21 Comments

  1. This is a great post, Penny. I’m an ESL teacher, and although I do think platforms like VIPKID can be a good way for less-qualified candidates to earn money remotely, there’s no way in hell I’d ever personally accept $14/hour for what I do. Parents that pay for tutors on that platform are taking the risk that their teacher doesn’t actually know how to teach English as a Second Language. I suspect the quality of the tutor varies greatly. It’s not as easy as it seems to teach ESL. There are, as I’m sure you’re aware, better and worse, more effective and less effective, ways to teach and correct mistakes, as well as build a proper foundation of grammar, phonemic awareness, and phonics. That’s a part of teaching that is not something a curriculum can give you. Also, if you haven’t studied cultures or how to work with people from different cultures, you’re missing a huge component there as well. So I agree with you 100% that well-qualified candidates should use other platforms. I’ve used WyzAnt for years and can set my rate, which I appreciate. I had no idea the affiliate fees were so high. (Scratches chin in thought). Interesting.

  2. I’m not a fan of remote language teaching. I’ve taught English as a second language in Germany/Austria, and German here in the U.S. and can attest that in person language teaching is just better. My caveat is that I’ve never done remote teaching and am basing my opinion on the many instances of communication with others using Skype or other such tools. A good teacher needs to be with a student, and see the non verbal cues in order to really reach them. It is the same for the student, they need to see us in real time to feel whether they are on track or not.

    None of that has anything to do with whether $14/hr is appropriate for a person who is a trained teacher. It is not. You work too hard to become conduits of learning, something that takes years to accomplish, to settle for so low a number. I pay $50/hr for a retired math professor to tutor my teen aged daughter, and think that is barely reasonable (the market where I live is a bit lower than in urban settings). Every time someone skilled accepts $14/hr, it creates a feeling on the other side of the transaction that $14/hr is what the experience is worth.

  3. Jover

    I’m going to bite on your Uber driver comment. I think for 90% or more drivers, it’s a low-skill gig that anyone with a clean driving record can complete to earn a few bucks in their spare time. I’ve said for years that many Uber drivers would’ve been Taxi drivers in another lifetime (and yes, I’m being stereotypical of skeezy taxi drivers). I picked up the Uber side hustle because my background as a City Planner for almost a decade in my home area makes me very well-suited to deliver people to their destinations via the quickest routes, answer questions about our lovely tourist areas, and my spiffy, clean car (single, professional guy, no kids) was always appreciated by my passengers. But with the way the Uber platform works, there’s no way to differentiate ourselves, aside from the “level” and newness of the car we drive. I could be the best driver in the world, but if a sub-par driver happens to be one block closer to you, he gets the ride request.
    So I feel you on this take on “anyone can pick up this side hustle” but the people who are most qualified, shouldn’t!

    • I could not drive for Uber. I just…no. You know what I would love to do? Uber ride alongs! I want to write the book on it. I think THAT would be so much fun. But I hate driving. Truly. If I ever strike it rich, I *will* get a driver.

  4. I personally know about half a dozen people (mostly women, mostly stay-at-home moms) who are satisfied with their experience tutoring on VIPKid. It’s not quite as much as they earn from other side jobs (such as tutoring in real life), but its convenient to do from home.

    My view on all these contract labor positions (VIPKid, Uber, Lyft, ACT/SAT prep, Mechanical Turk, etc.) are that it’s perfectly fine to take on the job, but people need to know that they can earn more by cutting out the middle man. This is actually true with day labor stuff too. Like, if you show up to get hired by someone who just needs a few people for a few hours, you might earn $9/hr, but the company hiring you out will earn $18/hr. They’ll pay employment taxes, but it’s absurdly profitable considering their not really doing any screening or anything like that. If I ever go back into economics, my first area of research will probably be in the contract labor field, because its pretty ridiculous.

    • That’s great, Hannah! I do think it’s possible to be satisfied with the work. I wonder how many of them have tried other tutoring sites. There are many more that pay significantly better but do the same sort of thing (connect you with clients). Still, it is great to hear that there are people who really enjoy the work.

  5. Yessss I am so with you on this. I almost got into one of these ESL online teaching orgs when I was doing my master’s. I had my teaching degree and licence, and was desperate for cash while finishing up grad school. I was already doing in-person tutoring for $25/hour but just couldn’t scrap together enough clients to make rent. I think the online company I was looking into offered $21/hour. After interviewing and getting the job, I decided not to pursue it for a multitude of reasons and am kind of glad it worked out that way.

    $14/hour is an absolute insult to anyone with teaching credentials and I agree that qualified professionals shouldn’t shortchange themselves. Like you said, for folks just getting started or digital nomads, there are better AND more lucrative ways of hustling. For the last two years, I have been able to find a multitude of other opportunities that allow me to side hustle using my background in education and curriculum design – and they pay me appropriately based on my years of education and experience.

    • Oh my gosh! We need your wisdom in our FB group! I really think a big part of the problem is that teachers don’t actually realize how much they’re worth. Most of my coworkers who have second jobs rarely (if ever) talk about them. I think there’s so much pressure (maybe self imposed?) to have teaching be your identity that we don’t talk about side hustles that overlap with education and curriculum design.

  6. I saw this on my Twitter feed this morning, and I was like “Hah hahhhhhh!” Oh my goodness my Facebook is being BOMBARDED with VIPKIDS ads, and it never seems to end! I’ve read through some comments and people are raving about their supposed very lucrative side gig (or for SAHMs, “Great way to make extra $$$ while kids are in school!”), with their affiliate link, but once you take a look at the pay, it’s not very attractive.

    I used to tutor 3 nights a week, for $50/hr (I made around $1000/mo), and by using the same skills I got my Master’s Degree in, I’d be sitting on probably more like $10/hr for tutoring online post-taxes. I kind of consider a lot of these things to be Upwork of Tutoring, where it’s great if you don’t actually have teaching credentials, but want flexible way to earn a few bucks instead of spending that time watching Netflix (that’s how I feel about babysitting for $15/hr, but at least I don’t have to teach!), but I’m pretty sure I’m being targeted in the ads because 1) a lot of my friends are teachers 2) and therefore the algorithm things I am too (I do have a master’s in special education; can’t remember if I have it on my Facebook Profile or not).

    In the beginning of my pursuit for side hustles, I was going for “anything to make a few extra $$!!”, but nowadays, I’m trying to be cognizant of the cost-benefit-ratio, and want to make sure what I’m doing has real financial benefits that match up with the “cost” of spending my time doing these things. After all, you only have 24 hours in a day, and you can never get it back!

    • I agree with so much of this, Zero! It’s really about figuring out what to value your time at. I still stink at it! I’m constantly surprised when other people tell me to charge more and families still pay.

      I suppose what is most alarming to me is that you don’t actually have to be a VIPKID tutor to earn the referral as near as I can tell. So you can market it really well without ever using it. That just seems wrong, but I’ve actually heard a few people say the same thing about Bluehost!

  7. Hi Penny – yes the ethics of affiliate marketing do concern me as well – and it’s being used more and more as traditional advertising becomes less effective. I was always taught to never trust a salesman, and that’s what I think bloggers who do this are becoming – commission only salemen.

    And good for you for refusing to work for a low rate, I think we should all know our worth as no-one wins in a race to the bottom.

    • I don’t mind people recommending a service to me because they love it and because it’s an excellent option. But I’m seeing a lot of people who haven’t ever tutored with VIPKID (or anywhere?!) sell it pretty hard. I wasn’t sure why until I poked around and learned more about their affiliate program.

  8. You know my thoughts on this 😉 I really appreciate you also making note of other, better options for “teaching” side hustles. I also would argue it’s not “teaching” it’s “tutoring” and there’s a nuanced but real difference between that. My target audience really is those digital nomads/worldschoolers who are geo-arbitraging in SEA or somewhere; def a smaller audience than the masses being targeted by aff links.

    • I can’t wait to update with your link! I still think there are similar platforms that have a higher payout. Maybe someone doing geoarbitrage wouldn’t have to deal with the godawful time different either. I read one post about a tutor was up until midnight and then up again at like 4am for the day. Pass.

  9. I’ve never worked for VIPKID, but like you, I’ve certainly been drawn in by the ads. I’ve found myself thinking, I could get hired to do that! I teach!

    But then, like you, I think about the pay and the answer is ultimately a big fat no.

    I *have* taught online in situations where I was clearly not being paid enough. It’s just not sustainable. If you don’t feel valued as an employee (and a great way to show an employee that she’s valuable is by paying her enough), you’re probably not going to stick around.

    • I do wonder what their turnover is like. Part of the problem is that so many people recommending them can’t seem to tell me what it’s actually like. I suspect because very few actually do work for them.

  10. The idea of teaching ESL would appeal to me if I was actually going to travel to another country to do it. Teaching it online just sounds like a J.O.B. – one without benefits that pays too low. $14 an hour is crazy – you could earn more as a house cleaner.
    I’m not against affiliate marketing, though. I do think it’s better to promote something you’ve tried personally and believe in, rather than just promoting random things to earn a commission.

  11. Oh, and I meant to add that teachers already make too little for the important job they do! My eyes were opened wide when I read Brian Crosby’s book “The $100,000 Teacher: A Solution to America’s Declining Public School System” (an excellent ready, btw).

  12. Yup yup yup. I think this is a problem with nearly any side hustle. People promote THE HECK out of certain side hustles and make moolah off referrals and affiliates. Or even their own informational products.

    I can’t fault people for wanting to make money, but we need to be more judicious with our time before doling it out to all the side hustles that come our way.

    I do an online side hustle with freelance writing. I genuinely enjoy what I do, and so much so that I plan on leaving my day job next year to pursue it full-time. I’m not always a fan of side hustles, but I’m growing my business with one with hopes of doing it full time relatively soon.

    The thing about side hustles is that you have to be really committed to make them work. I usually recommend people max out their full-time earnings before going to hourly paid gigs like VIPKID.

  13. I am so late to the party on this – my bad, Penny. I definitely did buy into the hype of one affiliate program in particular – Bluehost. That story ends well though, or else Tiny Ambitions wouldn’t be here. I don’t have a side hustle at the moment (blog doesn’t count, it just costs me money). But, if I ever do, I imagine it would be online – that’s where my skillset is and I don’t live in an area where in person hustles are an option (like Uber).

  14. Oh my gosh! This could not have been said better! It is seriously insulting that teachers are often targeted for the lowest paying “side hustles” such as tutoring. I am always getting ads for all kinds of tutoring at $15 an hour. One big giant AMEN from me!

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