Teachers manage balance between work and family
November 10, 2020
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic brought an onslaught of changes for everyone, but one category of people that students might forget about is their very own teachers. As many people transition to at-home learning and work, one unique aspect about some teachers is that they must teach students on a strict schedule while managing their own children at the same time. The amount of help that their children need varies across different types of teachers and the age of their children, but there are common themes that persist throughout everyone’s online-learning struggles.
Math teacher Laura Goetz and English teacher Michael Oakes both teach at RM, but Mr. Oakes’ wife, Katie Oakes, teaches elementary school at Wilson Wims in Montgomery County. Each of these teachers offers a unique perspective on how online teaching has impacted their own lives.
With most of her kids graduated with children or in college, Mrs. Goetz only has to make sure her son, junior Dylan Goetz, is able to get his work done on time. “He’s a good kid — a good student. I don’t have to keep on his back,” Mrs. Goetz said. Since her son is self-sufficient, Mrs. Goetz is able to focus more on grading and preparing lesson plans for class.
One challenge Mrs. Goetz mentioned was connecting with the students and finding a proper way to teach every topic required for exams and prerequisite classes. “I’m working very very hard, just like I do every year, but back then I could adjust what I was doing each day — you can’t do that anymore. And that’s hard. They say ‘oh, just don’t worry about the content! Slow down! Don’t give the kids too much work!’ But if I don’t do this now, they’re gonna [sic.] feel really bad when they take an AP test.”
Additionally, with the rigorous course requirements and difficult topics to teach in classes like AP BC Calculus and Multivariable Calculus, Mrs. Goetz cannot afford to lessen the content. “Online grading is worse than online teaching,” Goetz said. “I’ll be staring at my computer screen all day — and sometimes Mr. Goetz and I get so caught up in our work that we have to make ourselves stop at 10 [p.m.].”
With grading more unorganized than before and student engagement lower, the three teachers interviewed echoed the same sentiment that it was harder to communicate and develop a personal working relationship with students.
“Before, I could adjust the content – in the middle of class, or by day because there were some things that people weren’t gonna [sic.] get the first time,” Mrs. Goetz said. “Now, there’s a lot of responsibility on the students to ask for help themselves or come to office hours. I try to be as accessible as possible — I’m open most days at lunch for help and after school for office hours, but it definitely isn’t the same as before.”
Likewise, Mr. and Mrs. Oakes talked about the different challenges they have faced during online teaching. With a fourth-grade daughter and fifth-grade son at home, each member of the family had to find a separate room of the house to work, but they cannot all necessarily concentrate to the same extent as before.
“[The children] needed a lot of help with logging into Zoom and navigating Canvas, but within a couple of weeks, the amount of tech support I needed to provide went way down as they became more independent,” Mrs. Oakes said.
“Not having the separation between work and home is the most difficult,” Mr. Oakes added. “Normally you have a very predictable schedule, but now you work weekends and into the night.” Without a set schedule with bells and alarms, it can be tricky to get into the work or learning zone for both teachers and students. “Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m working at home, but rather that I’m living at work!” Mrs. Oakes said. Both of the Oakeses emphasized the importance of setting up boundaries so they could recharge.
Many teachers do not find online teaching entirely bad, however. “Not having to commute to work is definitely a plus,” Mr. Oakes said. “The quality of each lesson increases, as well as I have to think more carefully of what to keep and what to take out for each in-person class.” All of the teachers added that online school has allowed them to enjoy a bit more sleep and time for walks or family. “Not having to wake up at 5:30 [a.m.] has been an added bonus,” Mrs. Goetz said.
Though all of the teachers interviewed have spouses who also teach in MCPS and children schooling at home, they have been able to find a balance, albeit fragile, amidst the onslaught of online learning and teaching. Their children are able to become self-sufficient, but the story might be different for teachers with even younger children.