Being a teacher as well as a mum to two toddlers is hard. Very hard.
I’m very fortunate in that I was able to work part time this year – I worked 3 days a week, and stayed home with the kids on the other two. But even though I’m only 0.6FTE, the amount of time I’ve had to take off work to care for my own sick children is almost ludicrous.
One of my toddlers started daycare this year, and the other one moved over to this new daycare at the same time. So even though he had been exposed to a heap of germs before, these were supposedly all new ones.
And, you know, toddlers are toddlers. Everything goes in their mouth, hands don’t get washed as often as they should (though certainly a lot more now than pre-pandemic!), coughs and sneezes are right there in your face (sometimes straight into your open eyeballs or mouth…).
This means that my two toddlers get sick. A lot. And because all toddlers are vessels for universal chaos, they are rarely sick at the same time. They play illness ping-pong like it’s some sort of world championship, where they are trying to one-up each other on the suddenness of symptom-onset. You think you are finally in the clear, then get to daycare and discover the other one has a fever when they are checked at the door.
The impact on my job has been stressful. OF COURSE I put my own children first. I am fortunate enough to be able to do that, and take the cut to my income when my sick leave effectively ran out in term one. I am also fortunate in that my own mum can sometimes care for them, and that my husband can also take time off work. But even with their support, I believe it’s now at the level where I’ve effectively taken a day off a week purely because one or both of my toddlers are sick. And remember, I’m only there 3 out of 5 days.
I’m so incredibly lucky in that my teaching partner is the freaking bomb. We mesh together so well, and have our communication down so easily. Not much slips through, and we don’t need to be in constant contact. We do everything through OneNote (read here how we use OneNote for communication and teaching while both part time). We also have very similar teaching styles and philosophies, which means we are never clashing with what we do in the classroom. On top of this, my head of department and the rest of my science teaching faculty are just as amazing. Their support and understanding has been a literal life-saver and job-saver. Some members of the leadership team have been less understanding, constantly questioning my absences. This has definitely put an added level of unnecessary stress on the whole thing, but I’m working around that.
So how do I keep my head level, my students up to date, and my own family well? I’m not entirely sure to be honest.
I’ve learned to take things a day at a time, and never assume I will or won’t be at school. As I don’t do much ‘formal’ planning of my lessons (beyond my PowerPoints, or booking in experiments), I now always keep in the back of my mind alternate versions of every single lesson. I know how to teach it if I’m to be in the classroom, and how to redirect it if I’m to be at home. Often lesson supervision plans are written the morning of, after I’ve realized the kid(s) are sick, so that means a lot of work in a very short amount of time while also caring for one or both very active and needy toddlers. If I suspect they may be sick the next day, I often prepare lesson supervisions the night before, just in case. If I don’t have to use them, awesome, but if I do, then they’re ready to go. Yes this means a lot of double-work, but it’s one way I can keep my stress levels and blood pressure down.
In terms of the students, I try to spend a lot of time when I’m in the room catching up with them. Checking understanding, building relationships, and telling lame jokes. My classes this year have been pretty great – only a few personality clashes to deal with, but on the whole they’re lovely students. This definitely makes things a lot easier.
In terms of my own children, I will always put their health and wellness above my job. I have to, and if admin have an issue with that, I can always go somewhere more understanding. Dealing with complex medical issues on top of the usual daycare petri-dish definitely pulls attention away from other things, as it should. But we’re doing everything we should and can be as parents to keep them as healthy as possible, it’s just an inevitable phase of parenthood that we must wade through, trying to keep everyone and everything as in-tact as possible.
I will say one thing to any leadership readers out there – be compassionate with your parent-teachers. Trust that we’re not using our kids as an excuse to take a sickie (remember, we’re likely actually losing income on top of the cost of the day at daycare we still have to pay for – so this could be up to $200 lost for one day off work). Trust that we are good enough at our jobs that our students and colleagues aren’t suffering, and if they are, then you need to support us and not reprimand us. Help us find ways to work around issues, systems we can put in place to ease the pressure on everyone involved.
If you are a fellow parent-teacher reading this, I’m sure you are feeling a bit of solidarity here. Let me know in the comments if you’ve also faced this issue, or if you were lucky enough to have children with immune systems of steel!