Should I use WeChat?

WeChat is an app available for your phone that is more or less a Chinese government allowed combination of Facebook, Facebook Messenger, YouTube, Instagram, and Whatsapp all rolled up in one.  You can message people as well as call or video chat with them. This is the one service that we found words very well while traveling in China.

If you are planning on going on the VIPKid Field Trip to China, you will be highly encouraged to get on WeChat.   Our tour guide would use it to find us if we got lost and post updates on meeting times and places.  It was very important that at least one person in every room had a working WeChat account.

That being said, there are some issues with WeChat.  It often decides that you are an unauthorized user and you have to get someone to scan in your QR code and verify you.  The problem is that it can’t be just anyone.  They have to have had their account for more than 6 months and they can only help one person per six month period.  My first account was blocked and I was never able to get back in.  I had to “borrow” a phone number from a friend in order to open a new account.  (This person will never have a need to use WeChat).  I’m not sure why it worked the second time, but I have a good theory.  The first time, I downloaded the app and opened an account, but didn’t do anything more.  The second time, I did the same, but set up my profile, added a few friends, and had a short chat with one of them.  I highly suspect that WeChat freezes any account that doesn’t complete the profile or add users.  So set up your account when you have enough time to add a couple of friends and add a profile picture.  (I can’t guarantee that this will work, but that is my guess why my first account got frozen).

Also, you need to start arranging with your students in order to meet them.  We had a very small window between when we found out about the trip and the actual trip, that I was only able to arrange one meetup.  I suggest even if you aren’t planning a trip, start adding your students’ parents to WeChat.  It’s fun to get to know their personal lives a bit more and they will appreciate learning more about you.  I struggled a bit with this as many of my students are lower levels and we had a hard time understanding each other.  However, holding up your QR code and saying WeChat usually does the trick.  I also add my WeChat name in feedback (although I haven’t had any additions from doing this yet).  I highly recommend adding a nickname to the WeChat as the request comes through so you can match the student with the parent (and most of my names have come through in Chinese characters).

WeChat is not like Facebook in the fact that you can go back and look at posts from years ago.  The “moments” only last a few days.  I usually get on WeChat a couple of times a week to check up new moments and I usually only post about once a week.  I don’t have a huge following.  I have a few students’ families and some of the new friends I met on the trip (although we tend to use Facebook more now that we are home and away from the Great Firewall).

Some teachers choose not to use WeChat.  I was on that side of the debate until I traveled to China.  Since then, it has helped me develop more of a relationship with the few students moms who have added me.  I love seeing pictures of my students on their trips and doing things with their families, and they always “like” the pictures that I post as well.  As always, keep your WeChat super professional and don’t post anything that would be against the Chinese government’s policies so you don’t cause any issues to your students.  Also, keep your professional standards when talking with parents and always be respectful of your work with VIPKid.  This is not the place to air your dirty laundry.

I still don’t think of WeChat as essential for my teaching.  Nevertheless, it was essential on the trip.  I do feel that it has helped develop a deeper relationship with the families that I am connected with.

Is something happening in China? What is wrong with my bookings?

Today I have seen these questions repeatedly on the ESL groups I am in.  I will say, last night/this morning was the worst booking frenzy I have experienced so far.  I had only 3 bookings and 9 cancellations!  What is happening in China?

Well, this week is the beginning of the “winter holiday” for Spring Festival or Chinese New Year.  This is similar to the time our kids get off in December for Christmas.  They usually have a week or two of pretty intense exams leading up to this time (so you may have already seen lower bookings recently) and then they get a few weeks off.  This is a time when many Chinese families travel for family reunions.  I must say from the little bit of travel that I did in China in a non-holiday time, one thing you can expect is delays.  I’m sure that parents err on the side of caution and do not book any lessons for the days surrounding travel.  Also, who wants to be taking an English lesson when the whole family is gathered for a family reunion.

That being said.  I still have several classes and based upon my experience on other holidays, my students will show up for class.  I have been the “entertainment” of the hour for the whole family a few times, and often a cousin or a friend may join my student for the class.  While the general policy at VIPKid is to only teach one student for a class, I feel that this time of year is a bit of an exception.  Imagine the family is gathering and your student’s parent is boasting about the wonderful experience their child is having with your classes.  Wouldn’t it be reasonable for them to book a class so their family members can see what a wonderful experience it is?  I see this almost as a super-effective trial.  (I do make a note to the Learning Partner, but I teach the class as usual and try to make it extra fun in case the observer is considering signing up).

Will this affect my income?  Maybe.  But I don’t suggest that you have all your eggs in one income basket.  This is a great time to take some time off (sleep in!) and relax.  The students will be back!  You may need to plan your budget accordingly in order to make the numbers work, but don’t stress out.  Things will be back on track very soon.  I also have found that I can open short-notice slots (often in the evenings) and get bookings.  I think parents don’t book because they know they are traveling, but when they get where they are going they realize that their baobao could in fact have time for some English.  I don’t like to do short-notice in the morning as much (I fully take advantage of sleeping in the few days that I can), but I do open slots in the evening.  During the last holiday, I had several nights that were fully booked!

When I saw today that I had a couple of days with absolutely no bookings, I closed those slots and have officially declared them “vacation days”.  I doubt that I will travel as I have been traveling quite a bit recently, but maybe I will take a short trip to visit one of my friends or just simply enjoy sleeping in!  I will also spend some time in these next couple of weeks working on my other income streams to help build them a bit, and I probably will even add in a few extra Uber hours.

So the most important take-aways:

  •  Enjoy the break!  Sleep in and rest assured your baobaos will be back.
  • Plan your budget accordingly.
  • If you are looking for a perfect vacation time from ESL teaching in China, this is it.  (That being said, I don’t think there is any way I would attempt to travel in China during this holiday!)
  • Open up short notice slots (especially in the evenings).
  • Things will return to normal soon!  Your students will be back (and you can have lots of extension conversations about what they did over the holiday).