The Students Not on My Roster: Balancing My Teacher Guilt and Parent Guilt in a Virtual World

“Dad.” “Dad.” “Dad.” “Dad.”….”Dad.” “Dad.” …”Daddy.” “Dad.”  (There were a few more Dads in there, but, you get the idea.)  This past weekend, my preschool-aged son, Noah, was trying to get my attention.  He had to have called out my name at least a dozen times before I even acknowledged him. Sure, I was sitting with him on our back porch, pretending to pay close attention to him as he played with PlayDoh and I typed an e-mail back to a parent on Saturday afternoon to solve an issue her child was having in the new virtual learning world.

Then, it hit me.  That wave of parent guilt that many teachers feel on a regular basis during the school year.  Perhaps it is when we are staying after school to get caught up, or when we attend weekend activities with our students and miss a family function, or, quite frankly, when we are spending more time with other people’s children than our own.  But, there’s no way that can happen in a virtual learning environment, right? Wrong. There is no sidewalk to walk out of school now, no time to reflect and change gears on the car ride home, no bells or goodbyes to signal a change.

This year, I have 109 students on my roster.  109 students with different interests, family lives, abilities, needs, personalities, and talents. But, it is the 110thand 111thstudents on my roster that are often being ignored as a result of attempting to be fully available and committed to students 1 to 109, as well as their parents, during this crisis.

Enter my preschooler and 1st grader.  They see me on Zoom meetings with my students, laughing, smiling, and teaching. I’m sure that they hear me telling them “wait one minute, buddy” or “hold on, my dude” in exchange for not having to have one of my students wait at all for an e-mail reply.  When they think back to this crisis 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 15 years from now, are they doing to think back to this period and remember that “daddy did not spend much time with us”?  That keeps me up at night.

My children are younger, and love attention from their parents.  But for those teachers with older children, I am sure, even if they do not admit it or are masking it, are craving your connection during this crisis. But, this leads to the ultimate choice of having to knowingly or unknowingly select teacher guilt or parent guilt.  So how do you balance these two?  Honestly, that is something that has always been an area of potential growth for me and an area that I am struggling with now.  For me, the easy choice over the past three weeks has been selecting parent guilt. Because I think, “oh, there will be more time for me to be with my children after this e-mail, after I make this screencast video, afterI do this demo video for an administrator, or after I talk a colleague through something on the phone instead of sitting down to read a story one on one to my child.”

So, teacher guilt vs. parent guilt, what’s the solution to feel neither and to make yourself fully committed to both in a virtual environment?  Being a realist, I do not think I will be able to discover the solution to this in my blog entry.  In fact, I think, to a large degree, that merging both lives enables me to be a better teacher, connect with analogies and lessons from my own life, and to let my guard down for students to see the real me. But, in this virtual setting, I am finding a whole new ballgame and I am going to implement a few changes that I feel may help.

1. Set a more clearly defined schedule, write it down, and schedule your children in there.

I have been guilty of keeping my agenda for office hours, meetings, and every different type of Zoom meeting on my computer.  What is not on my calendar is any type of defined time for my own children or time with my wife.  That is going to change, and, I feel that if I “see” it on a schedule, I will be better equipped to follow that commitment.

2. Build that sidewalk away from school in your mind.

Let’s be honest with each other.  We enjoy teaching, so we find excuses in our minds to always be looking to bring our own lives into our lessons or vice versa.  But, in this virtual world, there has to be a limit of a boundary.  I am going to allow myself to work at night, however, will have to put some time restraints on myself to cap that. Can this wait until the morning? Will not responding right now cause emotional stress for that student?

3. Learn from Oklahoma! character Ado Annie.

I grew up as a musical theater boy.  In fact, in 8thgrade, I got to be part of our high school’s production of Oklahoma!(we had a small school and boys in grades 7-8 were needed as townspeople…)  But, I remember a song in there that I am now using out of context, but, it is titled I Cain’t Say No.  So, when we hear that phrase, “Hey, can you do me a favor?” or “Hey, it would be great if somebody…”, we gravitate towards filling that need.  We can’t say no, we want to help.  But, I need to remind myself, that it is indeed okay to say no, because, that will better enable me to say yes to my children.

4. When you hear a colleague say “I’m bored”, let it go.

Bored? Bored?!?!? Just this week, I heard another colleague, a good friend, say that he was bored.  This is the complete opposite of what I had been feeling.  I feel like I am playing a game of whack-a-mole.  So, I think, “What in the world am I doing wrong that I am not feeling this bored feeling?  I had a to-do list of things I would like to get done during this and I have not touched one of them. I must be the worst parent in the world if I am having trouble spending time with my own children, let alone crossing items of my to-do list.”  So my takeaway: everyone is dealing with this crisis in their own way and has their own situation and responsibilities.

I look forward to making this a focus of mine to work on in the coming days, weeks, and months ahead. I also welcome any advice, tips, or strategies that have been working for you in your own situations. We’re off to check out the Pink Super Moon as a family!

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