As online classes begin, some UMD professors juggle teaching and parenting at home

Classes at this university started taking place online on March 30, many through Zoom. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

On a typical weekday, Jonathan England would head to the University of Maryland’s campus, and his four children would head to school.

But last week, when the professor of African American studies wasn’t busy virtually teaching more than 200 students across four classes, he and his wife were keeping the kids occupied: Helping them write letters to their grandparents or walking with them to a nearby river. England’s work was often relegated to before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m. — when the kids were sleeping — and he took to recording his lectures late at night to avoid distractions.

The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered schools, daycares and nannying services across the country. England and other educators at this university are among the millions of Americans adapting to a life where homeschooling and parenting now coincide with full-time teleworking.

“These are extraordinary times, and we have to rise to the occasion,” England said.

[Read more: Coronavirus updates: The Diamondback’s ongoing coverage]

For Nicole Cousin-Gossett, director of undergraduate studies for the sociology department, maintaining a routine for her 5-year-old son has been difficult, she said. Her son’s school hasn’t yet rolled out an online learning plan, so she and her husband are taking things “one step at a time.”

Without the sense of structure a school day provides, Cousin-Gossett said her first week teaching after the university’s spring break was filled with constant distractions — such as the loud thud of her son jumping down a flight of stairs during one of her meetings.

Cousin-Gossett added she’s been trying to organize homeschooling everyday from about 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., which she said could help give her son a feeling of safety amid the global health crisis. However, with her administrative duties and teaching responsibilities piling up in recent weeks, she hasn’t yet found a balance between working and parenting.

“Minute by minute, you have to keep track of where the little ones are,” Cousin-Gossett said. “It’s really not possible to multitask and teach my students and teach my kids at the same time.”

Brian Connor, a lecturer in the university’s sociology department, has a 2-year-old at home. While many of his classes have adopted an asynchronous learning style, like England, Connor said finding time to record lectures has been difficult.

Before the coronavirus hit Maryland, Connor spent three business days each week on campus trying to get as much work done as he could, and would spend the other two days taking care of his son at home. But working from home full-time while also caring for his toddler has added new stressors, he said.

“With a 2-year-old, it’s hard to put them down and have them entertain themselves,” said Connor. “He just needs activities to do.”

[Read more: College Park shuts down city parks and playgrounds to combat coronavirus spread]

Dylan Selterman, a psychology professor who also has a 2-year-old, echoed Connor. Taking care of his daughter has been an “immense” challenge so far, he said, since both he and his wife are working full-time jobs.

Selterman teaches three different psychology courses, with more than 100 students in each. Juggling that on top of parenting has left him with no time to read, listen to podcasts, exercise or meditate, he said.

“It really is impossible to work a full-time job with a normal work-life balance and take care of young kids,” Selterman said. “But I think that as this goes on… we will adapt. We will find ways to make it normalized.”

He’s not quite sure how yet, though.

“If someone has a secret to this that they can share with me, I would be really, really appreciative,” he joked.

Some faculty have had additional resources to help make the transition more smooth. Shannon Jette, a professor in the kinesiology department, is delivering a brand new course this semester, which she said requires a massive amount of work “under the best of circumstances.” She counts herself lucky to have a nanny who helps care for her 2-year-old son.

“At any time, I think, to do my job even partially well requires me to work 60 hours a week, just to do the bare minimum,” said Jette, whose husband also works a full-time job.

For Rashawn Ray, whose wife is a healthcare provider working on the front lines of the pandemic, routine has proven to be the key so far. Ray, an associate professor of sociology who directs a research lab for applied social sciences at the university, is serving as the primary caretaker for his two sons, ages 8 and 9.

Ray’s days start with making breakfast for his kids. He then likes to organize some type of physical activity, such as dance parties or basketball drills in the house.

Throughout the day, his kids attend three live classes — Spanish, math and reading. Ray said he tries to get his work done while they do their homework or before they get up in the morning. He sees being able to stay home with his children as the virus rips across the country as “an honor,” he said.

But Ray understands his privilege. Some families will struggle with being stuck at home through the pandemic, he added — whether it be with financial difficulties or dysfunctional relationships.

Still, he says he’s trying to remain optimistic.

“Kids grow and change every single day, and I think we miss out on those moments,” Ray said. “When moments of turmoil happen, when moments of anguish happen, those are the times when families come together.”

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