Pulling double duty: UT-Austin professors take on child care while teaching

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kate Dawson | Daily Texan Staff

Students enrolled in geography lecturer Sara Diamond’s class this fall may get a chance to hear her 2-year-old daughter call for attention in the background of the Zoom call. 

As COVID-19 keeps many professors and kids at home for virtual schooling, UT professors have adjusted to take on caring for their children during the work day in addition to the normal professor duties. Some professors say managing responsibilities is difficult but enjoy the additional time they have with their families. 

Diamond, who also has a son in kindergarten, said she has started her daughter in part-time day care and tag teams watching over her kindergartner with another family. Still, she sometimes has her daughter and up to two additional kids to care for during class times. 

“Over Zoom, my younger child will occasionally interrupt, and my attention will have to transition to her, even if it’s only for a second,” Diamond said. 

Diamond said there’s not many tools to distract her daughter while she’s teaching, which has created an interesting environment as she tries to find the best strategies to teach online. 

“You can’t rationalize with a 2-year-old,” Diamond said. “They’re not yet at the point in time where you can bribe them effectively or get them to sit and watch a video for very long. A 2- year-old just doesn’t have the attention span.”

Kate Dawson, associate journalism professor of practice, has 11-year-old twin girls in the fifth grade taking classes from home. Dawson said working from home has been “liberating,” and she feels better connected with her students and her family.

“I never realized how much time commuting sucks out of your life,” Dawson said. “I am making my schedule fit with (my kids’) schedules, making sure … they’re on Zoom when I’m on Zoom.”

 

Dawson said she and her wife are taking a more active role in their children’s education, making sure they understand concepts in the virtual classroom. Dawson said her wife closed down her business to help take care of the kids full time. 

Dawson said her family has embraced self-isolating as a bonding experience.

“I’ll actually be sad when it goes back to in-person school,” Dawson said.

Katie Gray, a distinguished senior lecturer of information, risk and operations management,  teaches in person twice a week. Gray said she switches off with her husband to watch over her kids, and whoever is at home accepts that not much work will get done. 

“I teach an upper-division (management information systems) class, but I’m also teaching phonics to my first grader, circuits to my fourth grader and geometry to my sixth grader,” Gray said. “It’s like, ‘What thing is coming at me next?’”

Despite the additional duties, Gray said seeing her children more than she is typically able to is nice. She said the changes make her wonder if she should scale back her extra teaching commitments in the future.

“This person who is in front of you teaching … is a real person with real things going on in their lives,” Gray said. “If you’re in lecture and your professor’s kid pops into the Zoom call to say hi, don’t judge them for not being in control of their lives.”