Essential Back Ups & How to Teach in a Power Outage
Teaching online is an amazing gig, but comes with its own unique challenges - especially technology!
Anyone who has been with VIPKid for a while knows how stressful it is when our WiFi cuts out, or laptop freezes. These issues can affect our paycheck, our participation score, and our eligibility to gain new certifications. Too many issues can even affect our contract. I’ve learned the hard way how to prepare for these situations! Remember, in emergency situations, you can apply for a soft/medium cancellation with official supporting documents, from power companies etc.
you’ll want to avoid these Class finish types:
TIT (Teacher IT issue) - You must enter the classroom and start the class to receive this finish type. TIT is given when 3 minutes or more of class time is affected by an teacher’s IT issue. This is regardless of how much time you add on the end. Outcome: $0 pay. An excessive number of these finish types may lead to VIPKid requesting to check your tech set-up. Details are here in your teacher portal.
TNS (Teacher No show) - Unfortunately, if your IT issues prevent you from entering the classroom to teach, you may receive a TNS. This is even if you are communicating with firemen on your phone. Outcome: $0 pay, monetary penalty, counts against contract. We are limited to 6 TNS/cancellations per contract. For official VIPKid details, see here.
So what can we do to avoid these stressful finish types? Have a system of back ups!
My most-used back-up! I leave my phone on airplane mode across the room, on loud, charging, with 3 alarms set (03:00, 03:01, 03:02 etc). The back-up alarm is a sports watch with 2 more alarms set for the same time.
Reset your router often to avoid problems. Just unplug it and plug it back in! Give it about 10 minutes to reset. I do it the night before teaching. Use an ethernet cable to stabilize the connection as much as possible.
So, what happens when your regular internet fails? In a pinch, some teachers will go to a local McDonalds/Panera, or a friend/neighbor’s home to teach and use their WiFi.
I use a Mobile hotspot. This is when you connect your cell phone to a device (laptop/iPad etc), and the device uses your phone’s data as internet. It’s pretty cool! Not all carriers/phones/plans allow this, so check with your company to see if yours does. You can set this up either as a WiFi signal, or if you are teaching from a device with a USB port (eg. laptop), you can hardwire the phone hotspot with a USB cable for better stability.
I have a basic prepaid Verizon plan, it allows me to use my phone as a hotspot at no extra charge. Some carriers charge $10 per month. Because I have a low data allowance, I have the Verizon app set up on my home screen so I can add extra data quickly when needed. Note: using your phone as a hotspot drains the battery quickly.
Another popular option, especially for travelling teachers, is the TEP wireless device. You can purchase or buy the device, and pay per day of use. Learn more about this in Teacher Erin’s video about travelling.
BACK-UP TEACHING DEVICE
On you main teaching device, avoid issues by regularly clear the cache, and shut it down fully between teaching days. Turn off automatic updates and ensure there are no background programs running. I Googled how to do all of this, because I didn’t have a clue!
I remember I was about six weeks into teaching, looking at my schedule, when a feeling of dread hit me. All these back to back classes, what happens if my computer stops working!? So, with my next paycheck, I bought an iPad. It has saved me on countless occasions. You could also use a spare, reliable laptop/desktop computer if you have access to one.
As of now, the only mobile device supported to teach with VIPKid is the iPad. So no android tablets, no cellphones, no kindles. You need to install the app “VIPKid Teacher HD”. (New name “VIPKid Teach for iPad”). Requires iOS 9.0 or later.
If your family/neighbors can’t hear your happy student coming through the monitor at 3 AM, you might get away with going without, but some type of headset is definitely preferred! I was teaching on a computer with no speakers/mic when I realized one of my cats had chewed through my headset wires. TIT for me! Now I have a spare, cheap pair of earbuds with a mic on the cable, from Walmart, as back-up.
Yes, seriously! VIPKid even recommends this on the portal’s “IT Guidelines and Recommendations” page. I have taught successfully through a power outage! Luckily I had a few hours to set up my classroom before teaching. I charged my iPad, phone for internet hotspot, power bank for phone, and folding light using the a USB charging port in my car. Some teachers in more rural areas use generators. You can get heavy duty rechargeable power stations for laptops etc.
If you live in the US or Canada, chances are most of your teaching happens in the dark. Any battery-powered lights will do - headlamp, flashlight, fairy lights. These lights can cause harsh shadows. To avoid scaring your student, diffuse the light by using the thinnest paper you can find (parchment/tissue works well). Strapping a headlamp to a gallon of water is a great trick I learned camping! I also used the folding, rechargeable light from Teacher Erin’s Hawaii video. I usually teach with a dark background, but during my power outage, I switched to light colored map to help maximize light.
NON-DIGITAL PROPS AND REWARDS
If you are using your phone as hotspot, you will want to conserve the battery. I usually love digital rewards and props, but now is time to go back to basics. Use a simple reward system, or the built-in ones available in some lessons. Have your go-to, bare minimum props ready. It’s going to be much darker than usual in your classroom, so, the simpler, the better!
DO A TEST RUN
When I got my first TIT, I was fumbling to set up the iPad and my hotspot. I’d never taught on the iPad so was hand-holding it (it looked awful!). It took me well over 3 minutes to figure it out, so TIT for me. I would advise testing out your back-up system when you’re having a normal, uneventful day of teaching. That way, when you need it, you’ll be more confident switching over!
I hope you never have to teach in a power outage, but it definitely was an adventure! If you want to learn more, options for back-ups are discussed in at least two VIPKid workshops: Stephen’s Marketing Yourself workshop, and the Digital Nomads workshop.
Happy Teaching! Teacher Las