VIPKID has an affiliate program. There. I said it. I’m not burying the lede on this one, fam.
In case you have been living under a rock, VIPKID is the new darling of the side hustle world. For $14 an hour before taxes, you, too, can tutor out of the convenience of your home. VIPKID is being promoted, and it’s being promoted hard. The prime target? Teachers. The problem is this isn’t an opportunity for teachers; it’s an insult.
It Isn’t Like Driving for Uber
The VIPKID affiliate program aims to connect teachers (or anyone interesting in tutoring or teaching) with students around the world looking to learn English. Basically, the tutor is facilitating English as a Second Language curriculum. VIPKID does not require tutors to hold an ESL degree or certification, but they do require you to tap a similar skill set.
This isn’t like driving for Uber*. This isn’t an “oh, anyone can do it” kind of skill. Or at least it shouldn’t be. These are real kids on the other side of the screen who are attempting to learn a language in earnest. What’s more, these are real teachers on this side of the screen trying to make ends meet.
*Side note: I can’t imagine driving for Uber. I think that takes a certain person to hustle like that as well.
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Most Talked About Doesn’t Equal Best
The ubiquity of VIPKID recommendations makes it seem as if it is not just the only option but that it is also the best one. If you look at the amount of blog posts, Pinterest pins, Facebook ads, and other ways in which the site is being promoted, it seems that there are hundreds, if not thousands of endorsements for this site. Most of those endorsements are not generic side hustling statements. They’re directed at teachers specifically and therein lies the problem. If you’re going to talk about something so much, you’re going to make so much noise on behalf of the company, people assume it’s because it’s either the only option or the best option. But who exactly is this platform best for?
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The way that VIPKID is set up means that after families pay tuition and the company pays teachers, there’s not only enough money left over to cover the overhead and to pay its full-time staff, but there is also money left over to pay handsome affiliate amounts for recruiting new tutors (I’ve seen both $50 and $100 figures floated). When an organization is set up with that much money left over, I can’t help but wonder if that means families are paying too much, tutors are being paid too little, or what is very likely the case here, a combination of both.
You’ll recall that VIPKID, just like Upwork and any other assorted platform that attempts to connect clients with contractors, is a business, and businesses are in the business of making money for themselves. While the $14-$22 advertised hourly rate may sound appealing at first glance, ask yourself who is actually getting the best part of this deal.
The Problem with Low Pay
Circling back to all the marketing that is being done for VIPKID, it is very clear that their target audience is comprised of educators. Individuals who hold at least bachelor’s degrees and teaching licenses, many of whom hold much more. Multiple Master’s degrees, additional endorsements, specialist certifications, even doctorates. While the VIPKID advertisements are quick to point out that these credentials are not required, you can’t “un-know” a skill that you utilize regularly. Whether it is a requirement or not, I would argue that teachers are going to use these skills by default. In this profession, the vast majority of educators are going to do what is best for kids regardless of pay.
So now these posts aren’t just asking me to work for $14 an hour. They are, in a very real sense, asking me to perform an important task using my highly qualified background to make less than minimum wage in some cities. I’m not sold.
Some might look at this criticism and and say it’s entirely one sided. Here we go again. Penny is speaking from a perspective that she has never fully explored. She’s never worked for them. How could she know?
It’s absolutely true that I am not a tutor for VIPKID. I have contemplated signing up with them both out of feelings of pressure and excitement (Another VIPKID post! It must be awesome! I’d love to feel less broke on my unpaid leave!) and now out of homage to my undergrad prof who made us do a semester of experiential journalism. But I won’t.
Every single person who answers the call to work for VIPKID does something far more problematic than those who ask us to join. Every teacher who agrees to work for this platform or any other at such a low wage is signing off on an endorsement that teachers’ free time can be bought and sold for the going rate of $14 an hour before taxes. In an era where teachers across the nation are finally starting to speak up and be heard in the pursuit of fairer compensation, I cannot think of a faster backward slide than this. Anyone who enters the classroom, anyone who has ever taught kids in any capacity is performing a skill, is honing a talent, is doing something invaluable. While teachers will likely never be paid their true worth, I can assure you that we are worth much more than this.
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But I Want to Hustle
It was pointed out to me on Twitter that in some instances, people may use this platform as a stepping stone, a chance to build out a resume when you’re just getting started. Another digital nomad might be in need of location independent work. These are certainly two possibilities, but I would challenge them both. Not only is the latter especially rare, I would argue that there are better stepping stones that are also much more lucrative.
In the instance of the former, someone looking to cut their chops before they enter the classroom for real, working for a platform or as an independent tutor where you create your own curriculum and design your own lesson plans is a far better showcase of your ability. This is especially true if you intend to apply for a job where you are required to demonstrate an understanding of state standards or the Common Core.
Whoa, whoa, Penny. Go back to the latter. You said there are other, more lucrative options.
So you still want to side hustle as teacher? Awesome. You can! How do I know? At one point, I built a four-figure monthly side hustle from tutoring. (And it wasn’t just to buy really expensive shoes.) If you are looking for more location-independent work, you can still certainly set that up yourself. However, if you want something that removes the legwork of obtaining your first client, you could also apply with companies like Varsity Tutors or WyZant, both of which pay better than VIPKID. There are also tutoring centers popping up with a frequency akin to mattress stores. It is also worth talking to other educators, many of whom might know of local community colleges or even certification programs that are run in online-only formats where the course facilitators need only Master’s degrees. There are plenty of options worth exploring; they just don’t all come with affiliate links yet.
So Tell Me…Have you ever become so caught up in the affiliate marketing hype for something? How do you side hustle? Bonus points if it’s online!