How is your pandemic parenting going? "The Faculty Parent" series chronicles the highs and lows of juggling parenting, teaching, research, and writing in uncertain times.
Right now, with two small kids at home, I have an unpredictable schedule (understatement of the year). Until quite recently, I had not spoken to a person on the phone during daylight hours in months because I could not be reached while actively parenting and when I did try to talk on the phone my daughter considered it an act of outright betrayal punishable by immediate screaming. In Zoom meetings when I cannot coordinate with my co-parent, my colleagues have been treated to my son’s non-stop wiggles and indefatigable desire to press buttons and my daughter’s best “nanny nanny boo boo” faces and efforts to violently slam closed the laptop clamshell while I attempt to pry it gently back open again.
I am a good teacher, I like to think, but I’ve learned that I am not that good at teaching my own child. Neither is my spouse, who is also a Rutgers faculty member. Over the summer, we ended up doing a mix of worksheets and activities designed by our daughter’s beloved preschool teacher for remote learning (we engaged her in late spring to cook up lesson plans for a modest weekly fee). It was haphazard at best, though I was proud of my makeshift “science and engineering” curriculum in which we built a marshmallow-toothpick house, a small helicopter, a parachute, a zipline, and a working-ish pulley system. When these attempts petered out about midway through the summer, we fell back on educational apps on the iPad. Khan Academy Kids was a huge hit and actually very effective, though I am still feeling shame about the uptick (skyrocket?) in screen time. In truth, we watched a lot of television (mostly the--surprisingly cool--superhero action show Miraculous and the timeless classic Avatar).
While I would describe my attempts at homeschooling as something like an epic fail, the spring “pivot” as we have been calling it from in person to online teaching was one change that did not feel overwhelming for me. This is likely because I was already teaching online. I began teaching some classes online back in 2016, the year after my daughter was born, as I was finishing up my first monograph and coming up for tenure. I took the now-discontinued course “Designing Quality Online Courses,” which was offered through Academic Technology Services. To my surprise, I found that I really enjoyed designing online courses and teaching online. More to the point, I found that online teaching allowed me to better balance research, writing, teaching, and parenting, a change that would prove invaluable as I raced to finish my first monograph with a toddler in tow.
In my training in online instruction, I was learning to teach in what’s called an asynchronous format, which is to say I provided all of the content, assignments, and assessments online with no live “synchronous” meetings scheduled. While there is certainly plenty of debate about the most effective format for teaching remotely, as well as how to meet the wide variety of students’ needs in online courses in different disciplines, in my own experience asynchronous teaching is highly effective and can be an ideal mode for a faculty parent like myself. In some ways I have found asynchronous teaching to be more effective in terms of student engagement and outcomes than classroom teaching, while in others it is less satisfying (but I’ll save that shop talk for another day). What’s important to say here is that asynchronous teaching saved my butt, because while other industries have found ways to accommodate workers with children during this time with flexible scheduling, in the education industry synchronous teaching silently became the expectation despite the difficulties it presents for both faculty and students working from home and living with, and caring for, family.
Teaching asynchronously is teaching with dignity in my mind. Not only can I present my most professional self, recording my microlectures and responding to student work in blessedly uninterrupted moments at whatever time of the day is convenient, but I can do so with some enthusiasm and joy. I find I can actually devote more time to my teaching prep and to engaging with my students, when I don’t have set teaching times because I can email, video chat, and interact on the course site at frequent but irregular intervals throughout the week.
I have pursued my passion for online teaching by devoting time to thinking about online pedagogy. I completed a Rutgers TLT certificate program in Online Teaching, and a Quality Matters Peer Reviewer course last year. This year, with gratitude, I am listening to and learning from the many workshops our various Rutgers ed tech offices have provided, boning up on how to be an even better teacher. And for today and for the foreseeable future I am happily parenting in person, but I am teaching asynch.
Want more? Consider joining Rutgers Newark faculty parents, a forum and listserv where we can share common experiences, important news, ideas and solutions. Until then, you may find the following resources helpful.
Parenting-Related Resources at Rutgers or in New Jersey
◦ The New Jersey School-Age Tuition Assistance Program can help you pay for care for your school-age child in need of child care as a result of COVID-19 remote learning
schools schedules. To be eligible for this assistance, you must be:
▪︎ a NJ resident;
▪︎ your child must be attending school remotely, either part-time or full-time;
and your annual gross household income must be $150,000 or less. (increased from $75,000 on Oct 1, 2020).
This assistance is available until December 30, 2020 and applications will be accepted
until funds are exhausted.
P3 Collaboratory's Faculty Parent Working Group
◦ If you, too have found yourself wanting to speak your truth about faculty parenting,
consider applying to join this group, which will be brainstorming ways to help
support faculty parents.
Related Teaching Resources
Teaching and Learning with Technology’s “Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Teaching” Webinar, offered Nov 18, Dec 8, Dec 16, Jan 8. (Link will bring you to the registration page for 11/18; other webinar dates can be found here.)
TLT and the P3 will be offering a SMARTeaching workshop on Nov 23rd, 2020 @ 11:30am-12:50pm on the topic of “"Asynchronous Engagement Techniques." Stay tuned for details!
Cooper, Marianne. “Mothers Careers Are at Extraordinary Risk Right Now,” The Atlantic (Oct 1, 2020)
Scheiber, Noam. “Pandemic Imperils Promotion for Women in Academia,” The New York Times (Sept 29, 2020).
Kramer, Jillian. “The Virus Moved Female Faculty to the Brink. Will Universities Help?,” The New York Times (Oct 6, 2020)
The Caregivers Survey, administered and analyzed by the Visionary Futures Collective.
Patricia Akhimie is a 2020-2021 Chancellor’s Scholar-in-Residence with the P3 Collaboratory. She is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark, where she teaches Shakespeare, Renaissance drama, and early modern women’s travel writing.