Homeschooling, double time: Marian teachers balance students, kids

JessBrusnahan

Life as a parent is crazy. Now try it in a pandemic, as a teacher. There’s just no way to win every day, and there’s inevitably going to be struggles. Missing an alarm. Coming late to school. When you add the confusion of online learning, any sense of routine is thrown out the window. But maybe that’s the silver lining in this pandemic: no routines.

I have loved spending some long-overdue time with my family these past few months. This summer I forgot a little about what it’s like to go out of the house and do things with friends every day. Even now, when it gets scary to go out of the house and into the real world, I try to remember that no one knows exactly what they’re doing right now.

Four Marian teachers weigh in on what it’s been like to parent and work during this unprecedented time. 

Bethany Tunink worked hard through the end of the spring semester to keep up with her homework and stay connected with her classmates.

“Sometimes I just have to use the TV [as a] babysitter long enough [to] get stuff done,” science teacher Mrs. Stacy Tunink said. In the spring she found it tricky, to say the least, to teach her online classes while wrangling her “two monsters,” Bethany in second grade and Jonas in first grade. “I got a lot done in those 15 minute passing periods during the day,” Tunink joked of her extreme time management skills. Her biggest struggle was keeping up with four curriculums each day, sometimes coming from Marian chemistry all the way to elementary school science.

“There’s a lot of brain shifting happening.” Even with all the changes brought on by the pandemic, Tunink has stayed optimistic about the new and completely different school environment. She said one of the bonuses of online learning has been seeing “a lot about how [her] own children learn that [she] didn’t know before.” Today, Tunink is excited to see her kids back in school full-time and even looks forward to leaving school early each day to miss the hassle of the Marian parking lot at 3. 

“[My kids] built a ‘fort’ out of all the couch cushions. We also have LEGOs everywhere,” Mr. Matthew Winterboer explained of his pandemic home situation in April. The Winterboers made the most of the extra family time during quarantine, and with his two boys Lucas (fifth grade) and Coby (fourth grade), Winterboer, a seasoned science teacher, saw experimentation in a whole new way.

Mr. Winterboer wasn’t too worried about sitting down with his kids during school hours, noting that his boys “are old enough that for the most part they can work independently on their own school work.” But he has been working on getting away from the teacher mindset, taking his lunch block during the spring semester and a few hours after school now to spend time with his family. Winterboer is hopeful for the future of schools during the pandemic, but he is also worried that his kids may not “truly understand how long this ‘new normal’ could last.” 

“You’re my mommy’s students?” was one of many questions from English teacher Mrs. Alee Cotton’s young children this past spring during Zooms at home. The family worked hard to create a fun routine for their kindergartner Hayden and preschooler Micah amidst the craziness of the spring quarantine with “free playtime, reading, math, simple science activities, and outside time.” Cotton said the hardest part of the spring school days was managing to fit snack and bathroom breaks for her kids within Marian’s 15-minute online passing periods. After school, the kids spent time staying connected with friends through FaceTime and online gymnastics lessons.

Today, the Cotton home is busier than ever: baby Gavin joined the family on April 30. Cotton said the most important thing right now is focusing on social distancing and sanitizing. She is thankful that “[her] kids know that they have to be careful because of ‘the virus’ and they take the precautions…without too much trouble.” Her biggest regret is that she can’t bring her therapy dog, Tucker, into Marian. With his celebrity status in the halls, “he would become a ‘high touch surface’ that [Cotton] couldn’t just sanitize every hour,” so Marian girls will just have to wait for his triumphant return! 

“We start every school morning with a [YouTube] kid workout video. I’m doing a lot of jumping jacks and downward dog poses,” social studies teacher Mrs. Jillian Roger said, describing her family’s daily wake-up routine. The Roger kids (Theo in kindergarten, Junie in preschool, and toddler Willa) have entertained both parents while learning from home since the spring. When Roger was teaching a class at home, “[her husband would] take the noisy kids… to an upstairs room” so she could focus and they could have fun.

Sometimes, though, the temptation was just too great and the kids would jump into their mom’s Zoom conferences to talk with her students. Now that Roger is back at Marian every day, the kids have different schedules: Theo (an OPS student) learns from home or at a neighbor’s house, while younger sisters Junie and Willa “are also at home with a part-time nanny [in the morning] and [their dad] in the afternoon.”

Despite all the shifts in their routines, the Roger family has been trying to adjust. They turned their disappointment over cancelled swim lessons and zoo and museum trips this summer into happiness with “backyard sprinkler fun, bike rides, and trips to outdoor playgrounds wearing masks.” The Rogers are excited to continue having extra family time this fall.

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