By Erin Papakostas ’23 (she/her), Staff Writer
Before COVID-19 swept the country last spring, Dr. Mitch Anstey, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Davidson College, and his family had a nanny. She provided additional child care for his five-year-old twin boys, Noah and Micah, and his daughter Logan, who is two-and-a-half. In March, as anxiety surrounding COVID spread, the family’s nanny decided to step back from her role as caretaker. Dr. Anstey and his wife were sympathetic to her concerns; they subsequently rearranged their lives so they both could work full-time and care for their kids full-time, hoping that the virus would soon be under control.
Some Davidson professors are balancing teaching college students during a global pandemic while simultaneously nurturing the education of their children from home.
In the spring, when Dr. Anstey and his family were without additional childcare support, he said, “I got to play with my kids all during the day, and then 30 minutes before class, I was just kind of going with it, just winging it at times because I just didn’t have time to prepare.” The family had to search to add someone new to their family during a global pandemic, all the while keeping up with their work schedules.
Chas Willimon ‘02 is a fourth grade teacher at North Kannapolis Elementary. When starting the school year remotely, he did his best to ensure that the expectations he had for the parents of his students were realistic. He charged parents with homework help and making sure their children attended Zoom meetings, but he recognized they are not homeschool teachers.
The first week of classes consisted of familiarizing his students with the technology they would use for school. Willimon said he worked hard on organization on the front-end so that his students could not claim confusion as an excuse to not do their work.
Willimon said he tries to “set expectations with a sense of grace.” He attempts to instill the same expectations of coming to school, and said that students perform better if they get out of the habit of rolling out of bed to the computer.
Dr. Andrew O’Geen, Chair & Associate Professor of Political Science, has two sons who attend Davidson K-8. Charlie is a sixth grader and Sam is a second grader.
Dr. O’Geen and his wife have restructured their routines to find time for their work. “Usually what we’ll try and do is work before the kids get up or before the kids start school to try and get a couple of quiet hours in where nobody needs us for anything,” he said. Dr. O’Geen’s sons start their classes at 8:30 a.m.
“We essentially have to go through day-by-day and figure out who is going to be available to help the kids if they need help,” Dr. O’Geen said. By setting expectations before the day begins, Dr. O’Geen and his wife have peace of mind knowing which times they will be with the kids and when they can do their own work.
Dr. Susana Wadgymar, Assistant Professor of Biology, has two sons who attend Davidson Daycare. Liam will soon be four years old and Lucas is only 18 months old.
The daycare shut down in the spring and did not reopen until July, so throughout the spring, Dr. Wadgymar taught her classes while caring for two small children. The daycare has shut down again once since reopening after a child tested positive for COVID-19. The families all quarantined for two weeks before the daycare could reopen again safely.
During those two weeks, Dr. Wadgymar cancelled everything on her schedule apart from teaching and office hours. “I would try and sneak away [from the kids], that’s hard to do: they know you’re home, and they know you’re somewhere. I taught in my bedroom on a chair. I couldn’t be downstairs with the good internet at a good table, or a desk. I was in my room, literally hiding,” she commented. Dr. Wadgymar said her students saw a decent amount of her oldest son, Liam, who would interrupt her Zoom classes, curious to see where his mom was.
Dr. Amanda Martinez, Chair & Associate Professor of Communication Studies, has a daughter named Anabel who is a first-grader at Blythe Elementary School.
Professors expressed that their schedules are so packed that they no longer have time for themselves. “We just do not have hobbies or things that we do anymore,” Dr. Wadgymar said. “Our time for ourselves is making dinner for the next couple days, so that at least is not something we have to stress about later.”
Dr. Martinez said that she will sometimes stay up late even though she’s exhausted, simply because it is the only time she has to herself all day. Before the pandemic, Dr. Martinez had a rigid separation between her home and work lives. Now, that line of separation is blurred.
“I get bursts of work done in between when [Anabel] is occupied. I have to do the things that require a lot more depth and mental energy. On her asynchronous time between her live Zoom meetings with the teachers, there are a lot more interruptions. I am kind of accustomed to that, I binge-burst work.”
Dr. Brad Johnson, Chair & Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, has two daughters, eight-year-old Avery, who is in the third grade, and six-year-old Sienna, who is in kindergarten. Both girls attend Davidson K-8.
Dr. Johnson’s family grouped with another family to form a pod and hired an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher who came back from teaching abroad to assist with his children’s schooling.
In the mornings, Dr. Johnson and his wife would take turns monitoring Avery and Sienna’s school, and then the girls would meet with the two other children from their pod in the afternoon.
“That works pretty well in some ways, but it’s also a complete house of cards because if any part of that falls apart at any given moment then the whole thing is done,” Dr. Johnson commented.
That house of cards came down tumbling when the woman they hired to teach the pod got COVID-19 and transmitted the virus to one child in the pod, who recovered quickly. “Thus began a period where we had no extra teaching support; we didn’t want to expose the grandparents, so it basically came back to a two week period where my wife and I did everything,” Dr. Johnson said.
Managing their work schedules while taking care of their kids was challenging, but Dr. Johnson and his wife coordinated their schedules to trade the day off between the two of them. The arrangement was not perfect, and there were some 30minute increments when neither Dr. Johnson nor his wife were available to help their daughters with schoolwork.
“The online stuff has been really hard. I’m not blaming anyone for this, it is just super disorganized, it was thrown together by the school system very quickly,” Dr. Johnson said.
Dr. Martinez recognizes the difficulties that learning from home has on her daughter.
“I’m trying not to be really worried about my first-grader falling super behind, whatever that means. She’s just young, and there will be a lot of opportunity for catching up on learning, maybe accelerating certain things once we’re back in person,” Dr. Martinez said.
Aware of the challenges her own students face with online learning, Dr. Wadgymar has a no-late penalty; she only asks that her students keep her in the loop on their plan to catch up. She said she assesses her syllabus as the semester advances and has built in “catch up days” to the class schedule.
“If the daycare were to shut down again or something, I’m sure that [my students] would be just as understanding as I have been. I’m really proud of everyone for just doing this together,” she said.
At recent parent-teacher conferences, Dr. Johnson said that the teacher informed parents that the students’ standardized test scores were below the normal range and that the whole curve had shifted. “Is that because they’re not learning as much? Maybe. Is that because they can’t focus when they’re asked to take a standardized test at home on a computer? That may be more likely,” Dr. Johnson remarked.
Dr. Wadgymar believes neither students nor parents should compare the level of accomplishment this semester to what could have been accomplished under normal circumstances. “Less is more at this point, and we need to make more out of that less,” she said.
In preparation for his classes this fall, Dr. Johnson decided to create virtual field trips for his students. Over the summer on camping trips, Dr. Johnson shot footage on his go-pro, taught himself some video editing, and produced virtual field trips for his students.
“As an optimistic person, I’ve been trying to look at this as an opportunity to try some stuff that I’ve never done before, to add things to my courses that make them better permanently,” Dr. Johnson commented.