[Editor's note: This article is part of our new Pandemic Parenting series. Each week, we're profiling a different mother about how the pandemic has affected her family. If you would like to share your story, please visit this link for more information.]
In her twentieth year of teaching, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way Katie Kurumada approached her job.
Like many educators across the nation, Kurumada had to figure out how to adapt her lessons for virtual learning. That's easier said than done, given the wide variety of students that Kurumada works with. She's an assistant professor of education who teaches others how to teach. She also works with young children, helping them to build their literacy skills.
And now, she has a new student: her five-year-old son, Louis.
"I just was not meant to be my kid's teacher," she says. "It's a different dynamic."
Kurumada sits next to Louis each day, trying to keep him on track with his virtual kindergarten class, while also juggling her full-time job. The veteran teacher and new student share a two-seater desk, purchased at the start of the school year.
Kurumada's older daughter, Josephine, also participates in remote learning. The third-grader is a more independent student, though. "I don't know what I would be doing if she wasn't," says Kurumada.
Even for a veteran educator, balancing the needs of her virtual students and her children is tough. Kurumada says that she sometimes feels guilty that she's not more involved in her kids' education, especially for Louis.
He's "very disconnected from school," she says. "This is his first year of elementary school and he seems to feel that he does not 'do' school well because he simply can't sit and attend for so long without getting off track. It breaks my heart."
She describes their daily routine as a balancing act. When she pours her attention into Louis's schooling, it means she's not focusing on her professional work. When she has to attend a mandatory meeting or devote attention to her job, Louis doesn't get the hands-on attention that he needs.
When her kids go to sleep, Kurumada works with a parent group dedicated to prioritizing equity and safety when schools reopen. They're working to make sure that every school has PPE, not just those with PTA and fundraising groups. Many of her former students are now teachers and she says she "feels a real sense of protectiveness for them." She stays up late most nights, helping them find appointments to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations.
Parenting is a 24/7 job; for Kurumada, so is being an educator.
Kurumada says her family has seen positives during the pandemic. Both she and her husband used to travel for work quite frequently; now, she's grateful that they're able to work from home.
As an educator, she used to worry about school shootings, especially in her daughter's elementary school. As a volunteer in her daughter's classroom pre-COVID, she was present for active shooter drills.
"There's nothing worse than a six-year-old saying, 'yeah, I know why we have to do these. It's because a guy is going to come in the school with guns.' You know, a six-year-old, just very matter of fact about it," she says.
In the past year, Kurumada hasn't had to worry about scary hypotheticals like those.
"I have just felt a sense of relief that at least they're close by and near me," she says.
Kurumada says that if she's learned anything in the past year, it's the importance of balancing expectations with reality.
"We are living in a pandemic. This is unprecedented. None of us have done this before," she says. "If there's ever a time to let go of what we think we're supposed to accomplish or get across to kids or have these expectations of what you should or shouldn't be doing as a parent, you just have to let go of them. There's no framework for this. We've just never done this before."
As an educator, she supports parents who sense when their child has had enough of virtual learning for the day.
"That means letting go of forcing them to do every assignment every day if they're in tears. If it's causing a rupture in your relationship between you and your kid, that's just not worth it."
Kurumada says now more than ever, parents need to support each other.
"We just need to lean on each other."
[If you would like to share your story in our Pandemic Parenting series, please visit this link for more information.]