Working from home: teaching while parenting

With the pandemic forcing everyone to stay at home, teachers with kids suddenly have to find ways to keep their children occupied and teach their students at the same time.

When schools closed after spring break to not reopen for the rest of the year, science teacher Jenny Eustice had to figure out how to homeschool her kids while teaching her classes. Jenny’s kids are both elementary age: her daughter Peyton is eight and her son Charlie is six, and while elementary schools now have optional learning resources, they didn’t start with these right away. At the beginning of the quarantine, Jenny had to figure out how to teach them alone.

“I’m a high school teacher and I have elementary age kids,” Jenny said. “So not having that direction of what I should be doing today with them, I felt a little nervous and like I was doing them a disservice.”

Luckily, Jenny’s mother and her mother-in-law are retired first-grade teachers. They were able to help out by sending Jenny resources and worksheets for her kids to fill out. However, elementary kids can’t learn as independently as high schoolers can. 

“At first I was having a ton of meetings via Zoom with faculty meetings and department meetings and, you know, planning meetings and I couldn’t just give them a worksheet to do because Charlie’s in kindergarten and his reading isn’t, you know, he’s not gonna be able to read the directions or worksheets,” Jenny said.

Not too long after, though, the ICCSD came out with a suggested daily schedule for grades K-6. The elementary schools sent workbooks to all their students the week of May 4th with assigned pages to complete each day, and they use apps for math and language arts. 

The math app, DreamBox, and the language arts app, Lexia Core5, work in a very similar way. Both of them use assessments to create personalized lessons for each student. However, the apps are set up like a game. Students complete challenges related to math and reading to advance in each game. The ICCSD recommends students to spend 20-30 minutes on each app per day.

Math teacher Greg Witt’s oldest son, Vinny, is in kindergarten and also uses Lexia and DreamBox. Greg’s two other sons, Jackson and Brayden are too young to use the apps. Greg and his wife Katie Witt, a second-grade teacher at Ernest Horn Elementary, work together to homeschool Jackson, who is in preschool.

When they aren’t homeschooling their kids, the Witts spend a lot of their time trying to keep their kids occupied. One way Greg involves his kids is by letting his oldest two do Kahoots with his math classes if they have time at the end of Zooms.

“They’ve done okay,” Greg said. “We’ve done one with Star Wars and one with Disney characters. They enjoy it, and I think my students enjoy being able to do something fun.”

They enjoy it, and I think my students enjoy being able to do something fun.”

— Greg Witt

Elementary teachers are also able to meet with their students through Zoom, although the turnout rates for their classes are pretty low since the school doesn’t have the resources to give elementary students technology to use. For Peyton and Charlie, most of their Zooms have around 10 students. The Zooms are a way for the kids to see their friends and to do fun activities.

“We usually do morning meetings and we eat,” Charlie said.

“They eat lunch together one day [over Zoom],” Jenny said. “And then they have morning meetings on Fridays and they sing a song, they read books, Peyton’s done a Zoom scavenger hunt.”

Due to multiple Zooms and other online assignments, Jenny’s children have gotten really good at navigating technology. Charlie, especially, loves to change the Zoom backgrounds whenever he can.

“It’s amazing how much technology they have picked up in the last six weeks,” Jenny said. “Especially when I have to set up a family Zoom, with my brothers and my parents for them to see all their grandkids. I had to FaceTime my mom to set up Zoom on her iPad. And these kids are like, ‘Oh, yeah, just click this button. And then here’s how you change your background.’”

With all of the time the kids are spending online, keeping them active is crucial. Luckily, both of the Eustice kids are involved in gymnastics. Charlie and Peyton have 30-45 minute gymnastic lessons through Zoom once or twice a week, and Peyton has hip hop on Mondays and ballet, jazz and tap on Thursdays.

Jenny also tries to make sure they get outside to run off their extra energy and to limit their screen time. They go for bike rides often and are trying to get out to more parks like Kent park and Squire Point.

“There was a weekend a couple of weeks ago,” Jenny said. “And my husband and I were working on a project in the house and we basically said, ‘Okay, go outside, and you have to stay outside. You’re not allowed to come inside unless it’s an emergency or you need to go to the bathroom.’”

The two older Witt kids are also involved in gymnastics. Like the Eustices, the Witts try to stay active as much as possible.

“I’ve got like a little tykes basketball hoop in my basement here,” Greg said. “They love to shoot hoops and play knockout with me, and then just stay outside as much as we can. We go on walks and they love riding their bikes.”

One thing both families work on is keeping their kids and themselves from getting overwhelmed. Greg has a few shows that he tries to keep up to date with and he exercises every day to reduce stress. He gives his kids some leeway too.

“I want the boys to learn as much as they can, but they also need to keep their sanity,” Greg said. “So, you know, we’re supposed to do 20 to 30 minutes of Lexia and Dreambox every day and if we skip one day in a week, it’s okay. So there’s a balance there that we have to maintain, or at least try to maintain between working all the time and relaxing.”

I want the boys to learn as much as they can, but they also need to keep their sanity. So, you know, we’re supposed to do 20 to 30 minutes of Lexia and Dreambox every day and if we skip one day in a week, it’s okay.”

— Greg Witt

Jenny keeps herself from getting overwhelmed by reading and by limiting her news consumption. Both stress relievers give her a break from reality.

“In the future, I think [COVID-19] will be a very relevant tie into the curriculum,” Jenny said. “But I’ve spent probably hours reading articles and even looking at it globally … and it became very overwhelming … I don’t even turn on the news TV-wise because [my kids] will absorb anything they hear.”

In the future, I think [COVID-19] will be a very relevant tie into the curriculum. But I’ve spent probably hours reading articles and even looking at it globally … and it became very overwhelming.”

— Jenny Eustice

“There’s a lot of people pushing like, ‘Oh do this lesson on Coronavirus, do this.’ And then pretty soon people are like ‘Okay, but if we’re asking our students to do this and then all of a sudden they have a family member that’s affected by it like, maybe not this year,’” Jenny said.

The quarantine has led Jenny to be very grateful for the time she gets to spend with her kids and for her job teaching at West.

“I’ve done a lot of thinking of why I teach and that’s just building those relationships and being able to see students on a daily basis and my colleagues on a daily basis, and that’s super important … Also, I think, from a broader point, quarantining and staying home is trying to contribute to the greater good and I think that’s something from this situation to try to keep in your life. How can you contribute to the greater good?”