Coronavirus Quarantine Guest Blog: Dr. Barbara Wylie

Dr. Barbara Wylie shares her experiences as a mother-scholar during the coronavirus quarantine.

I’d like to start off by saying:

I understand I have privilege; I sit here in my house, not worrying about my bills, the heat, food, or basic survival needs because I have a job that I can work from home, a savings account in case something would go horribly wrong with either of my jobs and we had to survive without income, and a family, that if I really, really fell on bad times, well, they would be able to help out.  I know many others are not that fortunate right now.

We are one week into the directive to work from home for the remainder of the semester.  My students just began their classes yesterday. The governor just sent out the “no non-essential travel/workers” directive yesterday.  For all accounts and purposes, this is really “just beginning”, and I’m already pretty burned out.

Last week, I was given the directive to take two face-to-face science classes and put them online.  Then create two fully online courses (in 5 days) for classes we’ve NEVER offered online.  Later in the week, the directive came that we were to hold Zoom office hours, advising appointments, curriculum meetings, committee meetings and staff meetings. This resulted in me being on Zoom yesterday from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. nearly continuously. Day two, today, was not much better.

In the last week, nearly everything has gone virtual.  We’ve done virtual counseling, physical therapy, tutoring, piano lessons, and a well child checkup. My son’s school has posted virtual cross fit, art lessons, and virtual counseling lessons.  My family has started doing facetime and zoom meetings because our father is quite ill and nobody really knows what to do with that.  I’ve been added to no fewer than 10 online groups aimed to help find resources for online teaching, or home schooling for people who don’t normally home school, or finding supplies in a time of shortage so we don’t waste our time roaming around and be exposed to Covid. I’ve ordered nearly everything I need for the next several weeks online.  I’ve been to several zoom yoga sessions in an attempt to relax and rejuvenate.  Even my friends, in desperation, scheduled a zoom meeting on Sunday to get some “girl time” and “human contact”.  It’s all so overwhelming.  A tool (technology) that I used to “supplement” my existence in the past (just weeks ago), has now become a necessity for continued survival in nearly all aspects of my life.

While all this is going on, the place I considered my respite and my refuge has now become my prison. When I would get fed up with work, I could leave and come home and feel peace. I could “choose” to work at home, or I could “choose” not to work at home. I could escape. Now, there is no “choice”.  No escape.  Now, my dining table has become more of a headquarters with 2 laptops and an iPad covering three of the four spaces where we normally sit to eat. Where we used to gather and give thanks has been converted to a place where I hold office hours and meetings, and where my son calmly completes some semblance of educational curriculum each day.

Besides being burned out, I’m worried.  I’m worried that the world I’m forced to shield from will not be the world to which I return.  What will things look like when we resurface?  Will we have changed things so much and adapted so quickly that we will be to a point of no return?  What will the long-term effects of a virtual world, in nearly every aspect, really be?

-Dr. Barbara Wylie

Mother-Scholars in COVID-19 times

Like most of us in these uncertain times, I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t know which way is up. I know that like many of you, I’m overwhelmed. I want to preface this entire thing by recognizing my privilege and openly stating that I have it better than a lot of people. I get to work from home and not worry about a paycheck for now. So, that helps. But it certainly doesn’t make this easy.

For four days I have not had any sense of taste or smell. Absolutely zero. Today, I ate two lemon slices hoping to “jolt” my senses back into being. A few days ago, I googled this and decided it was allergies. Today, I googled again. There are several articles out in British outlets describing this as a symptom of people carrying Coronavirus. However, no hospital will test me since I have no serious symptoms. We will apparently have to wait and see. If anyone else in the house (God forbid) has serious symptoms, they can get tested. For now, I will assume that I carry/carried the virus and my entire household is exposed to it.

In addition to worrying that I and my family have Coronavirus, I’m homeschooling my third grader, providing daycare to my 2 year old, and remotely teaching my education classes at Ivy Tech. I also have mountains of laundry And my kids are ravaging all the snacks. It’s a lot. I wonder how long this is really sustainable.

This blog, once used as a venue to provide critical friendship to Indianapolis Public Schools, is temporarily being repurposed to document the experiences of K-16+ educators navigating this new reality. I’m inviting others to document their experiences here, too. Then some happy day in the future, when we can look back at this from some distance, we may collectively compile these experiences.

Back to the current Coronavirus pandemic situation. I recognize the severity of this and the need for social distancing. But. A part of me wonders if this restructuring of our work/home life is some crude experiment.

My big question is this. What are the implications of this being successful? So. We prove ourselves capable of working from home while simultaneously taking care of our own children and all the other tasks that adulting requires of us?

I worry a lot. My worry is that our recent historical trend is toward demanding more and more from our workforce, while pay, benefits and personal protections do not keep pace with demand. In a time of economic uncertainty and the gig economy, we are proving that we are capable of taking on even more.

Is this a wise thing to do? Will it provide a basis for an even more sinister future neoliberal turn, especially when it comes to public education? For example, two years from now, will policy makers look to this time period to justify a shorter school year? A shortened week, perhaps? Or, maybe it will justify a huge proliferation in online schools? Or, other alternatives to traditional public schools, because clearly parents can rise to the occasion and educate their children when public education is not provided.

The policy makers will probably look to the almighty test scores. With standardized testing being cancelled for this year, how will this pan out?