Teacher Care Crate: Your Questions Answered!

Photo courtesy of Cooties and Cuties

I recently launched Teacher Care Crate, a self care subscription box for teachers! Here are the answers to some of your most frequently asked questions:

1. What comes in a crate?
Each month will be different, but will contain 5+ high quality items to promote teacher self care. For example, January's crate contained a homemade lavender bath bomb, an art print, a mini air plant, a handmade beaded mantra bracelet, organic dagoba chocolate, and stress relief tea. Each box will contain at least one handmade item, and often more! I always make an effort to keep the contents natural and/or organic when possible. 

2. When will I get my Teacher Care Crate?
I ship the crates between the 15th and 17th of each month. If you order before the 14th of the current month, you will receive your next first between the 17th and 22nd of the current month. If you order AFTER the 14th of the current month, you will receive your first crate between the 17th and 22nd of the following month.

3. Can I buy just one Teacher Care Crate?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: The platform I use, Cratejoy, is set up for subscriptions. So, to get one crate, go ahead and sign up for a subscription, opting to just pay for one month. Then just make sure you cancel before the auto-renew date on the 25th of each month. 

4. Is the Teacher Care Crate a good value?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: You are never going to receive a box that is worth less than what you paid for it. Often, by working with sources and making products myself, the items in the box are worth significantly more than the subscription cost. For example, the retail value of the February crate is $37. That being said, this box is meant to promote teacher self care, so my focus is providing high quality, relaxing items rather than bargain basement prices.

5. Is the "Be Gentle" print still available?
I'm so happy you all loved the "Be Gentle" print that went out in January's box! I'm happy to send a digital download for free to any current subscribers. Just email me at thedesignerteacher@gmail.com letting me know you'd like one! 

6. Can I contribute to Teacher Care Crate?
I am always looks for high quality items and designs for future crates. I especially love including teacher-makers! Email me at thedesignerteacher@gmail.com so we can discuss!

Please let me know in the comments if you have any other questions! You can sign up for your first Teacher Care Crate here.

You can also follow Teacher Care Crate on Instagram and Facebook for daily self care inspiration.

An Interview with a Queer Educator

One of the things I love about the online teaching community is learning about and from teachers with different perspectives and identities. After getting to know Paige, an educator who identifies as queer, a little bit on instagram, I realized I knew very little about the realities of being a queer teacher. They were kind of enough to answer a few questions for me so I could share them with you! 

1. To start, could you tell us as much as you are comfortable sharing about where/what you teach, as well as how you identify?
I teach in Philadelphia, PA. My school is a charter elementary school in the heart of South Philadelphia and is a Title I school. This is my third year here as a special education teacher. Though I do not normally bring it up in my professional setting, I identify as a queer, non-binary educator. My pronouns are they/them.

2. You told me that you can be fired in your state for being a person in the queer community. Are you out to your school? What about your students?
In many areas of the United States and with our current political climate, many schools and districts do not seem to follow the Civil Rights Act of 1964  (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.) [aauw.org]. In public and charter schools, there are many that state you will not be judged regarding your sex (i.e. gender identification), race, sexual orientation, yet so many administrators caution queer educators into "being quiet" in regards to their identification, gender, and/or sexual orientation. This also goes for Catholic schools. At this time National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) says they will "not change" their stance on hiring queer educators. Unfortunately, this has been the reality as long as the institution of education has been built. I am "out" to some of my peers that I trust, but not to my administrative staff, students, or parents of students at this time. 

3. Do you think identifying as queer and transgender affects your relationship with your students in any way?
Honestly, I don't. Since I teach kindergarten through second grade Life Skills Support (LSS), they are usually the most kind and understanding group of students. Sometimes, they'll ask me if I have a husband and I say I have loved ones I live with. Or if they see a picture of me and my family, they will ask if that's my sibling or friend and I repeat that they're a part of my family. Keeping things as neutral as possible is key and I feel even if I were straight/cisgender, I would keep that part of my life separate (that might just be my own personal opinion).

4. Do you have any advice for other queer teachers, especially ones that might just be starting out?
I would say being as neutral as possible is key and be yourself from day one. Kids can smell out fibs (as we call them in our room) so be as honest as you feel comfortable with. But, be aware of your school and state policies and regulations in regards to your occupation protect laws. If you feel as though you are being forced to be someone you are not or lie, do not feel like you are stuck. There are so many different schools that would love to have you as an educator! 

5. Are there are any books or resources you would recommend to teachers looking to learn more about the LGBTQA+ community?
There are different organizations and teachers out there that are either fellow queer educators or allies online and in person! Check out instagram, facebook groups, and twitter.  Social media can be a beautiful tool to get connected. The NEA-GLBTC is one group that may interest you in becoming a member and is something I am looking into myself. 

Teaching Queer: Radical Possibilities for Writing and Knowing by Stacey Waite and Queer Teachers, Identity and Performativity edited by Anne Harris & Emily M. Gray are great tools and resources to have. Teaching Tolerance has a site that is a digital magazine that has loads of helpful articles on how to be intersectional and supportive to groups of individuals that face adversity, and not only for the queer community. I think this is probably the most important key detail to discuss: not every queer educator is white. It is critical that we look at a person with all their identities and orientations in order to become a more empathetic and intellectual world. 

I find that there aren't that many books and resources about this specific topic. I actually hope to change that after I finish my Master's program. Shout out to Brittany Wheaton (aka The Superhero Teacher) for being an out and proud queer educator that is changing the world one classroom at a time! 

6. You sent me a great fact sheet about Workplace Equality, which readers can check out here. Do you have any specific actions you'd recommend for teachers who would like to advocate for LGBTQA+ rights?
GLSEN has a Safe Space Kit to support LGBTQA+ youth that is very informational. The kit provides educators tools and resources as well as Safe Place stickers to hang outside their doors or in their classrooms to alert others that they are an educator that is also an ally. Read the book The ABC's of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell! Also, have more books and posters and information dedicated to queer individuals that don't all look the same and identify the same. 

The last thing I'd like to add is that I only speak on behalf of my queer identity and journey. Though I am non-binary and queer, I still hold privilege of "passing" because I appear feminine. Additionally, I feel that the the fight for rights in the LGBTQA+ community is still something I will face probably the rest of my life. Intersectionality is key to unlocking freedom for the future.  

Paige, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and for all you do for students! You can follow Paige on instagram here.

Teacher Care Crate January Unboxing

The very first Teacher Care Crate, my new self care subscription box for teachers, has been shipped and is starting to arrive! I wanted to give you a look at the contents, as well as some more info about the products included.

Art Print: Designed by me, this 5x7 print reads, "Be gentle with yourself. You're doing the best you can." It's professionally printed and comes in a protective sleeve. Display it in a frame, on a mini clipboard, or just tape it up on the wall with washi tape.

Bath Bomb: Homemade by me, this full-size bath bomb is scented with lavender essential oil and real dried lavender. I recommend using it within the next few weeks, as it does not contain chemicals or preservatives.

Beaded Bracelet: The beaded bracelets come in different color combos, but they all say BREATHE as a reminder to take deep breaths during the day. I hand beaded them myself using glass beads.

Tea: The tea this month is Lavender Honey Stress Relief Tea. It's made by Yogi Tea and each tea bag includes an inspirational quote.

Chocolate: This month's boxes include organic Dagoba chocolate. You could receive Lavender Blueberry, Ginger Lime, or Picante. All three are delicious! 

Air Plant: Air plants are amazing plants that don't need soil! Just soak it in a bowl for 30 minutes once a week or mist it a few times a week with water. You can display it on its own or a shelf, or place it in a pot or tray.

While the January box is sold out, you can subscribe now to receive February's crate. Each Teacher Care Crate will include at least 5 items, and at least one will be handmade. The focus is on handmade, natural products that will truly help you relax, not just clutter up your house or classroom!

Subscribe now to make your wellbeing a priority.

What's It Really Like Being A VIPKID Teacher?

This post was kindly sponsored by Elizabeth Pope, a VIP teacher.

If you're involved in the online teaching community, you've heard of VIPKID. But if you're like me, you don't know exactly what it is or how it works. So when Elizabeth, a VIPKID teacher, reached out to me about sharing her experience, I had lots of questions! Read on to learn all about VIPKID and whether it might be a good fit for you.

Hello all, I’m Elizabeth! I’m a VIPKID teacher, a former classroom teacher, an accidental farm wife, and a stay-at-home mom! When I left my teaching job to move to the family farm and stay at home with my 3-year-old, I knew I would eventually want to be in the classroom again. After about a year of staying home, I began searching for an opportunity to earn a little money. In August 2017 I began teaching with a company called VIPKID and I fell in love with my students, with teaching, and with the company!

1. First of all, what exactly is VIPKID?

VIPKID is an online platform for teaching ESL-- it connects native English speakers with Chinese children learning English. Classes are conducted online through VIPKID’s “classroom”, which is basically like Skype. VIPKID provides their teachers with curriculum which is viewed by both the student and the teacher during the lesson, much like a powerpoint (that has teaching instructions at the bottom!). They do require that their teachers have a degree (in any area, mine is Business Administration) and a year of teaching experience, although it doesn’t have to be professional teaching experience.

2. How much planning do you have to do before a lesson? How much time do you find yourself spending on it outside your paid lessons?

I have been teaching with VIP for about 6 months, and when I first started I spent a lot of time looking over lessons before class. I prepped for my first class for like an hour, (I may have been a little excited!) but by the end of the first week I was only spending about 5 minutes looking over the material before class, and now I read the objectives right before I turn on my camera to teach my class! So, in the beginning you may find yourself looking over the material more, but as you get familiar with the curriculum you know what to expect and how to adjust to your student. You are required to write feedback (5-6 sentences) for the parents once class is over. Many teachers do this between classes, but I take notes and do all mine when I’m done teaching for the day. This really doesn’t take long-- on a regular day of teaching 5 classes I spend 5 minutes or less per class writing the feedback. The trick is to create a template that you use each time, but to take a few notes to personalize it and let the parents know that you were listening to what the student said. Overall I spend about 4-6 minutes outside of my paid lesson, but remember that was not the case when I first started.

3. What was the interview process like? Is it difficult to get hired?

Honesty is the best policy right?! The interview process is demanding, and hands down the most difficult part of the entire job. Luckily, if you give it your best effort the first time, chances are you won’t have to repeat it! Being hired is a 4 part process:

1. Application: This is just basic info and work history. I would recommend just giving them what they are looking for. They don’t want to know that you worked as a Wal-Mart greeter to pay your way through college, but they would consider it important that you taught private swim lessons when you were a lifeguard in high school!

 2. Interview: A live interview can be scheduled with the company over video chat. An English-speaking Chinese person will ask youabout your experience, and then you'll teach a very quick lesson to determine if you are a good fit, as well as your pay. They now also give you the option to submit a video interview. This is when you might seek out your referring teacher (that's me!) for some guidance. They can tell you what VIPKID is looking for and how to pass this interview, and even video chat with you in advance to give some pointers!

3. & 4. Mock Classes 1 & 2: This is just what is sounds like: a mock class. You are able to schedule your mock class and are set up with a current VIPKID “mock mentor” teacher who will visit with you for a few minutes, and then ask you to teach a lesson (which you will have beforehand). When you are done teaching, they'll give you some tips and you're given a chance to implement their feedback while you teach another short lesson.

Many people are overwhelmed by the interview process because it seems demanding! I’m not here to say the process is glittery rainbows and unicorns, but I will say that VIPKID does an awesome job making sure their teachers are prepared to start teaching classes the moment they are hired.

4. That does sound intense! Once you're hired, how is teaching online different from teaching in the classroom?

You get to teach. Which is why I absolutely fell in love with this company. I’m not planning the Junior class prom decorations, or answering emails, or working the concession stand, or planning lessons for 7 different classes, 160 different days,  20 different learning types…. I get to TEACH. I wake up about 30 minutes before my first class, grab a cup of coffee, orange shirt, and a little makeup. I log into my classroom, and focus all of my energy, attention, and love on one student for 25 minutes. I get to make that 25 minutes the best part of their day, and help them learn English in the process. I have the freedom to adjust each lesson to my student’s needs-- for example, if their understanding of the material is excellent but they need help with with pronunciation, I can adjust my teaching. If my student can read like a native English speaker, but doesn’t know what the words mean, I get to bring that text to life for them. I have absolutely built incredible relationships with these students from half a world away, and been invited to China for ice cream more than once! It’s the best feeling to know that they depend on me to be there to have fun with them, to focus on their needs, and to just teach!

5. That sounds awesome and really freeing, but of course prospective teachers will also want to know what the pay is like!

When I started my goal was to make an extra $500 each month to pay for our boat. I’ve ended up making anywhere from $1,200-$2,500 each month since I started!

VIPKID advertises pay between $14-$22/hour, but let me break that down for you:

Base pay for each 30 minute time block is $7-$9/class ($14-$18/hour). You get this for showing up to class and basically existing. Your base pay is determined during the interview stage of the hiring process and is based on your interview demo lesson, your experience, and your education.

In addition to your base pay you earn the following:

  • $1 incentive per class for being in the class on time
  • $1 incentive per class for teaching over 45 classes a month (which is easily attainable)
  • $2 bonus per class if they are booked with less than 24 hours notice (you can click a button that allows parents to book your class “last minute”, but they still must book at least an hour before the class begins)

6. How many hours or lessons do you need teach a week?

VIP truly lets their teachers choose how much or little they want to teach. There is no minimum or maximum number of classes that they require their teachers to complete each week. I personally teach about 5 classes a day, 6 days a week. When my family planned a ski trip over Christmas break I was able to take a week off, no questions asked. Leading up to that ski trip I crammed as many classes as I could into my schedule so I could actually afford to ski!

7. I know a lot of full-time classroom teachers do VIPKID part-time. Is it possible to teach just on weekends?

Absolutely. In fact, weekends are one of the most popular times for students to book classes. That’s the beauty of this job-- you set up your own schedule, and it can change from week to week. I included a picture of my schedule below. On it you see some time slots are a dark orange and some are a lighter orange. Any of those orange classes are great times to be available because they are the times most in demand by students. In the summer there is an even wider range of “in demand” times since the students are on summer break. Please note that these times are Central Standard Time.

8. Are there any big cultural differences you find teaching Chinese children vs. American children?

The biggest cultural difference is how valued education is in China. My students are held to very high expectations when it comes to their education. One of my favorite students that I teach on Saturdays says I’m his last lesson of the day, after private lessons for Math, Chinese, Piano, and Violin-- plus a day’s worth of homework! Many American children spend their weekends playing on a sports team. I have honestly never had a Chinese student tell me they did anything but homework on the weekends!

There are a few other interesting things I’ve learned about their culture since teaching, such as the fact that many students live with their parents AND grandparents. My students love to grab the iPad and introduce me to their kitchen, their bathroom, their little brother, mom, dad, and almost always a grandparent! I have also noticed this winter many students were wearing their heavy coats during class... in front of their computer, at home! By chatting with some other VIPKID teachers I found out that the South half of China is not equipped with central heating facilities! Eesh! Count me out on that one, I can’t imagine not having heat!

For the most part, Chinese children are much the same as American children. They are motivated by rewards, and they have good and bad days just like everyone!

9. How many students do you typically teach? Do you get assigned students or do parents choose you specifically?

All VIPKID classes are 1 to 1, although many of the younger students have parents sit in on the lesson just to help redirect their focus if needed. The parents have the freedom to book any teacher they choose. This means you have some responsibility to present yourself well in your profile (parents can see this before they book a class with you) and of course to teach a great class! I love it when the parent re-books you immediately after class, since you know it means you did a great job and the child had fun. It is also nice that you can build up a schedule of regular students that like you.

10. What's their level of English proficiency when they start with you?

Each student’s level of English proficiency varies. VIPKID’s curriculum is divided into 6 level: in level 1 students know zero English, in level 6 students are extremely proficient. When you go through the hiring process your hiring team then approves you to teach the levels that they feel you will be the most successful teaching. When I was hired, I could teach levels 3, 4, & 5. After I taught 100 classes I was then able to take a class and quiz to be certified in level 6 and level 2.

If you're not already a VIPKID teacher and teaching English from home seems like a good fit for you this is my referral link. I appreciate your support and would be absolutely thrilled to help guide you through the hiring process! Shoot me an email over at elizabethhpope32@gmail.com if you would like more information!

Elizabeth, thank you so much for answering my questions and explaining VIPKID to The Designer Teacher readers!

4 Ideas for Celebrating Valentine's Day in the Classroom

This post contains affiliate links.

1. Encourage students to reflect on what they love about themselves, their school, and their community with this on-trend cactus bulletin board.

2. Keep the cactus theme going with these pun-tastic notes & cards. Students can choose a family member or friend they admire to write to. 

3. Read aloud the beautiful book Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch. It's all about the difference kindness can make in someone's life, and it's perfect for Valentine's Day! 

4. Make your students feel extra special with a fun pencil from Target and these free printable tags.

Here's hoping your kids aren't too candy-crazed and your coffee is strong! 

5 Tips for Starting a Teacher Instagram

I think Instagram is the new Pinterest, at least for teachers! The teacher instagram community is so vibrant and full of fun teaching ideas. Are you looking to get involved? Here are a few tips:

1. Start a separate account. Your personal friends and family probably don't want to see 500 pictures of your classroom, and your new online teaching friends may not need to see so many pictures of your pet. I'm much more comfortable posting about #teacherlife when I know my IRL friends and family are only following along if they want to be.

2. Make friends. The most fun part about instagram is getting to know teachers all over the country and world! Don't be shy to comment or respond to stories. The teacher instagram world is generally super friendly. On the other hand, don't be surprised if your teacher celebrity crush with 90k followers isn't able to respond to your comment! Some of my favorite accounts to follow are pretty small, so don't be afraid to branch out!

3. Be yourself. Even though I love the instagram community, sometimes it can be feel like an echo chamber. It can be tempting when you're first starting out to just post what everyone else is posting-- flair pens! Rae Dunn! coffee! And if you love those things, that's fine! But I bet you have a lot more to contribute than that. Personally, I'm really passionate about social justice and self care, so those are two things I post about a lot. 

4. Use hashtags. Ever notice instagrammers using a long list of hashtags at the end of their caption or in a separate comment? That's so people checking out the hashtags can find their posts. #teachersofinstagram and #teachersfollowteachers are two of the most popular hashtags to use, but try using more specific ones as well. Try #bulletinboard if you're posting a picture of, ahem, a bulletin board, or #teacherselfie if you need to show off your new teacher tee.

5. Post stories. If you're new to instagram, stories are quick videos or images that only last 24 hours. They show up as little circles at the top of your feed-- just click your picture to record. Stories are a fun and impromptu way to share without the pressure of it being permanently in your insta feed. They're also a great way to start conversations! Ask people to reply to your story with their opinion or answer to a question.

Looking for some new teacher-friends to follow? Check out my lists of Socially Conscious Teachers and Politically Active Teachers to Follow on Instagram

See you on insta!
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