What exactly is a substitute teacher and how can I be one? If I know I can’t make a scheduled slot, can I book a substitute teacher to take over for me? Where do I find out more?

Substitute Teaching is a new thing VIPKID seems to be trying out, but because it’s still in the trial stages, there’s not much information to be found about it. I had a nice run of substitute teaching for about 8 weeks in a row and I found it difficult to find information on the program, so I thought I’d share what I learned with you.

About the Substitute Teaching program

The goal of the substitute teaching program is to serve the students whose teacher did not show up for class, for whatever reason. They keep a cache of teachers on “standby” just in case, and if the teacher does not show up, a Fireman will ask the parents if they would like to continue classes with a substitute teacher. Parents can decline and get a refund for the class, or accept and the substitute teacher is notified and starts class right away. This means substitute teachers start teaching class with zero time to prepare! We start teaching without knowing anything about the student or the class. For veteran teachers or teachers that require low (or no) prep, this can be a fun challenge, however it’s definitely not for everyone! You do get a $2/class bonus (same as short notice) for every class you teach as a substitute which is a nice incentive. Many teachers choose not to become substitute teachers to avoid the risk of poor apple ratings due to being unprepared, and VIPKID does not invalidate these ratings just because you were a substitute. Choose for yourself whether it would be worth it to you or not.

By invite only

Unfortunately, you cannot arrange your own sub if you know you will miss a class. This program is to serve parents, not teachers, at this point. You also cannot choose to be a substitute teacher as the only way to get in is to get an invite in your email inbox. This happens weekly, so even if you are invited to sub one week does not mean you will the next. There’s a lot of anxious watching the inbox Monday mornings to look for the coveted invite for those who want to substitute teach!

VIPKID says it extends the invite to teachers randomly, and tries to help teachers with with low bookings. A quick survey of substitute teachers shows this is not always the case. There seems to be a good mix of new and veteran teachers, and some with low bookings but many who stay fully booked. Some teachers seem to get an invite every month or two, while others (like me) have had long runs of being invited week after week. In my case, the invitations ended after a winter storm unexpectedly caused a soft cancellation and my participation rate went under 100%. It may be “random” like they say, but I’m suspicious.

Who does get the invites? Those who have availability (especially in PPT times) and those who have multiple certifications seem to get preferential treatment. I am also of the opinion that if you show you do a great job and are making already disappointed parents happy (you are plan B, after all), VIPKID is going to want to keep you on. But VIPKID insists its random!

Organizational Nightmare

Currently, the program uses a blend of email invites, a doodle scheduling page, google spreadsheets and “contact fireman” buttons to communicate between VIPKID and teachers. Like I said, it has some glitches to work out before it can go mainstream. If you are not an extremely organized person, this will drive you crazy! Also, the substitute teaching program is entirely in Beijing Time zone, while our schedules (and lives) remain in our own time zones, so you constantly need to be mentally converting time zones to stay on track. I had to create my own spreadsheet to figure it out for myself! Grab your own conversion chart here.

Guaranteed Time Slots

The big promise of substitute teaching are these beautiful words: “guaranteed time slots.” VIPKID promises guaranteed pay for the time slots you are requested to substitute teach. This means even if there is no student, you still get paid.

This is not the magic bullet it sounds like.

First of all, VIPKID is frugal with this program. They do not overbook teachers. I was eager to try the program, so I was consistently entering 100+ time slots I said I was available to teach (I figured there was no risk, since even if you have a guaranteed slot there is no penalty if you do not show up). The first two weeks I responded to the invite, I was given 0 guaranteed slots. Then, 2 slots in one week. By the end of my 8 week run, I was getting 10 slots per week, and a perusal of the other teachers showed 2-3 guaranteed slots/week was the norm, and teachers who got more than 5 guaranteed slots stood out as very successful in the program. I’m not complaining – 2 more slots is still 2 more than 0, but the excitement of thinking you’re going to get a ton of new students turned out to be false hope.

Second, while you do get paid for student no shows, you do NOT get participation or finished class bonuses and it does not count in your stats. For example, if your base rate is $8 but you get $1 finished class bonus and $1 participation bonus (for teaching 45 classes/month) and are expecting a $2 short notice/substitute teaching bonus, that class is worth $12 to you. You’ll get paid $8 (your base rate). Again, if this is a class you normally would not have had booked, it’s a great deal. For those of us who get a lot of short notice classes, to give up a PPT slot to get $8 is not always worth it.

Now What?

If you get the invite, and get guaranteed slots, now what? Read on to part two: Substitute Teaching: in the classroom.

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