Full house for faculty

With the whole family stuck at home, professors make the most of the extra time with their kids.

By RAIN JI

COURTESY PHOTO/EMILY PROCTOR
Claire with her self-made salad.

If not for the pandemic, Claire, the seven-year old daughter of Associate Professor of Mathematics Emily Proctor, would have spent most of her time at the local Mary Hogan elementary school or in afterschool programs. However, as schools all over the country transition to online learning to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Claire now spends almost all of her time at home with her parents.

Claire and her family are not alone. As schools and universities close and send their students back home, many professors are now home with their children while navigating a brand new mode of teaching. 

This transition has its upsides: For Proctor and her husband, it means more time spent with Claire. She now goes on several walks with Claire daily, and Claire practices scootering and biking, something that she didn’t have much time for until recently. 

COURTESY PHOTO/EMILY PROCTOR
Proctor’s daughter Claire reads next to Proctor’s husband, Ian Grimmer. In the foreground, Claire’s friend “Foxy” keeps them company.

Proctor’s students can often see Claire in the background as she teaches synchronous classes. “She’s a big part of my life, and I like letting people see that side of me,” she said. 

But the new system is not without difficulties. Proctor spends a lot of time preparing for her classes, and in order to be efficient, she sometimes feels pressured to push Claire away from her. “Sometimes this hurts her feelings,” she said.

The family has taken advantage of more time spent collectively. They cook together, and since Claire recently received a set of training knives for kids, she has been practicing making salads. 

Visiting Professor Amit Prakash, now home with his partner Assistant Professor of Theatre Micole Biancosino and their children Kirin (11), Mira (9), Paras (9), feels that there is a “computer crunch” at the house now. “[My kids] just learned how to use emails for the first time this past week, so they don’t even know how to check their emails,” he said. “We have to help them learn how to read things and click on links, just really basic stuff.” 

Prakash is currently teaching a 12-person First Year Seminar, while Biancosino has been trying to figure out how to teach theater remotely. “I would definitely say there’s an added stress because the kids have 8 more weeks of school,” he said. Mary Hogan, where Prakash’s children attend elementary school, is anticipated to end on June 16th for the 2019-2020 school year. 

“There’s also the fact that they’re cooped up in the house, and they’re little kids so they need to get their energy out,” Prakash said. 

But now that there’s no need to rush everyone out of the house in the morning, “we actually get to have conversations,” Prakash said. His daughter Mira told him that although it stinks that she can’t go to school, she is happy to have so much family time with both mom and dad. 

COURTESY PHOTO/AMIT PAKRASH
Family jam session.

“It’s rarely where the whole family is together. Of course, it drives you crazy at times, but it’s also really nice.” Prakash said. In addition to talking over lunch or dinner tables, they’ve also been cooking, working on their indoor garden, walking their dog and working out together. 

The household of Professor of History of Art & Architecture Carrie Anderson has changed much since the beginning of the pandemic. Anderson and her partner worked out a strategy: While she prepares or teaches classes, her husband oversees the kids’ remote schooling. 

Anderson thinks that her daughter Natalie (6) might be too young to understand the context of the pandemic, and it’s been hard for her to understand why they can’t play all day if they’re all home. She said, “my daughter has definitely popped into my ‘office’ (the guest room) while I am zooming with my seminar.” Anderson echoed Proctor’s sentiments about the difficulty of setting boundaries, noting that she feels guilty whenever they need to tell their kids to spend time alone because they’re both in meetings. 

However, the extra time has been conducive to sibling bonding. Anderson said, “I have absolutely loved seeing how much closer my kids have become because they have no one else to hang out with. They laugh a lot and have a bunch of inside jokes, which really warms my heart. I am not saying they don’t bicker — because they absolutely do, like 50% of the day. But there is a lot of love, too.”   

COURTESY PHOTO/CARRIE ANDERSON
Natalie and Nathan on the golf course.

In addition to walking and doodling, the family found time to repaint their attic while taking care of their newly adopted puppies, Larry and Moonpie. 

Professor of Writing & Linguistics Shawna Shapiro felt that the line between work and not-work blurred as she and her husband are “working part time and ‘on childcare duty’ part time.” They are now taking care of five-year-old Mikey, who is normally at preschool, and 15-year-old Daniel, who is in high school. Because of that, she has had to work at a slower pace and found it difficult to work on projects that require focus.

“On the other hand, we’ve been eating dinner together (and often lunch as well), which has been really nice,” she said in an email. “And we’ve been doing activities that we hadn’t done much recently (e.g., board games).” 

During class, Shapiro introduced her students to her younger son. But like others, she also said she feels bad when she has to keep the kids away in order to focus.

With more time on her hands, Shapiro said that “it’s been fun learning what [the kids] enjoy.” The family now spends a great deal of time cooking, playing board games together, getting outdoors and singing . She said Mikey loves the outdoors, and the family would occasionally hide “treasures” in the backyard for him to find.

Having to teach your kids at home is a challenge, because we’re educators, but not for third graders and kindergarten.”

— Natasha Ngaiza

Assistant Professor of Film and Media Culture Natasha Ngaiza picked her children up from Mary Hogan for the last time in a while the same Friday that Middlebury sent its students home. She’s now home with Dalia, Sara, Mia and her husband.

Taking care of the children while grappling with questions on how to transition film classes to an online format has proven to be difficult. “Having to teach your kids at home is a challenge, because we’re educators, but not for third graders and kindergarten,” she said. “I definitely have even more of an appreciation for elementary school teachers now.” 

Considering kids thrive on structure, the family started a routine right away. In the morning, they often start with yoga accompanied with daily affirmations to start the day off in a positive way. “Then we move on to language, arts, math and the snack,” she said. After playing outside and lunch, “we have culture or geography or science or anthropology.” Additionally, to keep up with their Spanish, they practice their language skills with their grandmother.

Other faculty are now home with their college-aged adult-children. Christopher McGrory Klyza, a professor in the Political Science Department, has a 21-year-old daughter. Faye is a senior at University of Colorado Boulder. Klyza said that the classes — both the ones he’s teaching and the ones his daughter is taking — add “more structure to our day.” 

“It’s been great to have Faye home with me in these deeply unsettling times,” he added. “As a parent, the welfare of your children is so important, so having her here with me allows me to worry a little less about her.” 

In addition to teaching and taking online classes, they take a long walk each day when the weather permits it, and have spent their evenings watching the TV series “Friday Night Lights.” 

COURTESY PHOTO/CHRISTOPHER MCGRORY KLYZA
Faye and Christopher.