by Xinhua writers Deng Xianlai and Xu Yuan
Though not at all spatial, the loft Kelsey Covington uses as the classroom to teach her Chinese students online English courses has been decorated with lovely dinosaur puppets and other props, just to let the students on the other side of the webcam feel a sense of joyfulness.
Before joining VIP Kid, a Chinese-owned online education platform, in 2018, Covington, who lives in Chesapeake, Virginia, had been a brick-and-mortar school teacher for six and a half years, teaching kindergartners through third graders.
As a loving mother of a toddler, Covington always tries her best to cheer her students up in class. Recently, she has been doubling down on that effort since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China, about which she said her online students, mostly kindergartners and primary school kids, felt really frustrated.
"When I am in the classroom, they are my babies," Covington said. "These are ones that I am so connected to, that regardless of politics and other things that are happening, I think of anything I can do to help my kids."
Covington said she learned about the coronavirus outbreak from news reports, but it was through discussions with her fellow teachers that she came to understand the severity of the situation in China.
"It's definitely been something that I've been keeping a very close eye on, since I know what's going on with these kids day in and day out," she said.
One of Covington's students is a nine-year-old girl from Wuhan, capital of the central Chinese province of Hubei and the epicenter of the epidemic. The girl was frustrated because the coronavirus has confined her within her home for weeks, and she cannot meet her friends, Covington said, adding that she paid special attention to this student and put additional energy during class in order to lessen her worries.
"I've only seen her a couple of times since the outbreak started, but I always make sure to check in with her," Covington said. "Especially, I really make sure to focus on and put as much energy into (her class) as I can, just to take her mind off everything that's going on just for that short period of time, just to get a little smile out of her."
Covington said that the Wuhan girl is one of the students during whose class she would purposely wear exaggerated facial expressions while reading words.
"She just thinks it's so funny. So I'll focus on that and doing something that's really going to cheer her up," Covington said.
What Covington feels good about is that the Wuhan girl and other students were not depressed at all.
"I think for the most part, I've seen that my kids still have high spirits, and they're still excited (when seeing me from the camera)," Covington said, hoping what she did in class would make a difference to the situation the children are in.
During the interview, Covington chose to wear a T-shirt with a world map on it, and on the map of China there is a big red heart.
"I figured it was appropriate for today," she said, adding that her friend who designed the shirt recently designed another one to encourage the Chinese people fighting the coronavirus, one that has the words "Stay strong, China" on it.
Asked why she chooses to teach Chinese kids, Covington, who is a frequent traveler especially to Europe, said, "there are children all over the world, but it's one of those things that our culture and the Chinese culture can be so different sometimes."
Covington has seen a surge in the number of course requests since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, and she usually has to teach overnight due to the time difference between China and the Unites States.
"I wish I could teach more, but with a toddler it's a little bit tricky," Covington said, adding that extra classes provide "a better opportunity to meet more students."
She said the coronavirus that "kind of ramped things up a bit" won't make her feel tired, because "it's just one of those things with teaching that there are certain times that you're going to put in a little bit more time and a little bit more effort."
On the wall to the right-hand side of Covington's teaching desk hangs a board, on which the words "Everyone smiles in the same language" is written in calligraphic style.
"I love this ... It is just something that I think about, especially with some of my younger students," Covington said. Despite the language barrier, "we were still able to laugh and have fun, and we could make that connection that way."
As people in both China and the United States are facing the common threat posed by the coronavirus, Covington said that people in the United States should "put all those politics" aside and "just give that good smile" to people stricken by the disease.
"We always have you in our hearts regardless of the distance and how far we are apart," Covington said in a message to the Chinese people at the conclusion of the interview. Enditem
(Xinhua reporter Hu Yousong in Washington contributed to the story)