The start date was like almost anything. Around 6 a.m. in the fall of 2018, Jordan sat down at his desk, put on headphones, and logged into his account using VIPKid, a Beijing-based company that connects a native English-speaking teacher like her with children in China to learn live online via video.
After that, the marathon began. During the exciting 25 minutes, Jordan greets a series of 4 to 12 year olds with an enthusiastic “hello” and teaches them an English lesson. By afternoon, she had completed about half a dozen one-on-one classes and was nearly finished the day. One of her last sessions was with a student she had worked with once before.
Almost immediately, something went off. Student, a 4-year-old boy, joins from a dimly lit room. Even though he was barely visible, Jordan was able to make a red mark on one side of his eyebrow. His mother was nearby, whispering correct answers to Jordan’s questions and yelling at him whenever he made a mistake. “She was becoming more and more active,” Jordan recalls.
Eventually, Jordan became so worried about the mother’s behavior that she contacted VIPKid’s 24-hour support team, called the Firemen. A firefighter quickly joined the class and in a chat box told Jordan he was looking into the matter. He signed up with her again a few seconds later, but ended up providing no further instructions on how to proceed.
Jordan resumed the lesson, fearing that if she didn’t stay for the full 25 minutes, VIPKid might pay her wages. Soon, the mother began to warm up again. This time Jordan noticed that the boy kept backing away, as if preparing for a hand to fall on him. And then it did. As Jordan led the boy through the alphabet song, the mother cut in and caught her son’s eye in front of the camera. Exasperated, Jordan paused to speak with his mother. “Mom, I get it,” she said. “I can teach it, mother.”
The session ended a few moments later, and Jordan quickly logged out. Then, worried for the boy’s safety, she logged back in. His camera is still recording, and Jordan sees the mother using a blue plastic clothes hanger to hit him repeatedly. “It was a nightmare,” she said of the beating, which continued for a few minutes before the camera. “The blood clotted, screaming. I have him in my ear. It was bad. … To be honest, it was an injury. “
At the time, Jordan was a relative newcomer to the online tutoring job. After many years as a classroom teacher in the US, she recently moved to Central Europe. She says VIPKid allows her to continue doing what she loves – what she feels she does best at – without stopping her from immersing in a new culture.
But her experience with the guy made her tremble and confused. As far as she knew, VIPKid did not have a system to deal with what she had witnessed. During the introduction and in all the company documents she has read since, she has never come across any specific instructions. “No notebooks,” she explained. “Nothing like that.”
After she logged out of this session for the second time, Jordan reported the incident to VIPKid. Then she edited a post in a private Facebook group for teachers VIPKid. “Has anyone ever had a problem seeing child abuse?” she asked. She explained what was going on in her classroom. “I wrote a ticket complete with screenshots of the abuse, but what else can I do here? I am very upset about this. “
Jordan soon discovers that she is not an isolated case. Several of her colleagues, both at VIPKid and on other online tutoring platforms, are also grappling with the same question. In the Facebook group she posted, and other like itNew, parental abuse reports appear almost every week.