- Associated Press - Monday, January 22, 2018

RUTLAND, Mass. (AP) - Early each weekday, while her husband and two teenage children are still asleep, Samantha “Paige” Josti quietly makes her way down her cellar stairway and, after flicking on a few lights and computer switches, transforms into “Teacher Sam,” unleashing her lesson plan to eager Chinese children halfway across the world.

Ms. Josti, a New Jersey native who lived in Auburn for many years before moving to Rutland, is an independent contractor teaching immersion English for VIPKID.

Last week, Forbes printed “Work From Home 2018: The Top 100 Companies For Remote Jobs” and, in the article, the list’s top spot went to VIPKID. Founded in 2013 and headquartered in Beijing, China, the company provides one-on-one English language instruction online to children in China, with a curriculum based on the U.S. Common Core State Standards.

“I’ve really gotten to know my students and their families,” Ms. Josti said. “Their parents always pop in and say, ‘Hello’ to me beforehand and they will leave me sweet messages on my feedback, wishing me well.”

Ms. Josti’s students range in age from 5 to 12. As of Friday, she had taught 413 different Chinese students and 1,058 classes (which translates to more than 26,000 minutes). In addition, she has 390 parents of Chinese children who follow her class.

“What I’ve read is China spends 15 percent of their income on extra studies for their children,” Ms. Josti said. “So I’m learning that my students, when they come to class, they are excited and ready to learn but they are so used to studying.”

With a 13-hour difference between Beijing and Rutland, Ms. Josti regularly teaches 10, 25-minute classes from 3:30 to 9 a.m. (4:30 to 10 p.m. Beijing time) Monday through Friday via VIPKID’s proprietary tool and portal. On occasion, she will also teach a few hours on Saturday and Sunday, and during the summer.

“Everything down there I bought. I bought the (photo studio) lights. I didn’t have to buy the lighting but it looks better. You want a well-lit classroom,” Josti said. “All I got from VIPKID is my log-in. I can teach from my iPad. I can teach from my laptop. I choose to teach from my laptop because the screen’s bigger. I like having a mouse. It’s really all you need. Plus, you need good internet.”

Ms. Josti, who said she works hard not to fall into either native New Jersey or adopted New England accents during her classes, said each lesson plan is not based on the age of the student but on their level of speaking and comprehending English.

Due to the language barrier, Ms. Josti uses “total physical response” when talking to her Chinese students.

She explained: “Imagine that you’re in a country. You don’t know what they’re saying. So, I have to use my words, the picture on my screen and my body. If I’m talking about running, I am showing running. So if they don’t understand what you are saying, they can get an idea based on your body language.”

While you need a bachelor’s degree and experience with children, you also have to have a personality and be engaging on camera, Ms. Josti said.

“You’re like 50 percent teacher and like 50 percent TV host,” she said. “This is immersion English. You are not speaking any Mandarin to them at all. So if they don’t understand, you can’t explain it to them in Mandarin. So you have to use props sometimes. I’ll draw sometimes. You have to make learning fun. You have to find out what they like and how you catch their attention. … You could come in with tons of ESL experience but still not be able to teach in front of a camera.”

Ms. Josti earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UMass-Dartmouth with the intention of becoming a high school history teacher (with an emphasis on 1960s counter-culture). She spent years as a corporate trainer at Fidelity and a call-center quality supervisor.

While raising her two children, she started substitute teaching in the Auburn public school system and was offered the literacy paraprofessional job in there, which she did for three years. Then she became a special education paraprofessional in the Wachusett Regional School District, which she did for three years, prior to working at VIPKID full-time.

At first, Ms. Josti started to do some overnight classes in July.

“I opened up five spots. And, I went to bed,” she said. “I woke up at 2 or 3 o’clock to check. All five spots were booked. Talk about trial by fire.”

But Ms. Josti likes that her work day is done at 9 a.m.

“There are millions of people who work the night shift. The difference is, I’m not waking up, getting in my car and going to a hospital to work,” she said. “I’m waking up. I’m going downstairs in my pajama pants.”


Online: http://bit.ly/2rqrCFm


Information from: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), http://www.telegram.com

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