Teachers Working From Home With Their Own Kids Have To Do Some Serious Juggling
Many working parents are facing an impossible scenario this school year, but maybe none more so than teachers who have kids themselves. Just how teachers will handle working from home with their own kids this year is a question with seemingly no good answer.
Many teachers are racking their brains to try to come up with a plan to manage their teaching responsibilities from home and their own children. If they have kids who are school-aged and require help with online learning, they'll have to juggle teaching their own child while simultaneously teaching their students virtually who are likely learning different subjects altogether. Even teachers who parent older children are struggling to adapt how they will fill in the gaps when it comes to socialization and physical activity while they're busy with live instruction, virtual meetings, and lesson planning.
While teachers with babies and toddlers may opt to send their kids to day care or have a babysitter of some sort, for some teachers, the concerns over childcare is only part of a broader range of problems. With limited time off available, teachers are feeling the weight of worry about what will happen if they contract the virus — or if their children do. Many are seeking more support from their districts, states, and even the federal government when it comes to handling the balancing act of it all.
Here's a look at how six different teachers are feeling about teaching from home with kids this year.
Cheryl, Special Education Teacher
"Honestly, I think it's going to be something of a nightmare," Cheryl Ruyle tells Romper. Ruyle and her husband are both special education teachers who will be teaching from home while their first grader and third grader learn from home online. They also have a 3-year-old at home.
Because none of their schedules line up exactly, Ruyle's typical day will be something more akin to balancing on a high wire than your typical teacher work day. She says that because of this, her third grader will be the one mostly responsible for helping her first grader with school work. "Normally, I get to go to work and be a teacher. When I come home, I can turn off the teacher part of myself and focus on being a mom. But now I won't get to do that," Ruyle says. "I'll be constantly fulfilling two roles at the same time. What happens when my 3-year-old needs help using the bathroom and I'm in the middle of class? What do I do when someone gets hurt?"
For many working parents, the pandemic has highlighted just how difficult it is to work from home with kids in tow — teachers like Ruyle are are no exception. "I'm very worried about the quality of my own children's mental health and education. I don't get the luxury of helping my children through their schoolwork or Zoom meetings," Ruyle says. "I don't get to give them uninterrupted, focused attention. It's hard for them to see that my job is 'more important' than them. They're young, but we're already hearing them say 'Why do you work so much? why can't you play with us?' It really hurts to hear that. They just don't understand."
Stephanie, High School Muti-Disciplinary Teacher
For Stephanie Ambarsumyan, a high school special education, humanities, and English teacher, having her mother-in-law help care for her toddler some of the time will bring a bit of relief to teaching from home. But in a small one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment with her husband also working from home, even having help isn't without challenges.
When describing the scene of everyone trying to work around one another last semester, Ambarsumyan tells Romper, "There were a few times that I had to put my class on hold, and dodge into my son’s play space to grab my laptop charger or materials that I forgot. He would cry when I scurried off and didn’t stop to play with him. I would feel like I wanted to soothe him, but couldn’t, because I had a job to do. I’d hear him crying from down the hall as I tried to maintain the dignity of my lesson. I don’t think the kids heard him, but I could, and it broke my heart!"
Ambarsumyan has a chronic lung condition, which means she had to put in a work-from-home accommodation per the city and teacher's union. "A large part of me feels incredibly guilty that I will likely not be 'in the trenches' with my colleagues so to speak," she explains, "It’s not in my nature to take the easy way out. Sometimes I feel self-critical about having the option to stay home in September while other educators do not have the choice."
While she calls the opportunity to teach from home while others cannot "a weird form of survivor's guilt," she says she also feels guilty about the fact that she might not be able to meet both her students' needs and her son's needs simultaneously. "Last year, when we didn’t have childcare, I was feeding him his purees while on camera teaching my students. In moments like that I felt terrible because I didn’t feel like the kids, both my students nor my son, were getting 100% from me."
Still, she is determined to do whatever it takes to make it all work. "I think that’s really key to all of us getting through this — understanding and compassion."
Lauren, High School Math Teacher
Lauren Summers, a high school teacher in Texas, worked from home with her daughter during the spring semester and throughout summer school. "It’s been an experience for sure," she explains. "But I’ve enjoyed it, and this is the most time I’ve ever had with her because I’ve always worked since she was born. But there has been a lot of crying and I’ve spent a lot of money on babysitters."
Although her district says it is unsafe for students to return to in-person instruction right now, Summers will head back to her empty classroom to teach virtually this fall semester while her 3-year-old daughter goes to day care — if she can find one. "I am very lucky that my school district is pushing to be 100% virtual the entire first nine weeks, but that doesn't help my kid — only my students," Summers explains.
As Summers puts it, "In this situation, I don’t know what the alternative answer would be." She is currently looking into the process of developing an on-site preschool program for teachers at her school, but that doesn't take into account how things will work if staff also wind up back at home teaching, which is looking more and more likely each day.
"This pandemic has highlighted what every teacher in the U.S. already knows," Summers explains. "We have been financially supporting the public school systems ourselves. We have been taking care of all the children that aren’t ours, and neglecting our own children so that we can take care of the students that we love because the public school system has completely failed."
Ashley Cobb, Secondary Math Instructor
Although she plans to go over her children's daily school schedule and assignments each morning before her own work day begins, secondary math instructor Ashley Cobb tells Romper that her live teaching lessons will still prevent her from helping her own kids with their lessons throughout the day.
"I am fortunate that my older children can be of assistance to the younger ones, but I don’t want them to miss out on their own learning in order to help," she says. "Another challenge will be taking adequate care of my soon-to-be 3-month-old while providing live lessons, attending virtual meetings, and planning my lessons. I anticipate leaning on my husband in times of need, but he will also be working from home, attending virtual meetings, and frequently traveling for his own job."
She says that during her lunch breaks and in the evening will be the best times for her to help her own kids with their school work, and that even much of her free time will be filled with parent and student meetings outside of her live teaching sessions. Still, she plans to evoke much flexibility within their structured days.
"I embrace the challenge and look forward to my kids resuming more structured days as school begins," Cobb says. "I do have a bit of anxiety over things I cannot control, but know that flexibility and going with the flow is essential."
Kari, Senior Department Chair & High School Spanish Instructor
"I am feeling pretty good about this year," Feldhaus, a Senior Department Chair and high school Spanish instructor at Apex Learning Virtual School tells Romper. "My kids are in high school. Their course work can be pretty intense, but they can work on their own when necessary, and they have learned to wait for my help when they need it. It will definitely be an adjustment and even more challenging for teachers with young children learning at home. Time management will be really important."
Feldhaus tells Romper that her days teaching from home typically start with checking emails, posting reminders, and reviewing her own plan for the day, all before getting her own children set up for distance learning.
"Teaching at home requires a lot of flexibility. I have learned how to get part way through an activity, set it down, and come right back to it. Have a schedule, but be willing to change it," she says. "Enjoy the flexibility and be willing to work early or late if needed, but not all the time. It is important for teachers to establish boundaries for themselves and their students so everyone feels supported, but not overwhelmed."
Christine, Eighth Grade Science Teacher
While teaching her eighth grade science lessons from home, Christine Cook plans to set up separate areas for both she and her son to complete their work. "We will need to structure our day around the school schedule. A typical day will start with a breakfast. Afterwards, I am expecting him to complete his assignments and attend his virtual classes while I teach my classes."
Even though her son is old enough to complete his school work without her assistance, Cook says that the biggest challenge for her this semester while teaching from home with her son there will be incorporating breaks into their routine for physical activity and socialization. "I will most likely invite one of my son’s classmates to join him for a study session. He does have a friend from a family that adheres to the CDC guidelines," she explains.
"Fortunately, my son is older and can work independently. I am feeling grateful to have the opportunity to continue teaching while my son is at home attending virtual school," Cook explains. "I feel that this situation is challenging for those with small children or children with special needs."