I left for work the other morning and realized that I would not see my son for another 12 plus hours. He would be at home, on his own, working through his junior year. Leading a district in COVID times is a fulltime plus some job, and my focus has been on all of our kids, not necessarily my kid. As the mom to a 17-year-old who drives himself, has done well with distance learning and has taken this time to get a job, I realize that my parenting story is very different than other educator parents. I have adopted a feral parenting style during COVID. I have not checked my son’s grades and really have resorted to just making sure he is okay. It has worked for us.
There are many other educator parents who don’t have the luxury of self-directed 17-year-old sons that don’t need a whole lot of mom guidance. Just last week a colleague stepped out of a meeting to go work on fifth-grade math over Facetime with her daughter. I know a lot more about fifth-grade math from watching this colleague work to support her kids over the past few months while also supporting other students. My experience is just one of many educator parent experiences through COVID, and they are stories worth sharing. There has not been a time that has tested educators in the way this has tested us.
What does it look like for educators who are also working with their own children who are in distance learning?
One teacher I heard from had a story that resonated with me in that she got to school, and totally focused on the work she was doing with her students. Hours later she would worry, “did my children get out of bed, did they eat, did they go to their Zooms?” She began her workday without a home check-in until she realized that one of her children was not doing as well as he normally did. She realized that she couldn’t continue in this manner and changed her focus with her son.
A veteran teacher, who was brand new to high school, and known for her extensive project-based lessons and field trips with students had to allow herself to cut herself off from work so she could help her own children navigate through their learning. She has also found that she needed to allow her kids to find their groove since they were home alone more. She set up check-ins to talk about school tasks. She also started spending her lunchtime on the phone with her kids and taking time each day after work to talk about what they learned. They have had to all work as a family to use teacher office hours for support rather than relying on mom when they were stuck.
A principal with two children of her own shared the importance of time management that she has had to learn. As the position she holds is ultimately responsible for how a school will function during this time, she has had to trust her husband more, commit to reading at bedtime, and listen for cues from her children that clearly let her know that they need more time. Another first-year school principal was surprised to see how independent and capable her daughter was. She had been underestimating her abilities. She has loved having a front row to discuss exactly what her daughter is learning in school, as that was not the case. She has also really appreciated working through Google Classroom as a parent. It has helped her support other parents. She also mentioned work-life balance and her answer was that she didn’t work on Sundays. That was the time she had to dedicate to her own family.
My colleague who left the meeting to teach math shared that her biggest issue is time. There is simply not enough time in the day to support her young daughters and give the 100% that she needs to give as a coach to new teachers. She feels demoralized that she cannot do the things that need to get done effectively. As a long-time high school teacher, she realizes the vital role that elementary teachers play and the specific knowledge and skills that they have that are so much different than her own. Throughout all of this, she is reminded daily about the importance of empathy on behalf of parents, teachers, and students. Being able to understand that each is sincerely doing their best and supporting those positive intentions is something she will take from this experience.
A kindergarten teacher with two children, one who just started middle school, shared that coming home to do hours of work with her kids was physically exhausting. However, she has loved being part of their learning. It was normally not something she was able to do. She has loved seeing her children grow and learn to navigate on their own in a short period of time. She really works at trying to focus on her own kids once she gets home as they have been home alone during the day, but turning off her kindergartners is very hard.
Something consistent from all of the educators I heard from, and something that I have dealt with since the spring closure was the idea that our job as educators was now a 24-hour job. It is our nature to support students and families. In moving to a digital format, we have also changed the way we communicate. Families are stressed and educators feel the need to resolve that stress, but we must remain mindful that we also have families.
My 17-year-old feral child is spending his last week at home alone before he goes back a few days a week. I am confident he will be just fine. It is my sincere hope that as we return to schools, we remember that teachers must be able to take care of themselves and their families in order to take care of others.