Coronavirus: How teachers with children manage dual roles as educators and parents

Chemistry teacher Priscilla Teng marks her students' work while helping her daughter Kaedee Eng with home-based learning. PHOTO: COURTESY OF PRISCILLA TENG

In the first week of full home-based learning (HBL) last month, there was apprehension as parents and children familiarised themselves with new routines.

But teachers who are parents themselves had to juggle taking care of their own children, teaching and performing household chores as well.

Madam Priscilla Teng, 44, described the first few days as rather stressful. The chemistry teacher at Evergreen Secondary School had to run a typical school day of lessons while being a stay-at-home mother to her daughter, who is in Primary 4.

"A lot of my time was spent coming up with the right content and resources and exploring different platforms to engage students," she said. "But after the first few days, I felt guilty. I taught my daughter how to use the different platforms, how to submit her work and came up with a routine for her learning."

She has since been on her own.

According to a poll conducted by the Ministry of Education (MOE), eight in 10 teachers felt confident in implementing full HBL. Seven in 10 reported they could support students' social and emotional well-being during this period.

Acknowledging the adjustments teachers have had to make, an MOE spokesman said yesterday: "Although schools have worked to keep the HBL learning and assessment load manageable, we know it has been challenging for teachers to manage having to deliver HBL and look after their own families during this period."

She added that MOE has been encouraging teachers to safeguard some time for themselves and their families by informing students of specific periods when they can contact them with queries.

Mr Jeremy Tan, head of Telok Kurau Primary School's mathematics department, took turns with his wife to look after their four-year-old son. His wife, who is with a bank, is also working from home.

"Every evening, we share with each other our work timings for the next day, such as work meetings with colleagues for her and live lessons for me," the 34-year-old said, adding that one of them spends time with the boy so as not to distract the other.

"Most of my recorded videos were also done during his nap-time or in the late evening to avoid the need to edit out interruptions or re-record the videos," he said.

The teachers said they were fortunate to have prior exposure to some online tools in the classroom.

Said Mr Tan "We were exposed to the use of several online education tools during National Institute of Education training. Singapore Student Learning Space training and updates were also provided in waves since its launch, and when new features are added."

Said Madam Teng: "Some of these skills will continue to be useful even after this period."

Still, teachers said they had to find ways to get the students to be active learners.

Madam Teng pre-recorded lessons with PowerPoint slides and weaved in interactive elements like Kahoot, a game-based learning platform. To help her Secondary 4 classes feel more at ease, she met them in smaller groups over video-conferencing to clarify their doubts.

She also set up WhatsApp group chats with her classes, for ease of communication. "I felt closer to my students. The flipside was that I was busier. They messaged me at 11.30pm, and if I was awake, I would answer."

Mr Tan said HBL made him think more deeply about his craft. For instance, students needed time to get comfortable participating in online discussions. Their varied home environments were also a factor.

"When designing lessons, we had to be mindful of the constraints... For example, typing-intensive assignments could be difficult on a tablet or phone," he said. "(But) there were clear advantages of online learning too - students had control over the pace of the lesson and could re-watch videos to understand the content better."

The school term is set to resume on June 2, although the format of classes, whether physical or remote, has not been announced.

Teachers hope to see their students in person again. Said Mr Tan: "Teachers are very used to having visual cues, such as body language and eye contact, as feedback.

"For HBL, we relied on video-conferencing and getting them to write about their thoughts to check in with students on both their learning progress and, equally important, their mental well-being."

Correction note: The article has been edited to show the correct surname of Mr Jeremy Tan. We are sorry for the error.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: How teachers with children manage dual roles as educators and parents. Subscribe