Now that you are hired, you have some decisions to make. How much are you willing to spend to make the perfect online classroom environment? It doesn’t have to be as much as you think. You will see pictures of teachers with custom classrooms decked to the gills with everything under the sun (that probably cost upwards of $1000). Then there are people like me who may have spent a total of $150 on setup, accessories, and props over two contracts.
One of the top priorities you should have is looking professional in the classroom. Chinese culture is very particular about appearances, and if you look the part you will get more bookings. I know my classroom environment is part of the reason I have always been so successful in that department.
Disclaimer: This post will contain some paid affiliate links from Amazon at no cost to you, but only of stuff that’s actually useful and I have personally tried. I always advocate for getting things second hand or gently used if possible.
An A+ environment can be created with effective lighting and a nice background. I have many years of experience as a photographer, so this part came naturally to me. Don’t waste your time with elaborate halo selfie lights and 15 lamps set up all around you. All you need is one light. A simple fluorescent umbrella light will give you everything you need. Position your light high and slightly to one side to mimic the way the sun would hit you naturally. Make sure the umbrella is facing towards you, so the light is filtered and soft. Trust me, I see SO many people do this wrong.
Granted I already had the umbrella lights and background setup from my work as a freelance photographer, you can still get a really nice lighting set up for much than the cost of a fancy lamp. The great thing about these umbrella light setups is that the stand is skinny and can fit into tight places. I have mine set up behind my desk. Here is my recommendation for a light that is cost effective and does the job. I have this one and it is perfect (and you can’t beat $30 for the whole set up!). You can also upgrade to a 60 watt bulb if you think you need more juice….but you really don’t.
If you are skeptical, there are also kits with two lights that won’t break the bank, but again, you really don’t need that much light. If you do want an upgrade, I recommend this set because it comes with a third, smaller table top stand if you need more flexibility. This set is $43 on Amazon.
This last option is great if you want to get everything at one time and you are too lazy to put together some type of background yourself (Hey, I’m not judging!). It is a two light set up WITH a background stand AND a plain, white wooden background. I am in a space that forces me to hang a background behind me, so if I had not already had the umbrella lights and a stand from my previous photography work, I would have grabbed this up in a heartbeat. It costs a little more at $87, but you are guaranteed to look like a pro. A neutral background like this would be extremely easy to customize with all of your VIPKID goodness.
You may be asking yourself why you are buying photography supplies to teach English online, but it actually makes total sense. You are teaching LIVE ON CAMERA. You don’t just have to look good for one snap…You need to be on your game for 25 minutes at a time. I promise this is one of the best investments you can make for yourself. I am able to teach with my computer’s built in camera *gasp* with high quality just by making sure I had great lighting and a nice background.
This is my son on the floor of my classroom setup, so you can see just the one umbrella light is pretty powerful.
My particular set up is using one umbrella light, an old rolling clothes rack and some large plastic dollar store chip clips to secure my backdrop. I like being able to roll my background away into the closet if I have company coming over so they don’t think I am insane. Another reason I like the hanging backdrop is that I can change it out in about two minutes if I get tired of it. Make sure you get a 4’x5′ or larger background or it might not fill the whole screen.
There are literally hundreds of awesome “hanging tapestry” options for less than $10 on Wish if you don’t mind waiting for them to come in. There are some nice options on Amazon also, but they cost a little more. I have even seen some teachers save money by using shower curtains!
Here are my top picks for some awesome backgrounds you can’t go wrong with between $8 and $20.
Click here to check out Part 2 about Props!
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