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Mastering the Puzzle of Teaching English

By VIPKid  |  December 12, 2018

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Meet Teacher Justin, who lives and teaches in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Tell us a little about your neighborhood in Rio! 

I’ve lived in Rio de Janeiro for four years with my wife, Marina. My dog, Annie, came to join us last year. You may have heard Rio’s not the safest place on earth. Luckily, we live on a great street in the “South Zone” which is a safer, touristy district that includes several beaches including the famous Copacabana. There’s a lake (the venue of Olympic rowing), a marina, the famous Christ Redeemer statue gazing down from a mountain, and an old downtown as well. Rio’s a dream for people who like a marriage of nature and city. You can hang-glide off Gavea rock, land at the beach, go kite surfing to a stand-up lesson in Ipanema, longboard the bike path to Sugar Loaf mountain, take a trail, rock climb, sail across the bay to Aterro—the largest urban park in South America—enjoy a fresh coconut in a hammock under a palm tree, and still have a night out full of samba, bossa nova music, dancing, and food in dozens of bohemian style clubs and bars.

What motivated you to start teaching with VIPKid?

I’ve taught adult online ESL since 2011, and my love of kids goes back to being a second father to my little nieces growing up. I’ve performed in dozens of musicals with casts of all ages and have lead YMCA summer programs. I thought my music and drama background would never see the light of my resumé… until VIPKID, which combined my two passions: inspiring our youth and mastering the puzzle of teaching English as a foreign language. By the way… I can also visit my family whenever I want, given I’m not tied down by an office job.

Share one of your best teaching tips with the VIPKid community. 

It’s all about the “MVP” of engagement: movement-voices-props. Your focus should be to always have them working on every activity. I invest in movement mostly because it brings back the physicality we lose online and creates a dynamic and interactive class. The secret is to nag the student to move with you, maximizing both engagement AND retention. During rewards, do a celebration like a hi-5 or dance. During vocab, encourage them to pantomime with you. During corrections, make a dance routine, repeating a word several times. Getting your student moving is the most synergistic technique out there!

What’s one thing the whole world should know about living in Rio?

Rio is a gem because of the nature-urban mixture of a city-scape sprawling over green rocky mountains that dive into the sea. Rio has a deep culture: history, dance, music, art or food… the city is alive. Most of all, you will be impressed by the warmth and positive attitude of the people who live here. In fact, Brazilians will tell you that people from Rio, “Cariocas,” are ALWAYS on vacation. It’s that mentality that you can sense in the air, almost like the magic you feel at Disney. No matter what’s happening in life, people here know how to be happy.

Do you have any advice for others who want to teach from abroad?

Don’t try to do everything alone. If you’re just getting to a place, don’t schedule classes those first few days. Concentrate on finding people (e.g. Airbnb hosts) who are willing to help you out. Reach out to people quickly for help finding solid internet and quiet space (a noise-canceling headset will help if ‘quiet’ isn’t an option.) You’ll need to be more creative and flexible than ever, but you’ll find when you travel, most people are very happy to help, and they will make your life abroad so much easier.

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