After shelter-in-place orders went into effect last March, students and professors alike were forced to take classes to their homes. With the announcement of the majority of Fall courses operating remotely, the Cal Poly community prepared for another quarter of virtual classes.
Cal Poly professors with young children faced the particular obstacle of instructing Cal Poly classes while helping their own children with elementary education.
Associate professor for the Architecture Department Carmen Trudell spends her days juggling her classes, her administrative duties and her kindergartener’s education.
“The day is chock-full from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.,” she said, “I never sit down.”
Trudell said there have been times that she is so overwhelmed, that she is late to her own classes.
Associate professor for the Interdisciplinary Studies in Liberal Arts Matthew Harsh, has two sons, one in kindergarten and one in first grade.
“I’ve got one headphone in listening into my meetings and then I have my son next to me, trying to help him find his workbooks and online resources,” he said. “My mental bandwidth is totally minimized as well because I’m trying to think about a department meeting and a second-grade math worksheet.”
Professor Julie Lynem is a lecturer for the Journalism Department with an eighth-grade son and a fifth-grade daughter. Her children have been attending a hybrid homeschool since long before the pandemic. Her daughter is allowed to attend fifth grade due to a waiver; however, her son’s schooling is entirely virtual.
“After I do my class on zoom with my students, I leave here immediately and drive to San Luis Obispo … to pick up my daughter. Then I come home to my son and help him with his work,” she said.
Lynem has always chosen to teach part-time because of the demands of homeschooling. She said she understands that homeschooling is a commitment that she chose in the best interest of her children.
“In some ways, me and my husband have been their primary teachers,” Lynem said. “One class … is really all I can handle.”
Co-Director of the Debate Team, Professor John Patrick has a third-grader who shares a workspace with him.
“He has classes where he has to be speaking sometimes. … There is overlap and that can be difficult,” Patrick said
Although Patrick’s wife is the primary educator for their son, he said he has been present to help his son with questions about homework and other materials.
Unlike many of his colleagues, Patrick prefers many of the logistics of remote classes.
“Honestly, I think this is significantly better than having to come in and teach class overall,” he said. “This situation is significantly more efficient for work-life balance.”
Patrick believes this could be an opportunity to spend more time with his family whom he would not get to see as much if he was instructing classes in-person.
“This has been a really great opportunity for me to be home all the time and to participate in a more balanced set of home obligations,” he said. “Just being at home creates a much fairer playing field when it comes to housework.”
Professor Courtney Brogno has a seventh-grade son with diagnosed ADHD. She designed her fall quarter classes to be asynchronous in order to best serve her son and her students.
“I can’t be on a zoom teaching synchronously and then have to say ‘Hold on, I have to run out and spend ten minutes helping my son,” she said.
Brogno has found it particularly difficult to be present for students because of the asynchronous format of her class.
“I feel really disconnected from my students, but I don’t know how it would be physically possible for me to do synchronous and also support [my son],” Brogno said.
Many teachers have expressed their desire to provide the best education they can for their Cal Poly students, while also prioritizing their own families and children.
“I want to make sure I’m doing a good job with my students and being as attentive as I can with them,” Lynem said.
Despite the stresses and obligations of teaching, Trudell said she still wants to be dedicated to her Cal Poly students.
“The demands of the job are more than ever because of needing to convert to online and wanting to do a good job. It’s still very important to me that my students have a good educational experience,” Trudell commented.
Years ago, Brogno, a single-mom, had to cut back on the things she enjoys about being a teacher, like moderating student clubs or serving on faculty committees because it took too much time away from her family.
The female professors all talked about the small, domestic duties they have to perform as moms that have become demanding due to the overlap of their domestic and professional lives.
Trudell says that as a mom, she plays many roles in her house. She’s the facilities manager, the custodian, IT tech support, the lunch lady and the principal. Much of her day is dedicated to meal prep and cleaning the kitchen now that her son is always home.
“I feel like the hardest part is just trying to balance everything,” Trudell said.
Trudell’s many roles, including the role of mom and Cal Poly professor, have proven to be difficult to manage.
“I don’t know how we can continue to sustain this pace,” she said.
Brogno describes her life as a constant routine of cooking, cleaning, errands and entertaining her son — in addition to her workload.
“Part of my day is playing a lot of board games which was fun for like a month,” Brogno said. “Now I never want to see another puzzle or play any more games,”
Every professor weighed in on the ways in which women are expected to be the primary caregiver or educator, whilst trying to attain their professional goals. Trudell believes that the pandemic has been disproportionately affecting moms, who do a lot of the household planning, while simultaneously trying to excel at their careers.
“As women, in our disciplines depending on what your discipline is, we already feel extra pressure to be exceptional in our fields so that nobody can ever think we’re not carrying our weight,” Trudell said.
Lynem said that the pressures women face are not unique to her own family, but a societal norm.
“American society doesn’t necessarily value the contributions of women,” Lynem said. “For example, many companies don’t offer childcare for parents. That makes it very difficult for women to succeed in the workplace, and if they do succeed, it comes at a great cost.”
The male professors agree that their is an inequality that exists in American society.
“Women stepping into the workplace means that men have to step away from it and into the home,” Patrick said.
Lynem said duties like child-rearing have historically fallen to the women, and COVID-19 has just highlighted this aspect. Patrick agreed, and he said the double standards are more apparent.
“We disproportionately put pressure on women to do everything. To be an amazing mom and you know, amazing at your job,” Harsh said. “There’s a huge double standard and COVID-19 has exacerbated that.”
Lynem has noticed that women are the ones having to give up professional roles and duties during the pandemic. Female professors have taken time off from research, administrative duties, committees and classes to prioritize both their students’ education and their children’s.
However, that is not always the case.
“If I had to choose between my family and giving up the debate team, I would [give up the debate team] without a complaint,” Patrick said.
Harsh discussed the inequity and possible classism that has been a result of online schooling. Parents who can afford tutors, in addition to private school tuition or property taxes for public schools have an advantage in being able to juggle their work.
Harsh’s kindergarten has joined a learning pod with a few other kindergartens in which he receives socially-distanced tutoring.
“We’re also aware not everyone can afford to put their kids in a pod or have that opportunity,” Harsh said.
During this time, many professors feel supported by their department or colleagues at Cal Poly.
“My colleagues and my department head are super understanding about little kids in the zoom calls constantly,” Trudell said.
“I think [the Journalism] department has been very understanding. I have a chair who is just wonderful. … She has reached out to me to see how I’m doing,” Lynem said. “The department really wants to know if we need anything to make our jobs easier.”
Trudell said while she thinks Cal Poly wants to be supportive, the ever-tightening budget of public schools make that hard. In addition to her current obligations, in the upcoming quarters, Trudell will have to teach another class.
“Cal Poly has a major budget shortage coming, and they need all of the faculty to be as efficient as possible,” Trudell said. “In that way, I think Cal Poly is kind of stuck with needing to meet an ever-tightening budget and wanting to be empathetic to families.”
Brogno said she has lost faith in Cal Poly’s administration due to last-minute decisions, irresponsible choices like letting freshmen live on campus and the tone-deaf attitude that the administration has carried with students.
“We’re going to be furloughed for sure. There are going to be layoffs for the next five or six years,” Brogno said. “On top of all this pressure it’s like, now you might not have a job and if you do have a job, you might get furloughed.”
Patrick said the stagnant economy leads to these inequalities and causes financial stresses.
“The rent is too damn high. Food costs a lot. Fuel costs a lot. Pay is stagnant. There’s a good chance we’re going to stare down furloughs because of the economy,” Patrick said. “The tyranny of 20th-century style capitalist structures on the home just needs to be burned down. We need to start over.”