Bazile said it was not uncommon for teachers of color to experience similar interactions and that many were “amazing” at turning them into “teachable moments.” But, she said, there remains a feeling among many teachers of color that VIPKid could be doing more to mitigate such issues before they occur.
Tamesha Rumbles, a California-based VIPKid teacher, described in a July vlog on YouTube how one student, upon seeing a picture of a black family in the lesson plan, began saying “yucky dark family.” In a class about strangers, Rumbles said, another teacher she knew asked the student, “Who are the bad people?” The student instantly responded, “Dark people.” In both cases, Rumbles said, the teachers corrected the student.
“What we are talking about is not made up,” Rumbles said in the video. “What we are talking about is not exaggerated.”
In a statement, the company said it is “concerned” to hear about the interactions, that it “takes all reports of offensive or inappropriate behavior” seriously, and that it is “company policy to review” all such reports, and, “where necessary, take appropriate steps to address it.” The company added that it has confidence that “as students become more accustomed to the diversity of teachers” on the platform, such interactions can “effect a change of attitude in the students toward teachers of different races and cultures.”
Glass, the high-school science teacher, who is black, said that while some teachers have experienced such incidents, she often experienced “open-minded parents” who booked her precisely because they wanted to expose their children globally.
“We don’t look like what they stereotypically think of as an American,” Glass said. “But I don’t think it’s bigotry. They just don’t know.”
Glass, who teaches primarily older students, said her students frequently asked about the black experience in America, often prompted by the curriculum. A lesson on “America’s Heroes,” according to VIPKid, introduces students to African-American figures like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the history of slavery and the civil rights movement. Another lesson introduces students to the pan-African holiday of Kwanzaa and its historical roots.
“We’re teaching things that are not even found in American textbooks,” Glass said.
But not all are happy with the curriculum’s representation of race.
In April, Bazile and Hope Williams, a VIPKid teacher who was previously an administrator of VIPKid Teachers Community, one of the largest Facebook groups at more than 15,000 members, held a wide-ranging public Facebook Live session to discuss issues faced by teachers of color. One particular point of concern expressed by both was how nonwhites were represented in the curriculum. In one example, the two discussed how a lesson about occupations showed an image of a white working professional followed by a black janitor.
“To a lot of teachers this is not a big deal,” Bazile said. “But perception is reality, and the reality of it is you are creating what I would interpret as subliminal messaging to these students.”
The company said, in a statement, that the lesson on occupations shows multiple images of janitors, depicted as a Caucasian woman and Caucasian man, in addition to the image of the African-American man.
“We welcome and listen to teacher feedback on the curriculum and have made (and continue to make) changes to reflect such feedback,” the company said, adding that it is “sensitive to the issue” and strives to create a curriculum that is “balanced, respectful, and sensitive to the value of diversity.”
Bazile, whose day job is as a residence coordinator at La Salle University, said VIPKid had acted swiftly in dealing with specific issues raised by teachers, such as removing parent feedback directly referring to a teacher’s race.
But, she said, she and fellow members of the Teachers of Color group have called for VIPKid to act “proactively” by teaching the company’s parent customers about diversity in America, involving teachers of color in the construction of the curriculum, featuring teachers of color in advertisements in China, and releasing a statement to the company’s Chinese customers explicitly supporting teachers of color.
In response, the company told Business Insider in a statement that it “treasure[s] the tremendous diversity” of the teacher community, noting that many of the most active teachers on the platform and in the community “come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.” The company also said that it strives to “accurately depict” its “diverse teacher representation” in ads and branding and that it “welcome[s] this feedback.”