Work and personal lives blur for professors teaching from home

By Charlotte Gehring

Professors working from home are finding new ways to balance childcare and work responsibilities.
(Sarah Fagan)

Many professors have chosen to teach remotely this semester, as the limited operations of local Vermont schools have increased their parenting responsibilities at home. The college offered professors full discretion in their course modality, allowing them to teach online, in-person or in some combination of the two.  

“Middlebury College faculty are so fortunate to have the ability to choose their modality of teaching without proving or doing anything. That helps out a lot of folks, whether they have health problems or caregiving responsibilities,” Professor of Political Science Sarah Stroup said. “I think that’s the big daily challenge that the college has met with great flexibility, and I appreciate that.” 

This freedom to choose course modality led Professor David Miranda-Hardy in the Film and Media Culture department to decide to hold all of his classes remotely for the fall semester. He is currently balancing teaching his first-year seminar, Autobiographical Filmmaking, and other courses while having his nine, six, and two-year-old daughters at home. 

Miranda-Hardy partnered with two other professors to tutor their children together in a pod. Being able to teach his college courses online allowed Miranda-Hardy to cater to his children’s educational needs while following the materials that the children’s school provides. 

Although this choice was ultimately what worked best for his family, Miranda-Hardy recognized the challenges of working in a living space, such as the widely experienced “Zoom fatigue.”

One of the most disconcerting aspects of our reality is the total blurring of the barrier between work and personal time. There is a Slack commercial that shows people working from the toilet, from a swimming pool, while juggling kids, cooking or brushing their teeth,” Miranda-Hardy said. “It is supposed to be happy and ‘productive,’ I imagine. After all, they use it to sell a productivity software — but it does feel very dystopian. That trend precedes Covid-19, but it has intensified in our new realities.”

Caitlin Myers, a professor of economics and parent of four who is teaching remotely this semester, shared the sentiment that the line between work and personal life is blurred.

“Internet bandwidth and quiet moments are unfortunately scarce resources at our house these days. I feel like I’m always ‘on’ as a parent, and that can make it tough to be fully present in meetings or to focus and concentrate deeply on a complicated problem in my teaching or scholarship,” Myers said.

However, Myers also noted that remote learning has sometimes enhanced her feelings of productivity and connection with her children.

“I can pop into the kitchen and get some bread dough going and check on a kid’s math problem, and then return to work while the bread rises and the kid works,” Myers said. “Those moments are pretty nice. And I rather enjoy lunch breaks with my whole family.  It’s definitely been a huge change, but it’s not all bad.”

Myers has two children currently participating in hybrid learning, one who is learning in person, and one who is at home taking a gap year before starting at Middlebury College next year. She spoke of the connections made with her students through this truly unique experience.

“My students have been wonderful. I’ve always been fairly willing to share about the complexities of work-life balance. I hope I don’t cross the line into oversharing, but in general, I think that part of my job as a professor is to model what it is to live a full, rich life of intellectual inquiry and caring for others, including kids,” Myers said. 

Myers has found her students to be very understanding when, for instance, one of her children wanders into the background during a meeting. Some students have even commented that they enjoy seeing family life going on off-campus, she said.

Meanwhile, Stroup teaches a blended first-year seminar and a mix of in-person and online upper-level courses while caring for her two children, both of whom are back in school for two days a week and attending an outdoor classroom learning camp twice a week. 

Last semester, Stroup was on sabbatical and planned to take a month-long research trip to Berlin and Amsterdam in May. When the pandemic hit, Stroup’s schedule was cleared, allowing her more time to support her family while her husband finished teaching his semester at Champlain College and fulfilling his responsibilities as School Board Chair at Addison Northwest. She also had more time to support her children in their transition to online learning during the uncertain weeks of March.

“We have to be grateful for our privileges and use them the best way we can,” Miranda-Hardy said. “The pride I get working at Middlebury is that we try to train our students in critical thinking and adapting to the challenges of the world, so this is a learning experience that goes beyond the content of our individual courses.”