A Little Virtual Classroom Tour/Teaching Collection
One of my favourite parts of starting out with VIPKid was getting my classroom all set up. This was something that I had no idea I would need to do when I signed up for VIPKid. I had just assumed that I would sit on my couch and turn on the lamp. While this job does have the capability to be mobile, they still want you to have good lighting, a colourful (non-distracting) backdrop, and a couple of versatile props at hand. I've seen teachers pack their whole little classroom into a small rucksack and teach in different countries all over the world! But, because I am 99% home-based (100% at the minute), I decided to invest a little bit of money into making my classroom as fun and useful as I could be on a beginner-teacher's budget.
In a different world, I would have gotten a lot more at Poundland (the British equivalent of the dollar store), but due to Covid, I was stuck trying to find everything I could for reasonable prices on the web or just sitting around the house.
** Keep in mind, that since you are technically self-employed when working with VIPKid, all items that you buy specifically for your classroom can be used as tax deductions and you can even claim a bit of money back on things such as the internet or printer ink which are just a couple of things that I obviously don't use solely for work.
So, the first question is 'where in my house do I set up?' My initial instinct was to set up in my second bedroom upstairs where we have a guestroom/office/storage/library vibe going on, but I had a couple of issues. Firstly, the office is where my husband has been setting up when he's working from home (which is pretty often at the minute), secondly I would have to rearrange the desk to ensure that the natural light from the window would be hitting me properly, and thirdly my internet connection is downstairs so there'd have to be an ethernet cord running all the way through my house. So, I had a think and decided to take over our little dining room table (considering we eat in the lounge every night any way). This way I would have loads of natural light, the ethernet cord would not have to go all the way upstairs, and Jonathan and I could each have our designated work spaces. I have seen people set up in the corner of their bedrooms, or i've seen people make a backdrop on a tri-fold piece of cardboard and hide it behind their couch during the day/pull it out when it's time to teach!
The most important things to look for in your set up is that is is quiet, has good lighting, and has a stable internet connection. If you have those 3 things than all you really need is a student and a smile.
Now, for a look into what I bought or pulled out of storage, i've labelled some bits and bobs on the pictures and will link something similar beneath if you are just setting up or wanting to revamp your classroom! Since I am in the UK (a rarity for VIPKid) my links are for sources in the UK, but I will try and find a US alternative for all of you teachers that are teaching in the States. If you are working for another ESL company that teaches from the UK, all of my backgrounds and props are universal and would be excellent for you as well!
This is what I see when I am teaching. It's a LOT of technology.
Headset- If you are going to invest in anything, this is what I would recommend investing into. You are going to use this every class and it's important that they're good quality since the entire point of this job is for kids to hear what you are saying clearly and learn from it. I love that I can turn my mic up/down or off/on with just a click of a button and they're super comfortable. I'll link my exact ones below. You don't need to spend as much as I did, but I would recommend spending a bit more money for this specific piece of equipment.
Camera- Most teachers use the camera that is built into their laptop, but this silly one has it's camera in the bottom left-hand corner instead of the top/middle of the monitor. My Mock-Class Mentor told me that I needed to have the camera at central eye-level, so we just got an old camera out of storage to use. If you are in need of a camera, they aren't hard to find! If you can find one with a 'privacy cover' it's helpful if you are wanting to close it for a student no-show or just while you are waiting for class to start! Since I don't have one, I just use a sticky note.
Mouse- VIPKid requests that you use a mouse when teaching as it simply gives you more control over the screen as a lot of the lessons are very interactive and require a lot of clicking, dragging & dropping, etc. I just use a cheap Logitech one and it's perfect for everything except circling or writing on the screen. You definitely don't need anything fancy, but I would say to go for wireless as I have enough wires with all of the other things I need plugged in.
Graphics Tablet- This is definitely not necessary, but I decided to splurge a little on it for myself because I was tired of my circles looking like a drunkard decided to play on VIPKid's programs. Have you ever tried to draw a circle with a mouse?? I love this because I can write messages to the kids and have a lot more control over the drawing tool in particular. I need to have both the mouse and pen, though, to ensure that I am teaching at my highest quality.
Lamp- Jonathan just had this extra lamp hanging around (perks of being married to a technology hoarder), but I do quite like it. It's really really important to have good lighting and VIPKid will hammer this into you. You don't want to have shadows on your face or background and the kids should very clearly see what's going on. It is unprofessional if you are in the dark. I have the advantage of working during daylight hours (yay UK!), but if you are in the States or Canada it is extra important that you have bright light coming from all angles as it will most likely be dark outside when you are teaching. I can make due with the one lamp, but you might want to invest in something even stronger if you have poor lighting in the room you are teaching in.
As you can see from the first picture, the lighting in my house is decent during the day even without the extra light (and maybe even more natural), but the lamp just ensures that everything is extra clear for the student that is learning from you on the other side of the world. I'll link the lamps closest to mine.
Extra Ports- With all of this extra equipment you need to plug into your laptop, or computer, you might find yourself low on USB ports or without a place to plug in your ethernet cord. This was a necessity for me as my graphics tablet, mouse, keyboard, camera, and headphones all needed a port. This is an easy fix to that problem!
Laptop Stand- We can finally get into non-tech stuff!! Yay! I decided to get a stand for my laptop in order to ensure that the camera was at eye-level and also for a bit of storage since I didn't have any drawers or anything since I teach at a dining room table. This is definitely not a necessity, but I really love that I can keep my 'office stuff' more organised.
Props- No links for this one! I just keep props that I use regularly sitting on my laptop. Currently up there are printed pictures of Meg & Mike attached to a sturdy piece of cardboard and taped to a dowel. The students love seeing the characters and if you can't have the stuffed or puppet versions, this is the next best thing.
Dry Erase Markers- My favourite thing about the specific set that I have is it comes in a nice little case for storage and it's a great way to extend with colours and get the students involved. If I need to write on my whiteboard, I hold up my set and ask what colour they want. The brand I use is quite expensive in the US, so i'll link a cheaper set, but if you want the exact ones I have, just look up 'Staedtler Dry Erase Markers'!
Planner & Notebook- I just got really cheap ones from The Works (I love The Works!), but anything will do. I highly suggest having a planner to jot down class times in and a notebook to write notes or lesson planning in. (Sidenote- wow stationary is expensive in the States! Just pick something up cheap from the dollar store if you need something on a budget!)
Star Wand & Microphone- Make these as DIY or not as you want. I have seen some amazing DIY microphones with a toilet roll and silver ornament/tin foil. I have also seen some really pretty fairy wands that people have bought. These are both props/tools that I use every single class, though. So, whether you make it yourself or not, I'd recommend having them. If you make a big production about the kids getting stars, they'll be more motivated throughout class and microphones are such an easy way to show whose turn it is to talk (or to just add more pizzazz to your mediocre singing). I'll link some options if you are NOT the DIY type. I'll link my microphone below (love it).
Posters- This is one of the first things that I bought to liven up my classroom. They are cheap and super useful! I have the alphabet and map ones hanging up, but I pull up my 'emotions' and 'colours/shapes' posters all of the time! I love that I got a whole pack to I can mix and match if I get tired of the ones hanging up. I'll link the pack I got (I liked the art) but there are LOADS, so definitely see which ones fit your vibe.
Storage- There honestly isn't much in these at the minute, but I wanted to make sure that I had a place to put all my school things. Since I don't have a desk, this was just a way to organise all of the stuff so it wasn't just heaped in the corner. What I really wanted was some drawers, but they don't seem as popular in the UK. I don't think you'll even need this much storage, but maybe a basket to put your things into would come in handy!
Stuffed Animal/Puppet- You should have one or the other, especially if you are teaching the really young ones as they open up to the animals more. I have a parrot that I bring out sometimes and I have handy Patches the bear that my sister-in-law won for me at an arcade. Anything will work! I like Patches because we can talk about shapes (well, squares), arms/legs, and colours, but literally any stuffed toy will do the trick if you bring it to life. I would say that if you are in the States and want to buy something, to go for Dino or another VIPKid stuffed toy as i've heard the kids love them. So sad you can't get them in the UK...
Ears/funny headband- Once again, not a necessity, but nice to have to liven up the mood and to get your students comfortable with you (especially trial classes). Also, Chinese kids love Disney, so if you have Mickey ears hanging around...
I am leaving a few suggestions, but honestly as it's almost Halloween, this is the time to be snooping around the clearance costume section!
Flashcards- If you can get these at the dollar store/Poundland do it! I have heard they always have them there! It's just really nice to have these around if you are wanting to focus on a specific letter. I use my A-Apple, B-Banana, & M-Monkey ALL OF THE TIME. I'd love to get some with numbers/phonics/etc.
Whiteboard- This is the big whammy. I have a big magnetic one to write the student's name on, hang magnets, rewards, etc. and then I have a small one to write specific things quickly and to hold up to the camera. I REALLY struggled to find cheap ones online, but The Works pulled through for me. I will say that I hear a lot of people just get a cookie sheet from the dollar store to hang their magnetic things on and also that Walmart or Target has cheap small whiteboards. Also, little tip if you are struggling to find anything. Glass is easy to clean, so if you find a cheap picture frame, just fill it with white paper and it will be a great substitute whiteboard!
Alright, that took WAY longer than I expected to write! It turns out that I have a lot of stuff! Really, I think this collection is quite average. I have obviously seen people with a lot smaller (you could not fit this all in a backpack), but I have also seen people with rooms full of drawers of props. If you are already a VIPKid or online ESL teacher, I would love to here if you are a prop minimalist or if your whole house is filled with classroom things.
If you just got hired and are OVERWHELMED with my list (I don't blame you), then this is what I say you really need- A camera (attached or not), a mouse, a headset (with microphone), good lighting, a small whiteboard, and a cheap puppet or stuffed animal. Reach out to your referee if you have any questions (that's what they're there for) or always feel free to reach out to me.
If you are not a VIPKid teacher yet, but really like the idea of working from home and working with adorable kiddos, then you should DEFINITELY look into applying. Check out my blog post HERE to see if VIPKid would be a good fit for you. If you are interested, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up using this LINK or my code ABIGA0441. Make sure to email me afterwards so I know you used it and I can start working with you right away on getting you hired with this amazing company.
Happy teaching lovelies,