I’m not just a teacher, I’m a husband and father of two. My wife works as a Chief of Party for a USAid project and we have two wonderful boys, 2 yrs 3 months and a 5 month old. Like everyone else who will probably read this, COVID-19 has caused a constant struggle to maintain a work / life balance and someone always seems to get shortchanged.
After the first week of home learning, I was struggling to find a location to work where I could have internet access and some modicum of calm to research and prepare for class, review student learning, and answer emails. At my wife's suggestion, we spoke to our building and thankfully they had a spare desk that they moved into our apartment. Since our move to Bangkok last August, my wife has worked from home and now she welcomed me into her home office (our bedroom). The reality is that my wife’s job requires phone calls to grantees and clients and video conference calls. So we try to work around our work “call/conferencing” schedules. KIS students’ feedback that they enjoy and value using tools like screencastify to improve our lessons, but there must be quiet to record them. So I record at either 5:30 am before everyone in the house gets up or after we eat dinner and the kids are asleep in bed sometime after 8:00 pm.
The day begins at 5:00 am. Yes, 5:00 am. First, I’ve always been an early riser. When school was brick and mortar, I got up at 5:30 am and arrived at school by 7:00 am most days. I’ve always been more productive in the morning. The only quiet time in the day is before everyone else gets up. So when the alarm goes off, I make my way to the dining table with my laptop and headphones, pour a cup of coffee and get to work.
Student work for the day is posted to ManageBac by 6:45 am and then I am off to prepare breakfast for the family. After breakfast is over at 7:45 am, I head downstairs to wait in line to sign up for the limited outdoor spaces that our condo is allowing to be used with adequate social distancing measures. In order to get a time, you must be in line by 8:00 am for when the sign up sheets are posted at 8:30 am. While waiting in line, I multi-task by reading and answering emails from students, parents, fellow faculty and school leadership.
Zoom gives and takes away….. Zoom and other forms of videoconferencing are great. My wife and I are both using them for our professional and personal lives. My Zooms are for Q & A, help sessions with students, school “Family Time '', department meetings, and faculty collaboration as I team-teach a Grade 7 and a Grade 8 English class. They are helpful and invaluable, but no substitute for in person learning, meeting, and collaboration.
The days are starting to blend in. My wife and I try to leave the “the office” as little as possible. The reality is that we spend as much or maybe a little more time with our sons than we used to before home learning, but now when our son sees me at home, he doesn’t understand that I am working. Besides a break for lunch and feeding the five month old, the day passes by answering emails, reviewing student work, Zoom conferences, and lesson review / planning. This goes on in one way or another from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm. From 4:00 pm to around 7:30 pm we choose to focus solely on our boys. I’ll answer work emails from 7:30 pm till bedtime.
Initially I thought that home learning would give me more quality time with my family, but although there is more time, it is not the quality I had envisioned. Although the commute to the bedroom / office is certainly shorter than to KIS, it is not without trouble. When our oldest knocks at the “office” door meekly repeating, “Daddy????…. Mommy?????”, over and over again, my heart breaks. This is a scenario that I’m sure the entire KIS community struggles with one way or another.
We are very blessed to have a wonderful nanny who is amazing with our sons. The plan that worked well before COVID-19 was the oldest boy at nursery school, nanny with the newborn, mom working from home, and me at school. Since mid-March, not exactly. Our oldest has to have some time to run around outside of our apartment to get some exercise. My wife, our nanny, and I rotate throughout the day spending some time with both or one of the boys, so we can get breaks and get our work done.
My wife and I value reading and books and we are blessed that our oldest son loves books. In addition to teaching my KIS classes, I am now teaching nursery school to my son. (Early Years teachers deserve much more money!!!) I am lousy at song time and so we have finally relinquished and allowed around 15 minutes of Sesame Street Letter/Number podcasts and baby yoga that we watch and do with him. I have read some titles such as, “Where the Wild Things Are”, “The Gruffalo”, and “Curious George Rides a Bike” so often that I can now recite them from memory.
There isn’t enough time to check in with my parents and family in the US. It’s hard to set up face to face catch up sessions with friends in the US because of the 12+ hour time difference. When the day is over you never quite feel that you have given enough time to any part of your life. When the dust settles on the day, my wife will enjoy a drink and then go to bed to wake up and do the same thing all over again the next day.
The global pandemic of COVID-19 has certainly caused stress in everyone’s lives, but as my Grade 6 Individuals & Societies students are studying, difficult times create opportunities for innovation and new ideas. I have participated in several online professional development seminars with teachers around the world on everything from bettering formative assessment, increasing student advocacy, to learning new techniques and online tools to improve the effectiveness of home learning.
The KIS learning community should be proud, because everytime I attend one of the online workshops, no matter the time, there has always been another KIS teacher there. The workshop leaders and other teachers ask if that was planned; it wasn’t. I have taught at top schools around the world and since starting at KIS, I have been impressed at how supportive the faculty and school leadership is of formal and informal professional development. KIS teachers are seen by their international teaching peers as leaders in the field. The way KIS blends asynchronous and synchronous learning is seen as the “gold standard” in home / online learning.
When I asked students what they will do the first day they are back at school almost all them said something related to saying hello to friends in person. A lot of them said they can’t wait to eat a chicken burrito from the Canteen and stated, “I just want to sit on the big steps and see all of my friends”.
We will all get through these difficult times. Sir Isaac Newton is credited with discovering calculus and Shakespeare wrote, “King Lear'' during quarantine. Those are high standards. I recently asked my Grade 6 Individuals & Societies students to name one “non-school” thing they learned during this time, and the answers were amazing; gardening, scratch programming, making pancakes, baking, how to annoy parents more, and lots of new sports and skills. My favorite response was, “I learned that my sister can sleep for a full 24 hours if not woken up. (also I learned how to cook some basic foods)”. My own son can now identify over 50 types of animals when he sees them in a book or on video. We will all survive and learn together.