COVID-19 pandemic forces children and teachers online learning.
COVID-19 pandemic forces children and teachers online learning.

A mother shares her exhausting experience as a parent and teacher juggling between caring for her children and teaching her students during the coronavirus pandemic.

Parents across the country have had to make agonizing decisions regarding their children’s education. For parents who are also teachers, the choice isn’t theirs to make. They have to return to the classroom—either in-person or virtually—which means their children do, too.

Anna, a fifth-grade teacher in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who asked to use a pseudonym to protect her children’s privacy, told COURIER she felt the mental and emotional load of living the duality of teaching and parenting through a pandemic in every facet of her day. 

“This whole year has already been so stressful and exhausting as a mom, wife, and teacher,” she said. “I worry about my own children and their mental health and also physical health through all of this as I am having to send them to day care. And at school, the majority of my day is spent dealing with technical issues with students’ computers/Internet connection. I feel no one is getting my 100% attention.”

The elementary school where she works is currently operating a “hybrid” model for the 2020-21 school year, which means some students attend in person while others are learning virtually at home. Anna’s daughter has just begun her kindergarten year, and the school she attends is operating only virtually for now. This means Anna—who must be present in her classroom for both in-person students and those at home—can’t oversee her daughter’s first year of school from home.

“I have to pay to send her to a day-care program where they oversee her virtual learning,” Anna explained. “I still have to go online each evening to see what she did in class—what still needs to be finished and what needs to be submitted to the teacher.” 

Anna’s son, who is two years old, is currently under the care of an in-home babysitter and Anna’s mother, who comes by to help with child care two days per week. Things will likely remain this way for her family even if her school were to become fully virtual at any point during this school year; otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to perform her job. “If I was teaching from home, there is no way I could teach live with the two of them at home.”

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Anna is fortunate to have found reliable child care she trusts—that’s one of the biggest challenges all working parents are facing in the COVID-19 crisis. Finding reliable, affordable, quality child care has always been difficult for working parents in the U.S., and now the pandemic is unearthing a new facet to the struggle. 

According to the Center for American Progress, approximately 4.5 million child-care spots in the country could be permanently lost because of the pandemic. Day-care centers across the country are facing a major dilemma: how to cover the cost of additional safety precautions, such as more cleaning supplies, in accordance with public health guidelines when they’re already struggling. 

The overhead costs for a majority of centers nationwide were vast even prior to the pandemic, with profit margins just barely allowing these places to survive financially. House Democrats have passed two bills that together allot more than $60 billion to help child-care centers recover, but Republicans in the Senate have yet to consider the legislation.

This crisis is already disproportionately affecting women, who will have to leave the workforce to care for their children if Congress doesn’t offer an appropriate financial bailout for the child-care industry. A recent Census Bureau report showed that COVID-19 is already driving women from the workforce, with one in five working-age adults stating the reason they’re not working was because the pandemic disrupted their child-care arrangements. Women are three times as likely as men to not be working for this reason.

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“This whole year has already been so stressful and exhausting as a mom, wife, and teacher,” Anna said. She spends her days teaching two separate groups of fifth graders in two different ways, then comes home and has to play catch-up with her daughter’s schoolwork, which is hard for her as a teacher. “I feel terrible that I’m not even sure of how my daughter’s schooling is going because I can’t be there with her to oversee it,” she said. 

In the CARES Act, two of the most vital sectors of the American economy—airlines and hospitals—received a combined $200 billion in bailout money. The Paycheck Protection Program allotted $660 billion in forgivable loans for businesses. While many parents within these industries were able to receive some direct help from the CARES Act via one-time stimulus checks, the federal government has no plans for any sort of child allowance or financial relief for parents with regard to child care. 

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, for his part, has unveiled a plan that would temporarily expand the existing child tax credit and give families the option of taking monthly federal payments, which could work out to $250 to $300 a month. The proposal would take effect next year, and “then as long as economic conditions require,” it reads.

But parents are struggling right now—financially and emotionally. 

For working moms like Anna, being a parent and a teacher during a pandemic that has drastically altered the landscape of schools and child care is brutally overwhelming. Having to teach in a dual environment feels far from functional.

“This hybrid situation in which we are teaching live on a computer to students at home isn’t working,” she said. “I feel as if everyone is getting short-changed and no one is getting my full attention. This is not the ideal teaching or learning situation.”

During a press conference on Monday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos described schools who are operating virtually as a “tragedy,” and doubled down on her stance in favor of in-person learning. 

“I think about the tragedy (not reopening) is for kids across the country and where we are now with a lot of schools not reopening in-person or even offering that opportunity and the kids that will be hurt the most in all of that are the kids whose families don’t have the resources to do what needs to be done. It’s a real tragedy.”

DeVos did not, however, acknowledge that nearly 38 million adults living with school-aged children and 2.9 million K-12 school teachers have definite or possible risk factors for severe COVID-19, according to research published in Annals of Internal Medicine. In other words, teachers are risking their health and their lives every single day they come to work in the middle of the pandemic. As of Sept. 10, at least six teachers have died from COVID-19.

It’s only mid-September, and many schools around the country have only been in session for a few weeks. Working parents everywhere are feeling the burden of trying to adapt to new routines, but parents who are also teachers are already mentally and emotionally drained. 

“Exhausted doesn’t cut it,” Anna said. “The school day itself is so draining and then I have to drive home and deal with my ‘second job’ of making sure everything was finished for the day. When the week ended last week, I think I slept for 13 hours and still didn’t feel refreshed.”

READ MORE: How Biden Wants to Help Parents Find Affordable Child Care That Fits Their Needs