We’re managing to be academics and primary school teachers

Two weeks of working from home and academic couple Theresa Mercer and Andrew Kythreotis are developing their online teaching skills. Potty training their youngest, however, remains a challenge

April 4, 2020
Father and child playing with blocks
Source: iStock

Since we last reflected on working from home as an academic couple during the Covid-19 outbreak, our days have taken a new rhythm as restrictions have increased with social distancing.

Now two weeks in, we have become primary school teachers alongside our normal tertiary teaching duties (kudos to all the primary school teachers out there). We have been taking shifts for half days each to teach and play with our two children while the other works. This has been difficult, especially for my husband who is more “theoretical” than me in his pedagogic approach when he tries to explain things to our six-year-old the same way he would to an 18-year-old undergraduate.

He also threw a few six-year-old temper-tantrums himself on his first day of primary school teaching, cursing the amount of homework given to our daughter. However, he has since eased into his new teaching role well and has even mastered Joe Wicks’ workout at 9am every morning.

In our day jobs as academics, there have been a few teething mishaps in the move to online teaching. Last Thursday I had a live collaborative lecture session but just as I was starting, the whole Blackboard system went down so half the students were stranded online, half couldn’t join the session and I was locked out. Thankfully we have a fast response online digital education team that know me well by now and who were on hand to help.

In the end, I had to record the lecture to put up later once the systems were up again.

I still prefer live-session teaching, where students can message chat and you can still check students’ understanding of what you are delivering. My husband meanwhile still likes gesticulating at the screen recording of lectures through Panopto, with no students behind it to question his newfound technophilic abilities.

While we both ease into our own ways of teaching online, students have been extremely understanding of the changes that they are having to deal with. They have shown maturity, flexibility, adaptability and determination to continue in their studies. In fact, after the last reflection, we had some lovely student emails assuring us both that our digital failings were understandable, and they sympathised with our position as an academic couple with more than one teaching job.

While students have shown their resilience in this new reality, so too have our colleagues. There is a shared feeling that we are all in this together and our colleagues have shown how supportive and adaptable they can be at such short notice. We have been trying to help each other out with best practice and lessons learnt during this time of unprecedented change.

That being said, we still try to maintain an air of professionalism with our colleagues, which can be challenging with two small children in the house. For our whole school staff meeting on Wednesday this week we got the girls settled with snacks, toys and their favourite children’s programmes, just to ensure we could squeeze at least an hour out of the meeting. We got through the first hour of the video conference call without incident when there was a knock at the door and then our two-year-old proclaimed, “I poopooed my pants!” – luckily our microphones were muted.

Potty training, you will have gathered, has been a little hit and miss (literally).

I thought I could nip out and deal with my child, but this all happened just before my item on the agenda required me to speak to the group. So with two-year-old legs akimbo, my husband and I tag-teamed bum wiping duties.

A lot has also gone well. First and foremost, we are all fit, healthy and happy. We have got to the end of the formal teaching of our modules so from next week things get a little easier as we aren’t under pressure to deliver teaching. It will just be marking assignments – which we are used to doing remotely anyway.

This will give us more flexibility to devote time to our children – which is perfect because our six-year-old’s primary school will be officially on Easter holidays and we still have to find new ways of entertaining our children.

But we are looking forward to this new family adventure. The social distancing that has profoundly impacted our family and professional lives has, ironically, brought us all closer together.

Theresa Mercer and Andrew Kythreotis are senior lecturers in the school of geography at the University of Lincoln.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

The sudden closure of university campuses across China and elsewhere has necessitated the virtual delivery of vast numbers of courses. And while there have been inevitable teething problems, observers are wondering whether the future might just have become the present. Joyce Lau reports

12 March