As of March 22, according to Education Week’s tracker, at least 54.5 million students were impacted by coronavirus-related school closures. My fourteen-year-old sister and six-year-old brother are two of those students. My other two brothers, nineteen and twenty-two, are home from college for the rest of the semester. And my mom, a high school math teacher, is home, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, too.
Things are disjointed, but we’re adjusting to the new normal, with all hands on deck.
Parents nationwide are now dealing with having to juggle their jobs—which hopefully have gone remote—with their children’s schooling. Schools were not prepared to send home students so they can begin remote learning; teachers were just as unprepared to begin remote teaching.
As the oldest child, at twenty-four, I’m fortunate in that I have a job where I can work remotely. So a week and a half ago I left my apartment, about two hours away, to come stay at my mom’s, knowing she’d need all the help she could get. My mom is the sole breadwinner for our family of seven, and she works several extra jobs throughout the year. In the fall, she coached middle school girls soccer.
Throughout the academic year, she supervises the school’s peer leadership program, coaches Math League, and is the advisor for the junior class. From June through the end of August, she teaches summer courses. (And to brag for one quick moment, since she won’t: She won Teacher of the Year at her school this year—the first time in recent memory a math teacher has earned the award.)
Because of those summer classes, my mom is a bit more prepared for remote work than most teachers. She taught a course that the school district didn’t offer last summer, and she managed the class remotely because she couldn’t book a space to teach in—I showed her how to operate Zoom. As a result, she’s leaning on those skills to teach her more than one hundred students online.
In the morning, we get up, eat breakfast, make sure our three dogs and one bird—and, at the moment, three foster puppies—are fed, and then try to divvy up work.
Keeping my six-year-old brother occupied, the biggest task, is something of a fool’s errand: The best blessing so far comes in the form of his physical education teacher, who has given assignments like marching around the house and following dance videos on YouTube, which tuckers him out for at least ten minutes.
Meanwhile, my sister, who’s in eighth-grade, sleeps until 2 p.m. and then bickers back and forth for laptop access, which the family shares, in order to do her social studies and math homework.
Since today is Monday, my mom posted all of her assignments online for her students. Each weekday morning since her school closed, texts have flooded in from her students asking questions about the assignments. She’s been impressed with how much work students are actually doing. Even on the first day of remote learning, her students were trying to get their work done.
She makes herself available via video call one hour a week for each of her classes, and otherwise is emailing and texting at all hours to answer questions. Hilariously, some of what her students have been sending her are memes and TikToks, which she can sort of understand, what with having Zoomers under her roof. Things are disjointed, but we’re adjusting to the new normal, with all hands on deck.
In some ways, a forced quarantine is the calmest my mom’s life has been in years: All the extracurriculars she supervises are canceled, as are my siblings’ various after-school responsibilities. She can make sure my siblings eat breakfast, instead of running out before they’re awake to make herself available for homework help and stealing time for lesson planning.
She doesn’t have to handle her daily coordination between herself, my grandmas, and me to figure out who will get the kids on and off the bus. She doesn’t have to worry about if she forgot to leave something out for dinner, because she’s home to prepare food and actually eat dinner with her children. She doesn’t have to panic if she missed a bill payment, if she forgot to call the student loan servicers who keep hounding my eldest brother and me: It’s all on pause, or at least slowed down.
Unfortunately, my dad, who usually helps out with child care duties, is in the hospital indefinitely for non-coronavirus reasons, and was hospitalized on the same day my mom’s school district announced their closing. But even that is a bizarre mixed blessing.
During the school day, my mom has no time to run out and call medical professionals, checking that he’s receiving the care he needs. She has no privacy to make those calls. And whether at school or at home, when school’s in session, my mom has no time to take care of herself.
I hope this period makes people more cognizant of all the constraints placed upon U.S. teachers, even without a pandemic hanging overhead.
My mom makes thousands more than teachers in many parts of the country. According to the National Education Association, the national average teacher salary has dropped 4.5 percent over the last ten years. She’s protected by a strong teacher’s union that provides her with excellent health insurance—health insurance I still use. And she didn’t have to go on strike to get those benefits.
My mom teaches in a relatively affluent school district, where there’s no panic over whether her students can even access the technology needed for remote learning; in the school district where my grandma is a special education teacher, the superintendent asked teachers to stop teaching entirely, so as not to sabotage those without access.
You’ve heard this already, but I’m going to keep saying it: The biggest problem with life under COVID-19 is how we expected people to live before it. There’s no reason that a pandemic should be necessary for my mom to live a life where she can actually breathe. Why would you want the person taking care of your kids—your school’s Teacher of the Year— to live like this, with or without a pandemic?