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Professors work through ever-changing school year as parents and educators

| Friday, October 23, 2020

Faced with tough choices for their children regarding virtual versus in-person learning early this year, various professors in the Notre Dame community came up with different solutions. While their roles as double educators were greater in the spring, these professors have taken up some additional duties when it comes to their children’s unpredictable education and continue to make choices as the school year changes and progresses.

Courtesy of Kelly Laneman

Professors Kelly and Nick Laneman chose to homeschool four of their children this year, while their other two children complete their schooling virtually.

Kelly Laneman is a professor of digital marketing in the Mendoza College of Business. She and her husband Nick Laneman, a co-chair of the Wireless Institute in the College of Engineering, decided to pull their children out of in-person classes two days before their school moved to remote learning last spring.

Laneman’s six children — ages preschool to high school at the time — were able to complete the year from home. They had enough resources and Internet to go around for the children, she noted. 

“It went smoother for us probably than many other families,” Laneman said.

Laneman works part time for the University and admitted she could not imagine teaching children with two full-time working parents.

“It was — at least in the spring — and, to some degree, still is a full-time job helping the kids with their e-learning,” she said.

While her classes this semester are in-person, Laneman decided to homeschool four of the children this year. She cited the need for predictable structure as an essential factor in this decision. 

The family resides in the Penn-Harris-Madison school district, and Laneman has structured the homeschool curricular to match the standard in Indiana. The situation is short term, hopefully for this school year, she said. 

The Laneman’s two other children are now attending school virtually, after they attended their school’s hybrid classes for a short period of time.

Laneman also noted her own students who have worked through a variety of struggles this semester, from contracting the virus to learning in an ever-changing environment.

“Given all of that, the students have been very adaptable and flexible, but there’s no question, everybody has had to struggle to work through that,” she said. 

Laneman referred to homeschooling as a simultaneous challenge and joy.

“I’m very aware that we are in a pretty privileged situation compared to many parents,” she said.

Laneman noted most schools in the area are not back in person yet, and many parents work full-time.

She said one of the most enjoyable aspects has been tying in current events, such as the election, to some of the curriculum and witness them in real life with her children. 

Jeff Greiner, a professor of education at Saint Mary’s, has two sons, one in high school and one in elementary school. 

Greiner said it was harder to balance the work-life balance last spring, when he, his wife who works from home and their children were sharing the same space and internet. 

Last semester, Greiner’s classes were asynchronous after spring break, but this semester, all of his classes meet in-person again. Greiner noted his work load this semester has increased as he’s had to balance his own research with his classes and his student advisees.

Currently, Greiner’s oldest son is attending high school on a hybrid schedule, in which he alternates attending classes online and in-person. His younger son recently went back to in-person classes after starting the school year virtually. Greiner’s role in his children’s education is less hands-on now, he said. 

Greiner said the decision to send their kids back in-person was tough.

“We knew that there were risks,” he said.

In the end, Greiner said the family decided to return to in-person classes because they knew there were health protocols and precautions in place, and they could educate their children on the precautions. 

“For their education, we decided to give them a shot,” Greiner said. 

Greiner said a big concern has been transporting their kids to school, as they and many other parents in their district were concerned about busing. Before the pandemic, the school district was sitting three kids to a seat.

“There are struggles and we keep moving through,” he said, referring to the creation of carpool groups and other ways to transport their children to school.

Gail Bederman, professor of history, American Studies and gender studies at Notre Dame, chose to move her classes online before the semester began.

“I’m 68 years old and I’m afraid of the death of the coronavirus,” she said in an email. 

Bederman’s daughter currently attends a boarding high school nearby, where she chose to go for the opportunities to be more independent, Bederman said.

At home, she’s only got David, me and the cat,” she said. “None of us know what to do on Snapchat or TikTok.” 

When her daughter is home to visit on the weekends, the family wears masks to protect each other. Bederman said her daughter has experienced additional stress and strain this year due to the virus.

“High school is difficult anyway, but being in high school — boarding high school — with COVID-19 all around is especially hard,” she said.  

Bederman said its as hard being a high schooler as it is being a university student right now, and she felt especially for mothers and parents with younger children who had to return to teaching their own classes in-person. 

Olivier Morel, Notre Dame professor of film, television and theater, has two middle school-aged daughters who are currently learning virtually from home.

“We, of course, knew there was no easy solution,” Morel said about the decision. 

Morel said being a professor on top of his role of educating his children last spring was a challenge, although he was grateful for his family’s access to computers, internet and the ability to stay home. Morel’s wife, Alison Rice, is the chair of Romance Languages at Notre Dame. 

Morel, a dual citizen of France and the U.S., also said it was difficult to watch the U.S. response to the virus.

Morel’s wife worked during the summer to find ways for the department to reopen in the fall. 

“We were quite frustrated throughout the summer because we worked quite hard for the University,” he said. 

Morel said his children were more anxious about the virus last spring, but are still very concerned now. He said his children are worried about being carriers of the virus. 

When asked if he had taken up additional roles as an educator for his children, he said his daughter’s are very autonomous in their schooling.

“They are already politically involved and aware,” he said. 

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