Many Wheaton professors are approaching the semester facing the challenges of teaching in-person while also having young children at home for most of the day.
“My husband and I envision a more precarious, uncertain fall semester as one or both of us need to transition to remote work,” said Assistant Professor of Old Testament Aubrey Buster, who has a four-year-old son. Buster and her husband have prepared their home for the event of needing to stay home while their son is unable to go to preschool due to cold or flu symptoms.
Professors have approached this semester with a variety of changes necessary to maintain their children’s schedules and their own teaching responsibilities. Dr. Michael McKoy, who works in the Politics and International Relations Department, said his wife, an adjunct chemistry professor at Wheaton, chose not to teach this semester due to the needs of their three children.
“With us having really no childcare opportunities or potential, trying to juggle our two schedules would’ve been really hard,” McKoy said.
When daycare facilities and schools closed in the spring, many faculty lost childcare. Philosophy Professor James Gordon and his wife stopped sending their children to their grandparents’ house for fear of spreading COVID-19.
“Both of us had to work from home, so it was a bit stressful,” said Gordon. He and his wife, who works in graphic design, had to balance online work with their two three-year-olds climbing all over them during work hours.
In the Wheaton public school district, elementary schools have shifted to a 9:00 a.m.—1:00 p.m. school day. After 1p.m., there is an hour of asynchronous work for the students to complete at home. According to the 2020-21 Reopening Plan from the District 200 website, students also have the option to switch to the Virtual Academy instead, which is fully remote learning.
For many professors with young children, impromptu conversations with colleagues or other similarly unplanned interactions has been a casualty of COVID-19 parenting. Associate Professor of New Testament Amy Peeler and her husband have worked out a schedule where they take turns coming home in the afternoon to watch their three children, ages twelve, nine, and six, after school. Peeler recalled a recent exchange with a colleague where she had to decline a longer conversation due to her children’s needs at home. “I was like ‘Oh, I’d love to, but my kids are all going to be home alone, if I’m not there, so I can’t talk right now,’” said Peeler.
According to Peeler, another casualty of COVID-19 parenting has been the extracurricular work that professors do within their field. The obligation to be home and take care of kids, she said, occupies “several hours a day that you typically would [have] free to work.” This gets in the way of research projects and writing. Even with the ability to teach in-person classes and attend meetings, Peeler emphasized that her work is very different this semester.
Despite these difficulties, many Wheaton professors are appreciative of the ways that this unusual period has ushered in new blessings.
“I’m spending a lot less time in the car,” said Heather Whitney, Associate Professor of Physics, who used to drive six hours a week to and from a research collaboration. “All my research meetings are now conducted remotely. Less driving, lots of family time – those are really wonderful things.”
Professors cited increased family time and concentrated sibling bonding time as more positive results of the pandemic.
“I really think their sibling relationships are better now than they were in February, and so I’m incredibly thankful for that,” said Peeler of her three children.
Gordon agreed. “Especially once we send our boys to school,” he said, “ [we] won’t ever get the chance to be home together as a family every day for an extended six-month period of time ever again.”