Teachers Forced to Juggle Familial and Professional Roles As Pandemic Produces Changes in Education

It’s no secret that online school comes with awkward and new social dynamics. Someone forgets to turn off their microphone or camera, the teacher struggles to form breakout groups, or someone’s parent walks into the room and interrupts during class. These new dynamics become even more complex when teachers are both parenting and teaching simultaneously from home. 

Although this year brings a new challenge for parents who are teaching, many are finding new, creative ways to adapt and flourish in their online classrooms. Gary Sletmoe, a Franklin High School (FHS) English teacher, has established new norms in his household in order to better conduct his synchronous classes and more easily cohabitate with his third grade son and fifth grade daughter.

“[My kids] have to be pretty self-sufficient so even our third grade son knows that if he has to be back by 12:45 p.m. he’s got to be back by 12:45 p.m.,” Sletmoe explained. “I’m not going to remind [him] to get back to class so [he has to] know the schedule.”

 In addition to helping establish time management skills for his kids, Sletmoe explained more functional and spatial guidelines: “When the door is closed you can’t come in,” and “If you’re playing during my live classes you have to keep it down.” With so many moving parts in everyone’s schedules, Sletmoe and his family have created a color coded schedule to keep track of what’s going on throughout the week.

Like Sletmoe, FHS teacher Brian Halberg has adapted to the online school system by creating a “master schedule” within his household. With multiple levels of education going on in his house, he expressed that it’s very important that his family has at least one place where they can all go that has a breakdown of where everyone needs to be and at what time. 

Both students and teachers can agree that creating separation between school and home has proven to be extra difficult. Both Sletmoe and FHS teacher Allison Haight expressed the challenge of creating separation and reflected on how much easier the separation between home and work was when they could go to the FHS building. Sletmoe also talked about the challenge of closing the computer and walking away. As a result, he sets time limits for work so he doesn’t spend all day on his computer. 

“When I go to work [in the building] it’s really easy to be in ‘work mode’ and kind of forget about everything else.” He added, “I don’t have to worry about my kids or my wife. I can just show up to work, grade papers after class, get in my car and go home to be a dad.”

Haight expressed the challenge of getting out of the house and away from work: “I want to leave the house more often than I do, but because I’m working 12-14 hour days, I feel like I have to carve out time to do that.” By leaving the house for an hour to go for a walk and get outside with her daughter, Haight sometimes finds herself feeling guilty for stepping away from the work she needs to get done. 

Although this year brings new challenges for teaching parents, Sletmoe and Haight agreed that one of the best things about having school from home was that they could see their families throughout the day. The flexibility in the afternoon schedule has become very crucial for Sletmoe. He really enjoys the ability to base the structure of his afternoon asynchronous classes on the needs of his family.

For most teachers, online learning is a new way of teaching. Teachers crave feedback to create more engaging lessons and learn what students need during online instruction. Halberg stressed his gratitude for being able to hear from his kids about how remote learning is going for them and what is helping them to feel connected and engaged.

In addition to teaching parents, students whose parents teach are also struggling with new problems and ways to adapt daily. “Before this year, my parents haven’t really used any online platforms. My mom would get very overwhelmed trying to communicate with her students during asynchronous time,” said sophomore Bella Walker. 

The adjustment to an online platform creates new obstacles for Walker in both her own education and supporting her teaching parents. Walker expressed that the beginning of the year was much harder for her family this year. During the first two weeks, Walker would help her parents with some of the technology problems causing her to occasionally lose time to eat her lunch before her next classes. In addition to helping her parents, Walker expressed that with her parents having a lot of work outside of school hours, it’s made it hard to coordinate their schedules and spend time together. One way Walker’s family has spent time together is through daily family walks with her dog. 

Each day of online learning comes with a new set of challenges and ways to adapt. Both students and teachers agree that online learning is not the ideal situation for anyone, but there is unity to be found in the mutual struggle.

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