Parents are the new teachers. Not by choice, but by circumstance. While COVID continues to spread, parents are forced to educate their children at home, as school openings has not proved to be safe. With a need to adjust to this “new normal”, Dr. Jen Jamison, a highly accomplished African American professor, is helping parents to effectively take on their new role.

Work life balance has always been a concern for working moms, and for working dads. Most schools will be closed throughout the usual school year, while parents still have to work from home. What are some tips to balance time between tutoring while working?

Dr. Jen Jamison: A few things –

Prepare for the day early.  I wake up earlier to have time to myself, sneak in a bit of uninterrupted work before my children wake up, and assess the priorities of the day.

Prepare meals and snacks at the top of your day.  Because meals are already taken care of, mealtimes are when I am guaranteed to get a chunk of my own work done because the likelihood of my children needing assistance is very low. After lunch, I usually allow a learning break (play time) for an hour, giving me an additional hour to focus completely on my work.

Have a general schedule for yourself and your children with plenty of flexibility. If your children are learning via live sessions on the computer between set hours every day (synchronous learning), you just need to make sure your child is on task mostly, which gives you more time to get your own work done alongside them.  When learning is self-paced and not tied to a set schedule by the school (asynchronous learning), you will need to be strategic with your work schedule and the schedule you make for your children. If your child grasps language arts well, you might ask your child to do language arts during an important meeting, and to save more difficult subjects for after your meeting.

Own your schedule as much as possible.  When you have control over your work schedule, only schedule meetings during times when your children are less likely to need your assistance. Carve out times for yourself to attend to your professional duties. For instance, working on a writing project requires more focus than answering emails.  So, I try to schedule writing during mealtimes and  after my children’s bedtimes, and use the times I am interacting with my kids during the day to fire off responses to emails and do other work that is not as mentally taxing. I do not enjoy extending my work hours into the night, but I do not want my career to slow down either. 

Expect the schedule to fall apart sometimes.  Sometimes, your child will need more assistance than usual, or your supervisor springs something on you at the last minute.  In either or both cases happening, you may have to throw your entire schedule away.  Give plenty of grace to your children, your employer, and even yourself. There have been times where I have had to teach my children in the evening because of a pressing work deadline.  There have been other times where I spend a big chunk of my day on the children and then must burn the midnight (and sometimes 3 a.m.) oil to keep up with work. Teachers and our employers understand that we are all having to deal because of the pandemic.  If it is safe for you to do so, communicate with your supervisor if you will need to extend a deadline.  Do not be afraid to ask your child’s teacher for an extension or communicate that your child is having difficulty.

Most adults expressed being restless at home for the past four months, much less children. What can parents do while home schooling, to keep their child’s attention?

Dr. Jen Jamison: Vary the mode of instruction. Don’t just talk at your child or give them worksheets.  Give them opportunities to talk, move, create, or anything they want as long as it pertains to their learning. Children need to have fun learning. The more fun they have, the more they will pay attention. Make lessons fun if you can.  If the material is not that interesting, you can always teach them in character – use a different accent or behave differently than normal. When teaching, whether adults or my own children, I use a bigger voice, more vocal inflections in my tone, larger hand gestures, and facial expressions to help my audience stay engaged. Keep lessons short. Children have a shorter attention span, so do not keep them working on a topic for two hours unless the child wants to. For younger children, do not be afraid to use rewards systems, like stickers, points or privileges, to motivate them.

In what ways can parents get their children to view them as educators and not just “mommy and daddy?”

Dr. Jen Jamison: First, parents need to approach teaching their children with confidence. Realize that as a parent, you have taught your kids so much already, even if you didn’t personally teach them how to read or add. Explain to your children what is going on and why you will now fill the role as their teacher. Drum up excitement about what will be different/better for them with you as their teacher.  Also be real with them that may not be formally trained to teach children, but you know them better than any teacher.

Second, try to go over the topics you are going to teach your child before you teach it to them, and think of how best to teach them.  If you have forgotten how to divide and multiply fractions, your confidence may slip and that could come across to your child.  Give yourself a little refresher on topics so that you can teach them to your child correctly and with confidence.

Third, you can employ some of the tools their teachers use during in-person instruction. Give your child cues that it is time to learn. Create a learning space for your child.  It can be as simple as the dining room table or another room in your house where there is minimal distraction. Ask your child to focus and be a little bit more formal in how you interact with them.

Fourth, do not necessarily act parental (in the traditional, old-school sense) when the going gets tough.  I find that positive behavior solutions work best when a parent must serve as teacher. If you have younger children, use a rewards system (think stickers) to encourage positive behavior. When children face difficulty learning a topic, give them time and space, and then try again. Never raise your voice or show frustration.  If a child seems to be struggling, try to find out if the issue is due to the topic or if they are struggling with other emotions (they have big feelings about the pandemic, too).  When teaching my children, it helps me to treat them as delicately as I would if I were educating someone else’s child. 

Is there a general way as to how kids learn? What teaching methods do they mostly respond to?

Dr. Jen Jamison: Just as adults have different learning styles and preferences, so do children.  If you do not yet know how your child learns (and even if you do), I recommend switching up how you instruct them often. You can find some educational YouTube videos, sing songs, do arts and craft projects, make up games, do physical movements, etc. that go along with the lessons being taught.  By varying the type of instruction (not just worksheets or just talking to them), kids will look forward to learning.  Eventually, parents will hone in on their child’s preferred learning style and do that style more often than the styles their child prefers less. No matter what, don’t talk at/to them more than you let them speak or otherwise engage. For older elementary kids, if you are teaching something that you must demonstrate, give a short talk and demonstrate, allowing your child to ask any questions. Then let your child try to work on the assignment independently for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, check on them to see where they may be having difficulty and get them back on track.

How can parents practice self-care while giving to their children, yet not exhausting themselves? 

Dr. Jen Jamison: To keep myself mentally healthy during the day while working and caring for my kids, I abbreviate everything that I possibly can. I know it is unrealistic to expect children to learn for seven hours straight.  Even schools were not designed for this, which is why the typical school day has plenty of fillers.  If your child’s school allows them to move at their own pace (asynchronous learning), you may find that your child can complete a whole day’s worth of learning objectives in just a few hours. Once your child has finished their responsibilities for the day, allow them the freedom to play. Children, especially the younger ones, learn through play, too. While your children are playing, you can  take a mental break or use the time to handle work duties. If your child’s school requires them to log in at particular times (synchronous learning), take advantage of the fact that the teacher will do the lion’s share of the work of teaching your child.  You can totally step away into another room and indulge in some chocolate for a few moments while your child is learning at their computer. Self-care for me is also rethinking work.  Some tasks are mandatory, and other tasks are nice to get to.  I focus on what is absolutely mandatory and what provides the biggest pay off for my career.  Everything else gets handled as time permits. Expect there to be times when you feel like you are neither a good parent nor a good employee. Guard weekends as sacred.  Work with your spouse or family to give yourself some alone time to pursue purely leisure activities during the week and on the weekend. Exercise is also part of my self-care routine.  I jog and run up and down bleachers as my children ride their bikes and play within my line of sight.  It’s win-win because we all need to exercise and breath fresh air daily.