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On Parenting While Teaching, and Vice Versa

By Theo Wilhelm
On Parenting While Teaching, and Vice Versa

Get ready. Here come two outrageous understatements: Teaching from home while parenting is hard. Parenting at home while teaching is hard.

Yes, understatements indeed in endeavoring to describe a situation that can be so trying and feel so desperate. Who could have ever guessed it would come to this and that it would last for so long? Who could have ever imagined that we would be battling for bandwidth so that our families could educate and be educated at the same time, often in the room that happens to have the best WiFi connection? So much is challenging in this scenario that it can obscure the blessings that come with the struggle.

I have taken to telling my oldest son, who is 15, that he should consider me a banker. In this scenario, I am not a teacher and, therefore, should not be deferred to anytime his scholastic expectations are not painlessly clear to him. I am not the route around reaching out to your friends, classmates, or teacher in determining the path to understanding. It goes something like this,

“Pops, do you remember how to find the slope when working in quadrant graphs?”

“Yep.” Curt replies mean I am busy. He is not picking up on that.

“Can you show me?”

“What have you done to find out? Have you checked the posted materials? Have you chatted with a classmate or the teacher? Have you done some independent research to find support?”

“Nope. Nope. Nope.”

“Then I am a banker.”

My other son, 12, is always, “done.” He needs more than a banker. My wife, who is the PYP Coordinator and Assistant Principal at our school, finds herself tirelessly vigilant to his dubious “doneness” and, as a result, teaching our son the organizational skills she spent years impressing as an elementary teacher and continues to impress as an administrator. Without the four walls of a classroom, without a teacher nearby, and without peers to motivate and support him, our boy strays, and we (mostly she) are realizing the depth of his organizational struggles. He needs more than a banker.

I should take a moment to share that, in having my boys think of me as a banker, I don’t mean to suggest that the life of a banker who might be working at home while her kids are forced into distance-learning is not trying in its own right. The banker too finds herself distracted from her work, having to address queries once fielded by teachers during school hours. I will suggest, however, that her children are not meeting with their banker throughout the day only to have them pepper her with questions about personal finances because it is easier to ask her, or because they are so young they are naturally inclined to do so when she is around.

From our students to our own kids, the parents of our students to ourselves as parents, we are all deeply entrenched in education, and it has never been so strange. That can be trying, to say the least. No matter who you are in these times, if you are a parent, school has suddenly arrived and, especially for those with younger children, you are going to have to take part. This is new. This is hard. This is downright scary. And, this might be good.

At the cost of sounding overly optimistic, I suggest a lot of good is coming out of this situation. I have been at this long enough in enough places to suggest that I have often been troubled by the divide that can exist between student, family, and teacher. It is such a strained dynamic that it can be contemptuous before there is cause for contempt. I have dealt with parents on many occasions who bring a history of dissatisfaction with school in general. Similarly, I know plenty of teachers who seem down on parents before they even know them, thus making assumptions they have no right to make. So much can fester in obscurity.

Now, however, that obscurity is gone. Parents know exactly what I am like. They see me teaching all the time. And as for parents, I have more meaningful contact with my students’ parents than ever before. Further, I must confess, I have had more fruitful conversations with my own children’s teachers, and they have been my colleagues all along, even before the pandemic. More than ever, everyone is “in the know,” and the results, I hope, will impact education beyond any novel virus.

Finally, I confess I have been called a luddite more than once. The information age and all the contraptions that come with it is outside my comfort zone. I am not on social media; my phone, which is seldom on my person, is outdated; and I detest a world that has been “iJacked” wherein everyone’s eyes seem glued to a device. With that said, I must confess, it is amazing what technology has allowed for in these times, and the skills we have all acquired or expanded is awe-inspiring.

On top of that, I am sure I am not alone in realizing the incredible growth my children have made in their self-management and organizational skills. When we went online in March, they were both a bit of a mess, and who can blame them? So was I. Now, with schedules they have created posted near their desks and routines to assure their work is submitted in a timely, accurate manner, distance-learning has forced them to practice and expand these essential 21st-century skills relevant to any content.

It is important that I restate: being a professional and a parent simultaneously is really challenging, and I myself have had to take some breaths amidst a deluge of demands and expectations all taking place at the same time in the same crowded space. It is hard. We as teachers have our struggles, just as any parent who is working and supporting their child from home right now has their own trying story.

It comforts me to think that, while the world continues to grapple with the pandemic, maybe some good is coming of it. Maybe we as teachers, parents, and students can understand one another just that much more, and maybe that will make all the difference in moving education forward in this uncertain, changing world. 

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11/26/2020 - Troy
You make many great points Theo. I’ve always considered technology a bit of a burden, but I do appreciate that it’s helped a lot during these times. And, as a parent and a teacher the silver lining is that we were able to communicate and teach organization skills. Also, this proves the power of human adaptability.



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