Parents and professors: Navigating the pandemic for students and children

For some professors, the school day doesn't end when they leave their classrooms. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

All professors and instructors are dealing with the difficult task of adapting their courses for the adjusted fall semester, but some have the added challenge of assisting their children with distance learning on top of that.

Kelly Glasscock, instructor of journalism and mass communications and executive director of the Journalism Education Association, said he expects balancing his at-home work life and his children’s distance education programs to bring challenges.

“At first, it will be a learning curve,” Glasscock said. “There will be awkward moments on Zooms and then meetings in classes, but I think everybody understands that.”

While students and professors already have some experience learning online, Glasscock acknowledged that dealing with distractions at home is an ongoing adjustment.

“It’s still embarrassing if the cat jumps on the keyboard, or the dog comes in or the kids are coming in,” he said. “But everybody else, it happens to them too, and so you chuckle about it, and you move on.”

When making decisions for their children, Glasscock said he and his wife felt that stability was one of the most important guiding factors.

As a result, Glasscock said they chose to go “fully virtual” with their children’s classes this fall.

“One reason is that we have a bit more control over the setting in the situation,” he said. “Being able to have more control over that setting for them means there’s more consistency, and we felt that consistency should be a priority.”

After considering all her options, Katie Olsen, assistant professor of journalism and mass communications, came to a decision she believed would be best for her own son and the rest of her family.

“I have a kindergartener, and on the days he is not in the actual school, he will be going to ieDiscoveries, a unique learning environment where they will be helping guide Connor, my 5-year-old, through the virtual learning process,” Olsen said. “We’re lucky to do this as both my husband and I work full-time.”

Although Olsen will be working from home, she said she spends a lot of her time teaching, attending meetings on Zoom and participating in calls. With everything going on, Olsen said, she likely wouldn’t be able to give her son the attention and guidance he would need taking classes online.

“We know that this is a really important developmental period in his life, and to be able to get that kind of emotional and educational support from people that are trained in that area is so important,” Olsen said. “We were grateful to USD 383 for really giving us confidence that they are being serious about protecting the kids and establishing those procedures to keep them safe.”

Along with wanting to provide their son with peer interaction, Olsen said she and her husband chose this learning environment to balance their work lives.

“Because of our particular job situations, we knew that keeping him home would be a real struggle,” Olsen said. “We feel incredibly fortunate to have found an opportunity that will keep him engaged and moving forward in his kindergarten year. So many parents are managing everything at home right now whether they chose to or because they don’t have another option. That is one of the toughest parts about all of this.”

Along with helping their children navigate distance learning, Glasscock said he expects him and his wife will have to provide them with some extra support they would usually receive from their teachers.

“As a parent, we want to be there for them, but in a regular situation, it wouldn’t have been us helping them out in that moment, it would be their teacher at school,” Glasscock said. “Instead, it’ll be on us to provide that extra support while also trying to teach our courses.”

Glasscock said he and his wife have rearranged rooms in their home to accommodate distance learning for their children. Sometimes, he said, all four members of the family may be in virtual meetings at once.

“We knew we’d have to figure out what spaces in our house we’re going to utilize to separate so that we’re not stepping on each other’s toes or hearing each other as we’re going through those meetings or class times,” he said. “That was another challenge that we had to tackle and solve, and we’ve redone rooms in our house to accommodate.”

Above all, Glasscock said, he thinks it will be important for everyone to empathize with one another during this time.

“We have to give ourselves a little bit more slack knowing that the demands on our life are greater than ever, and to let students see that,” he said. “I think that just understanding that and seeing that makes the experience more relatable to students.”

In a situation that can be overwhelming at times, Glasscock said it’s beneficial for students to know that professors are working through their own challenges too.

“Let them in to know that [rofessors are] a part of this,” Glasscock said. “Maybe we’re not in the same boat, but we’re in the same storm.”