased very inexpensively at the dollar store, or “borrowed” from your kids.
What advice do you have for someone that would like to get started with VIPKid?
- Find a mentor to help you
- Do your homework
- Practice, practice, practice for your interview demo lesson and mock lessons
A fellow theatre mom helped me along the way and I know it made all of the difference.
This isn’t a traditional classroom setting. My friend Sarah says it is 1/2 teaching and 1/2 acting or improv and she is completely right! You have to use your hands to act out a lot to help the child learn. VIPKid has grown so rapidly that their founder is SUPER concerned about finding quality teachers who can adapt to the online classroom style that VIPKid demands. They want positive, encouraging, friendly teachers who make this fun for the children.
I am sure the students appreciate your teaching heart so much; what are you learning through the program?
I have REALLY REALLY missed teaching my swim babies. Ok, so I know most weren’t really babies, but I saw each sweet student as my own and I miss their smiles, their victories and being able to feel like I was making a difference by using the gifts God gave me.
I love being able to be goofy and make these kids smile and help them learn in a fun way. I love to help them learn and watch their victories just like I could with my swim students. Most of the Chinese students’ school atmosphere is usually the traditional and a very regimented Chinese mindset so VIPKid wants very positive, encouraging, fun teachers to help the children love to learn English.
What type of qualities do you think it takes to work for this program?
Patience is KEY, lots of energy, great listening skills, the ability to be super goofy to get a smile and not care how silly you look. Being sincere and encouraging is important. Most of the Chinese children see us at 7, 8, 9 or even 9:30 at night when they have class during the week. A lot of these children wake up at 6 am with a school day that runs up to 10 hours, and they have even more lessons after school with a LOT of homework. It is our job to help them enjoy learning at the end of a long day, and most of the time that takes just a little effort to be goofy to get a smile from them.
Are their opportunities for advancement or expansion with the program?
Occasionally VIPKid offers additional positions to teachers who have been around for a while. Typically, these are Practicum Evaluators and Teacher Mentor positions. Contracts last 6 months at a time, and teachers have an opportunity to receive a raise when their contract is renewed, based on their performance during the previous contract period.
There are also a LOT of options for bonuses and incentives. For example some teachers have received bonuses for their 3 month anniversary, substituting, working during the holiday season, referring “amazing teachers,” and if a new student signs up after taking a trial class with that teacher. Every month VIPKid seems to offer some sort of competition, bonus, or incentive program.
People may be interested to know that VIPKid pays once a month via direct deposit by the 15th of each month.
If you’re thinking about applying, I would LOVE for you to use my referral link OR referral code-033FLQ.
VIPKid encourages current teachers to help new teachers with the process by rewarding us with a little extra bonus each month. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested and would like coaching through the application process or a mentor once you get started with the program.
So far it has been a wonderful journey for me!