MCC grad teaching English to children in China

Erica McDonaldWith her students living more than 7,000 miles away in China, the workday begins incredibly early for educator Ericka McDonald, a graduate of Meridian Community College whose first online English language lesson usually starts around 4:30 a.m.

Despite the nearly 14-hour time difference, McDonald is excited when her students log onto the video chat platform to begin their 25-minute lesson even though they have already completed a full day of work at their schools in China. For them, it is after 6:30 p.m., a time when many American students are winding down for the day.

“Most of these kids are very focused, and they are self-motivated,” said McDonald, who works for VIPKid, an online teaching and education company. “They want to learn, but in order to help them learn, I have to be exciting and upbeat and make our classes fun, especially for the younger students. So, I use a lot of manipulative's and hand gestures and facial expressions to keep them interested.”

In China, English is an official mandatory course that students are required to take during school. For those students who aspire to study abroad when they are in college, especially in the United States, or work for foreign companies in China, learning English is essential since it is the world’s most widely spoken language.

“They learn English at their school. It is required, just like they are required to learn an instrument,” McDonald said. “But those who really want to become proficient in the English language also take after-school lessons. English is spoken widely around the world, and I do think many of these students hope to come to the United States in the future to attend college.”

McDonald adores her Chinese students, who range in age from 4 to 13, and their eagerness to learn. During the coronavirus pandemic, many students have used their time to take extra English language lessons during lockdowns.

“I have a student who is about 12 years old and who lives in Wuhan, China, and he was homebound for about four months,” she said. “Because he could not go anywhere, he was able to take more classes during that time, so I was able to teach him more English lessons. Because of our online format, we were able to continue with his studies despite the pandemic.”

Even though her mornings start in the early hours, McDonald does not object to the schedule. She enjoys being able to continue teaching while working from home to raise her two children, Elaina, age 5, and Parker, age 1. Her husband, Andy McDonald, works for East Mississippi Electric Power Association.

 “I really love my job because it lets me stay home with my children while they are young,” she noted. “By the time I am finished with my lessons around 8:30 a.m., they are just waking up, and we can start their day.”

McDonald, who grew up in the Bailey community and graduated from West Lauderdale High School, enrolled in MCC in 2006. She chose MCC because of its smaller class sizes and compact campus and the Tuition Guarantee Program, she said.

“The campus was easy to navigate, so you could find your classes without a problem,” she recalled. “The teachers were very friendly and extremely helpful. They were always willing to offer assistance at any time with anything that you needed. I really enjoyed my time at MCC.”

A member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, McDonald earned her associate of arts degree in the University Transfer Program in 2008. She then transferred to the Meridian campus of Mississippi State University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2012.

After receiving her degree, McDonald taught at Quitman Lower Elementary School for three years, kindergarten then first grade, before deciding to stay home when she became pregnant with Elaina. She has worked for VIPKid for the past four years.

Even as a child, McDonald knew she wanted to go into education when she grew up. She oftentimes turned her bedroom into a schoolroom with her younger sister, Krystal, the lone pupil. She created assignments for her sister and made worksheets for her to complete.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a teacher,” McDonald noted.

She credits her parents, Doug and Barbara Haskins, for helping her succeed in obtaining her education degree.

“My parents knew I wanted to be a teacher, and they always encouraged me and kept me motivated to continue my education,” McDonald said. “They made sure my college was paid for so I would not have to graduate with student loans to pay back. I am not sure I would be where I am today without the love and support given to me by my parents.”