The Coronavirus Diaries: Adventures in Virtual Teaching

I know many of you have just experienced your first few days of distance learning with your kids. Others of you are teachers like me, spending hours and hours trying to learn an entirely new platform and figure out how to best translate your material into this new medium. I feel for you all.

I’ve been teaching online classes for about 6 weeks now.  I am a reading specialist so I am primarily working with younger students on phonological awareness, the mechanics of reading, and later reading comprehension and writing. The majority of my students are 3-6 years old and English is their second (or third) language (although I’m not teaching ESL).

With my youngest students, we do interactive and play-based learning. For some LOLs, check out this promo video that was shot 10 days before I gave birth.


Now imagine trying to translate that onto an online platform.

Along with the challenges of trying to deliver engaging and effective lessons online, there are also totally new challenges. Like trying to keep a three-year-old’s attention when they get up and walk away from the computer. Below is a collection of things I’ve observed and experienced of the past six weeks.


  • Lots of my students’ parents wear their pajamas at all hours of the day.
  • There are two types of parents to watch out for:

1. The Over-Involved Parent

Me: What is the first sound of ‘cat’?


Me: Thanks, Mason’s Mom. One point for you.

2. The Under-Involved Parent

Me: Hey, Hanna, where did you go?  Come back! Hey… Hanna’s mom? Or dad? Or grandpa? Anyone?

Hanna’s dad: Where is Hanna?

Me: I mean…I don’t know…she just kind of ran away. Isn’t she with you?


Me: Wow. Thank you for sharing.

Hanna: You’re welcome!

  • I have sooooo many more chins than I realized. Also very huge and expressive eyebrows.
  • Every child in Hong Kong has something with Elsa or Optimus Prime on it.
  • Mute buttons are glorious and we should have them in real life.
  • Technology is amazing. Except when it’s the worst. Which is at least once every day.


  •  I have one 3-year old student who attends class along with everyone in her household. I think they connect the computer to their TV screen. And then Sasha and her mom and her baby brother Lloyd and her grandma and her two helpers all attend the class together.
  • I have several students whose moms or helpers (Helpers are like nannies. They are also called aunties.) are sitting off-screen shoving food into their mouths through the whole class. Can they not sit through a 30-minute class without eating?!
  • One of my coworkers had a student attend a class while he was going through airport security. Another attended from what seemed to be a restaurant bathroom. Another friend had a student attend while in the backseat of a taxi.
  • My older students (like first to third grade) actually behave better online than they do in person. I suppose because they can’t flick erasers at each other and stuff like that?
  • Some kids become very tight-lipped while others overshare. In a class of 3-4 year olds…

Me: In today’s story, we heard about a boy who was very naughty. Are you ever naughty?

Gladys: No.

Me: Oh, ok. That’s good.

Scarlett: Sometimes yes.

Me: Ok, what happens when you’re naughty?

Scarlett: I cry.

Me: Oh. Does your auntie ask you, “What’s wrong, Scarlett?”

Scarlett: …No…

Me: Does she say, “It’s Ok. Don’t cry.”


Me: Ok. What about you, Natalie?

Natalie: Well…I am not naughty. Except only sometimes my auntie says, “Natalie! You are a troublemaker!” and I say, “Whachyou talking ’bout?” I’m not a troublemaker, except sometimes only I am supposed to go to sleep, and I don’t want to sleep, I just want to eat.

Me: Wow. So does your mommy say, “No, Natalie! You have to sleep?”

Natalie: No.

Me: Really?

Natalie: No. Because we are Chinese people. So she doesn’t say, “No,” like that in English.

Touche, Miss Sassypants


This is a learning process for all of us, so no matter which side of this you’re on, can we all agree to give each other grace? You don’t judge us for our lessons being a bit hodge-podge or the online platform glitching, and we won’t judge you for bribing your kid with M&M’s to get them to sit down for class. Deal?




The C Word: Life After Eight Weeks of Coronavirus

Over the past week I’ve watched as the United States and Europe woke up to the reality that we in Hong Kong (and other parts of Asia) have been living with since late January. Coronavirus…Covid-19… Wu-monia…whatever you want to call it. We are all in the same boat now.

I admit that it’s a little irritating to see people suddenly panicking. We all have a tendency to ignore that which does not seem to affect us, and Americans are notorious for this on a national level.  It’s not that I want anyone to be panicking, and I certainly am not happy that the virus is spreading, but I can’t help feeling a little like, “Welcome to the party.”

If you’re like me, you are equal parts sick-to-death of hearing about it and simultaneously reading everything you can find. I wanted to share some thoughts about my experience so far. I’m not in any way unique here, but I hope it helps someone to hear that life can and will go on while practicing social distance.


Here in Hong Kong, we are 573 miles from the epicenter of the virus in Wuhan, China. Which is basically the distance between Washington D.C. and Charleston, SC. To paint a clearer picture, it takes 10 minutes by high-speed train to cross the border from Hong Kong into mainland China. Chinese and Hong Kong citizens are able to easily pass back and forth over the border without visas or passport stamps.

Hong Kong ranks between 2nd and 3rd in the world for population density with 17,311 people per square mile. Compare this with the US’s 92.9 people per square mile to understand how staggering that is. In my own home we have 3 adults and a baby living in slightly less than 450 square feet.

I remember first hearing about the virus as “a kind of pneumonia” a few days before our school closed for the Chinese New Year holidays. By January 24th, the first day of our holiday, 75% of people out and about seemed to be wearing masks. Juniper had just turned 3 months old and we had been hoping to get out and enjoy some Chinese New Year festivities. On January 25th, the Hong Kong government declared a virus emergency, cancelled all Lunar New Year events, and began restricting access from mainland China.

The Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday of the year for Hong Kong and literally millions of people travel to see family in mainland China during this time. As those travelers moved back and forth, the virus spread to Hong Kong.

For two weeks everything shut down. Many things were closed and we hardly left home. We went from 75% of people wearing masks to 99.9% of people wearing masks. This also led to a mask shortage. Prices were hiked. People lined up for actual miles to buy masks, hand sanitizer, soap, and cleaning supplies from stores. The toilet paper crisis started.

The Education Bureau announced the extension of the Chinese New Year Holiday to February 17th. A week later it was pushed to March 1st. Then March 17th. Then April 20th. As of this writing, the report is that schools will not reopen on April 20th, but a new tentative date has not been set.

Jonathan and I are both teachers, but we work for independent learning centers that are for-profit businesses. We have to abide by the Education Bureau’s decisions, but if our company does not make enough money, they can shut down and we can lose our jobs.

At this point we have been teaching online classes for 6 weeks. Many of you are probably experiencing online school now, whether as a teacher, a student, or a parent. In whatever capacity you are experiencing online teaching…it is both a marvel of modern technology…and an absolute pain in the rear. Whenever you think it is impossible to make online learning work, please remember…I have been trying to teach 4 year olds how to read. Oh, and also, English is not their first language.

Some of our students have continued classes, but some have suspended indefinitely. This means that our schools are actively trying to recruit new students to join our classes all the time. To encourage this, they offer two free classes. The result is that we have a core group of students who have stayed and a revolving door of students who come for a few classes and leave. On the one hand it feels pointless to stall the rest of the class to try to explain what’s going on to these students who will more than likely attend their two free lessons and then leave. But at the same time, if you don’t stop and give them some extra time and attention, what chance do you have at getting them to enroll? It’s very challenging as an educator whose job is also dependent on student enrollment.

Unfortunately, at this point we are still required to go in to work to do our teaching from there. Which means I don’t get to spend my between-class-time with Sweet Juniper.

This is what daily life looks like:

We go to work. The doorman at my office building takes my temperature every morning when I arrive at work to make sure it is not above 37.5.  We come home. On the weekends we sleep, we cuddle our baby, we take walks. We read books. We watch shows. We do the New York Times crossword every day. We occasionally see friends. Rinse and repeat.

Whenever we go out we wear masks. As Westerners, this is not a cultural norm. We don’t necessarily believe they are effective in protecting us from others, but it does make sense that it helps keep people who are carrying the disease from spreading it as much. Mainly, we wear them because it has become socially unacceptable not to. In other words, it makes other people feel safer if we wear them.

Here is some good news:

All that social distancing seems to be working. Hong Kong has had 181 cases only 85 of which are currently active.

Fourteen of those cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours and all but one were imported infections. A significant number of people left Hong Kong when the crisis began and are now trying to come back because things are better here than wherever they fled to. And some of them have brought the virus back with them. Hong Kong now has mandatory quarantine for all arrivals, thank goodness.

The toilet paper crisis is over. Because it was not real to begin with. A rumor started that there would be a shortage of paper products coming in from China and people started panic-buying. I can only assume that word of our experience spread to other places until everyone for some reason thought: Coronavirus means toilet paper shortage. And they too did panic-buying. THERE IS NO TOILET PAPER SHORTAGE, PEOPLE. YOU CREATED THE SHORTAGE BY BUYING MORE THAN YOU NEED. If you are experiencing this now, don’t worry. In a few weeks, you will no doubt find that there is ample stock of toilet paper and hand sanitizer again.

I plan to do a few more posts over the next week or two with some adventures in online teaching, tips for dealing with anxiety, and book recommendations while you hunker down.

For now, I’ll just leave with this thought – we are all living in unprecedented times. We are all experiencing things we have never dreamed of. We will remember these days for the rest of our lives. Our children will remember these days for the rest of theirs. So let’s make them worth remembering.

Tickle your kids. Kiss your partner. Inhale your baby’s sweet smell. Let your dog sit in your lap a few minutes longer. Light a candle. Play your favorite song with the volume up loud. Dance if you want to dance.

After all, how we spend our days is how we spend our life. Even these days. Especially these days.