I have been asked this question a number of times, and searching the internet I can see that this is certainly a BIG question many people have. Short answer, YES! It is your teaching that everyone cares about.
VIPKid is concerned with hiring teachers with clear, neutral North American accents. That is their concern when it comes to who you are outside of teaching. They market themselves to parents this way. Parents choose VIPKid for this accent. Most teachers in China are from Australia or New Zealand. Because of this most parents often would prefer that their child learn a North American accent outside of school.
I think we all worry about changing our hair, piercings, wearing a headcovering, or just what we look like. Students may ask questions out of curiosity, but usually a simple, “yes, that is my scarf” or, “everyone is different in some way, how are you different from your mother?” will move the conversation forward. My children are the same way, they just want to point something out. They don’t have the same judgments that adults do. I think that we all know that adults can be judgmental. There are certainly parents who are prejudiced, people are the same all over the world. But there are also parents who want a quality teacher. Parents who will see your value rather than your appearance. Your teaching matters. Show them who you are, and they will love and value you.
A quick check on Instagram and Reddit will show you a large variety of teachers. Will you see many who look the same? Sure! But there are thousands of teachers out there, we are all different. You can find support and advice from many different groups. There is a Facebook group for VIPKid Teachers of Color, VIPKid Asian teachers, older than 50+, and even one for Retired teachers. Find one that supports you, that can help you with any questions or problems.
I’ve also heard, “I’m not bubbly enough.” You don’t have to have an upbeat personality, you can be serious. There are many parents who prefer this! Younger students usually thrive with an upbeat, over the top energy, but you don’t have to be someone you aren’t. Early in the morning it’s hard to turn on that energy and be exuberant for 25 minutes. The two most important things your student needs from you is to cover the learning objective for the lesson, and to have fun!
Personally, I am a 40 year old mom. Who at 5 in the morning often looks my age. I have a grey streak of hair I don’t hide. I have colored the rest of my hair purple and rose gold in the past year. I have tattoos that occasionally make an appearance. I wore makeup the first two weeks and gave up. I’ve never had a parent or student say anything (positive or negative) regarding my appearance. Mostly I get comments on energy (they don’t care that you just rolled out of bed and are half awake) or props I may or may not use. They want the best learning experience for their child, and you can provide that.
The most important thing about being a teacher is how you teach. Look professional, but you decide what that means! You will find students and parents that love you for you. They will love the way you teach, and talk to them. When you are happy with who you are, you exude that from the inside. Don’t hide who you are, embrace it! Be a strong and positive teacher and you will do well.
Jessica Hosey- Heitzman