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'I'm Only 1 Person': Teachers Feel Torn Between Their Students And Their Own Kids


A lot of parents are struggling with their kids doing school from home this year but especially parents who are also teachers. NPR's Anya Kamenetz has been finding they're working harder than ever on both fronts.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: I catch Patricia Stamper with the Zoom going in the background.

PATRICIA STAMPER: No, no, you're good. You're good. It's just I'm in between meetings. That's why I'm - one meeting is running over. You're good.

KAMENETZ: Stamper works with special education students for Washington, D.C., public schools. These days, her virtual classroom is at home and so is her toddler, Patrick, and her kindergartner, Pete.

STAMPER: Here, here. Hold on. Here. Here, go in your room. Give me a second. You're not in trouble, Pete. Just give me some time, OK?

KAMENETZ: The other day when she was working, Pete started acting up in virtual kindergarten, imitating his favorite YouTube star.

STAMPER: He was like, I'm bored. I want to be like Ryan on YouTube. I'm like, no.

KAMENETZ: Stamper says Pete isn't doing well with three to four hours a day of video teaching, and it's not easy for her either. Her husband works out of the home and her toddler has special needs.

STAMPER: And it's - no offense. It's hard to check him. I'm trying to do my job and, you know, bounce back and forth, but I'm only one person.

KAMENETZ: There are more than 4 million teachers in the United States. The typical teacher is a woman in her early 40s. Over the summer, NPR and Ipsos surveyed teachers and found about half had children under 18 at home. And of those, 57% told us I cannot properly do my job from home while also taking care of my children. So NPR put a call out for teachers who are also parents to tell us about their experiences in this back-to-school season like no other. We heard from nearly 100. They told us of losing colleagues to coronavirus and of having nightmares about returning to school. Bethany is a high school science teacher in New Jersey. We're only using her first name to protect her family's privacy. Her husband teaches at the same school, and they have three sons. Bethany was one of many teachers who shared about an agonizing tug of war between their students' needs and those of their families. Her youngest developed a mysterious rash during lockdown.

BETHANY: Even when I was in the ER, I remember one of my students was like, I need your help. And I was like, I just can't right now. And she was like, that's ridiculous. I'm telling my - you know, I'm telling my guidance counselor.

KAMENETZ: Their middle child, 5 years old, became lonely, anxious and depressed in the spring. Then one day, he stopped eating. She and her husband were working from 5 a.m. till midnight and often through dinnertime responding to students in need. She said it took a few weeks to figure out he was spitting his food in a napkin.

BETHANY: So we didn't realize yet what was happening until one night because, you know, my husband's like, no, he is eating. I was like, I feel like he's not eating. And then we looked through the garbage, and there it was, his whole day of, like, spitting it out.

KAMENETZ: Her son lost significant weight. He got better after he started seeing a therapist online. And while his school is still remote this fall, he has joined a travel soccer team as restrictions ease in New Jersey. But Bethany says she'll never forget...

BETHANY: Watching my kid lay in bed all day saying I just want to die.

KAMENETZ: While many teacher parents who are trying to work from home feel overwhelmed, those who are going back into the classroom fear they are putting their families at risk.

SHANA WHITE: When I come home, I shower immediately. I don't let my kids touch me or my husband. I don't hug, say hi.

KAMENETZ: Shana White teaches middle school computer science in Georgia in a county that has high rates of coronavirus.

WHITE: Even in our district, we've had teachers and administrators and students test positive for it. So it's just - to me, it's not a question of if. It's just a question of when is it going to happen?

KAMENETZ: She's required to teach in person in order to keep her job, but White doesn't think it's safe. So she's keeping both of her children home with her husband. But she says online learning has killed their love of school.

WHITE: Every time in the morning when my son gets up, he goes, oh, my gosh, I have to do virtual school again. And just hearing that from my 8-year-old, it breaks my heart just because I want my kids to love school. And they did used to love school.

KAMENETZ: She says they're holding out hope that they can all be back in classrooms truly safely by January. Anya Kamenetz, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAN MOUNTAIN'S "TO BE MADE AS NEW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.