I’ve been working with VIPKID for a year now, and recently started teaching at iTutorGroup to be able to teach adults in the late hours at night (my daytime hours). To be honest, it hasn’t been an easy adjustment: I had become so used the way VIPKID did things that it took awhile to get used to a different style of teaching and a very different company! Two months later, I feel like I’m getting a grasp on the differences. I would have LOVED to talk to another VIPKID teacher to help navigate the differences but there’s not a lot online for iTutorGroup.

So if you’re thinking of becoming an online ESL teacher, or if you already work for one company and are considering adding another, hopefully this can help!

Overview

While both iTutorGroup and VIPKID are online ESL companies based in Asia, that’s where their similarities stop. VIPKID, based in Beijing, exclusively targets children with a 25 minute, 1-on-1 format with native English-speaking North American teachers and has limited hours available for teaching, guided by government regulations. They invest heavily in their engaging, interactive curriculum and teacher’s role is to take students through the curriculum step-by-step.

iTutorGroup, based in Taiwan, claims to be a global company though most of their clients are from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. They operate 24/7 and have classes for children and adults. They have fluent (but not always native English speakers) from all over the world teaching in classrooms of anywhere from 1-6 students in either 10, 25 or 45 minute classes. Their lesson plans are crowd-sourced and their focus is conversational skills in a teacher-driven classroom.

Onboarding

VIPKID has an extensive onboarding process, starting with a basic info where you confirm you’re qualified (native English speaker, qualified to work in North America with a valid Bachelors Degree), then an interview stage where you demonstrate your basic qualifications and set-up, then certifications where you teach mock classes at different levels to gain certifications, then a VIPKID TESOL online course and finally a contract. The quickest I’ve heard of people finishing this process is 2 weeks. I know of people who take a year or longer.

iTutorGroup, on the other hand, takes about an hour – filling in their online application, answering 5 questions in a video format (you can make an appointment with a live recruiter instead) and signing the contract. Then, you are given 2-3 days to watch 3 hours worth of YouTube videos and you’re in. I taught my first class in 3 days.

For the onboarding process, iTutorGroup is the clear winner.

Teacher Training

With VIPKID, no training is mandatory, beyond passing their TESOL certificate, but there is a lot of training available. Multiple live workshops are run daily on topics from getting started, Chineses culture, creative props and effective feedback. Coaching is available, teachers are encouraged to lean on their referring teacher with questions (with mixed results) and the internet is flooded with YouTube videos and blogs on every topic imaginable, some sponsored by VIPKID but a lot just created by passionate teachers. Multiple Facebook groups exist to support and encourage each other. VIPKID has intentionally grown a passionate and supportive online teacher community.

iTutorGroup has sponsored multiple teachers to create YouTube videos as well, available primarily through their teaching library. Many of these videos are mandatory viewing, and their quality varies greatly. I have only had to complete the 3 hours mandatory onboarding training and there was a lot of repetitive videos of mediocre quality. I find it difficult to find any resources online beyond what is available in their official library. While there are Facebook groups for iTutorGroup as well, in my experience they have been primarily of new and frustrated teachers not able to get or give answers. iTutorGroup discourages transparency in part due to the wide variety of teachers, pay scales and lessons available. There is little standardization, so there is little ability to help each other navigate it all.

In this arena, VIPKID is the clear winner.

Payment

iTutorGroup bases its pay primarily on location, so teachers in the Philippines can expect $2/hour, and teachers in North America are looking at closer to $10-15/hour. In both companies, the contract requires some explanation. iTutorGroup will give you an “up to” (probably an incredibly high number)/hour. Don’t expect to ever actually get this. iTutorGroup pays differently for different classes. For example, their 25 minute classes are a flat rate, and generally a decent one, say $8/half hour for a North American teacher. They’ll also give you a $1 bonus per 25 minute class if you avoid cancelling any classes. The 45 minute classes are paid based on how many students you teach, how many rate you and how highly they rate you. In my case, the hourly pay for 45 minute classes (most of the classes I teach) can fluctuate by 400%! Like most platforms, students are not required to rate you and often don’t. Also, anything under a 9/10 is considered a low rating and you can get docked money for ratings 7/10 and lower.

I find it very frustrating to deal with this pay scale and for myself, I choose to consider my monthly average hourly rate rather than per class rate to evaluate my pay. In my case (with high ratings, though less than 1/2 my students give ratings), I average $18/hour (Canadian dollars) with iTutorGroup.

VIPKID is very straightforward with their pay scale, though it also takes some navigating. They pay on a per-class basis, so don’t forget to double it for the hourly wage. They also have a bonus system based on how many classes you have taught in the past and how many classes you’ve taught that month, adding anywhere from 80c to over $2/class extra. In my case, I earn on average $25-30/hour (Canadian hours) with VIPKID.

That’s a big difference.

Cancellations

In VIPKID, you choose your own availability and can open your schedule for when you want to teach. Once you’re booked for a class, however, you are expected to teach it (short of national emergencies or hospital visits!). There is a low tolerance for cancelling classes, and cancelling more than 6 times in a 6 month period can cost you your job. There are some exceptions, called “soft cancellations,” but the reasons for these are limited, you are required to present proof (like a doctors note) and you have to apply to get them.

In iTutorGroup, they expect you to commit to 5 hours of prime time slots each week. You can add more if you’d like, but you’re automatically booked for those 5 hours. Now, they are easy with cancellations – cancelling may lose you your $1/25 minute class bonus but so long as you give more than a couple hours notice, it’s rarely a problem. You can even cancel all your 5 hour committed hours and it’s fine.

iTutorGroup is the clear winner.

Bookings

In VIPKID, parents primarily choose their children’s teachers so you are not guaranteed any classes. You open your schedule, upload a charming introductory video of yourself and hope like crazy someone books you. Every time you teach a student, you work to win them over, hoping they’ll like you enough to set you as your regular teacher and continue booking you long-term. In an ideal world, you have enough regular students to fill your schedule.

The ownership of getting students is primarily on you, and there’s a few things you can do to gain the attention of parents or Learning Partners (LPs), VIPKID staff who book teachers for trials or new students. Taking workshops, being active in their online communities, getting certified for any available level and getting great ratings are all ways teachers can market themselves for students. In my case, I was able to fill my schedule within 2 weeks and even though I no longer keep a regular schedule I can stay fully booked because of my certifications and high ratings.

iTutorGroup is AI-run, and the computer assigns schedules. The great news about this is, while some VIPKID teachers wait weeks for their first class, I taught multiple classes a day my first week at iTutorGroup. They claim their scheduling is random, though students can mark you as a favourite or liked teacher to improve their chances of scheduling a class with you. A lot of frustrated VIPKID teachers have appreciated this system.

In my case, though, it has backfired. While I was fully booked within 2 weeks of working at VIPKID, two months in with iTutorGroup I’m still only getting 15% of my slots filled, even though they’re slots in high demand. I have good ratings, I have students who have “favourited” me, I keep a regular schedule but there’s no classes. In my case, I really wish there was more I could do to increase my bookings but with an AI-driven scheduler, I feel somewhat at the mercy of the system.

I’m not awarding any points for this one – the systems work differently and different teachers have different preferences. I’ve had more success with VIPKID’s strategy but I know of many teachers who really struggle to get bookings with them, so I’ll leave this one at a tie.

Curriculum

VIPKID has their own curriculum they heavily invest in. It’s interactive, follows a proven learning strategy for second language learners and is easy for new teachers to work with as they begin to teach English. It’s fun for the kids and (with some exceptions) is engaging and effective. It follows a predictable rhythm so after a while, teachers no longer have to do much prep as the class rhythm works so well. Teachers are expected to use props and have a secondary rewards system to keep kids engaged, and to stand out from other teachers. Teachers are also expected to follow the curriculum closely and risk low ratings if any aspect of the lesson is skipped.

iTutorGroup, as it represents multiple companies, has a huge variety of lesson plans ranging from Oxford Press textbook-driven lessons to crowd-sourced conversational starters. You never know what you’re going to teach, and they’re also very likely to change your lesson assignment last minute, so preparing to teach is often a waste of time. I’ve had 45 minute lessons with adults that had 6 words total in the lesson. I’ve had 25 minute lessons with entire chapters of textbooks written out for the child to read aloud. Every lesson is a surprise.

VIPKID is the clear winner and I often draw on my experience teaching their curriculum to adapt iTutorGroup’s lessons to young learners.

Teaching Styles

While you always bring a sense of your own teaching style to any platform, VIPKID and iTutorGroup lend themselves to very different teaching styles.

VIPKID loves the upbeat, energetic, singing, kid-loving entertainer. If that’s not you, there’s room for calmer teachers but the curriculum and training all direct teachers that way. They have a tried and true lesson plan they expect you to follow and while there’s some room for personalization, it can be almost mindless parroting at times. Honestly, at 3:00am, I appreciate not having to think too much!

iTutorGroup, with its huge variety of lessons, is a much more teacher-driven, conversational approach. Your role has less to do with getting through the lesson (in fact, it doesn’t seem they care if you use the lesson at all) and more to do with getting students to talk. If you can get away with never talking and just getting your students to talk, even if not on topic, you win. The classroom has enormous flexibility and you can cover up their lesson plan entirely, add your own slides, add to the slides they already have, insert photos, type, draw and more on the screen. You have to use these elements as most lessons require a lot of extension! I find teaching with iTutorGroup a lot more work in that I feel like I’m coming up with my own lessons more often than not, but I also find it’s more of a relaxing teaching style of conversing with peers instead of entertaining children. All in all, while I appreciate VIPKID’s curriculum and like teaching with them better, I think the flexibility iTutorGroup’s platform allows for gives it the edge.

Final Impressions

As you can see, both companies have their pros and cons. Some of the clear wins others have given iTutorGroup (like their automated booking system) have not worked out well for me, while other aspects (like the teacher-driven classroom) I really appreciate.

Personally, I have been very impressed with VIPKID, not just in teaching but also the company. I appreciate their clear communication and excellent teaching community. I also love my salary with them! If I could fill more daytime hours with them, I absolutely would and I hope as they expand beyond China that may one day be possible.

In the meantime, I appreciate iTutorGroup’s 24/7 teaching platform where I can fill extra hours once VIPKID closes its doors for the evening, and I’m enjoying the relaxed, conversation-driven classes with adults. It doesn’t pay as much, but it asks less of me as well. I find contacting the company frustrating and would definitely appreciate a friendly community where asking questions wasn’t met with exasperation, criticism or silence, but maybe I can be a part of making one.

So last point, for personal preference, goes to VIPKID.

If you’re interested in teaching with either platform, I’d appreciate it if you’d use my reference code. I get a kickback once teachers teach their first class, so it motivates me to help you through the onboarding process! I don’t necessarily know if you’ve signed up with me, though, so if you want some free resources or have any questions, please contact me at kirsten@teacherkirsten.com

Work with VIPKID

Work with iTutorGroup

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