Professor parent lingers in never-ending spring break

By Jonathan Frias, April 13, 2021

As professors were tasked to navigate virtual learning this past year, another obstacle for some has been balancing teaching and childcare at home amid the pandemic. Cal Poly Pomona Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Juanita Jellyman illustrated her experience juggling the two full-time duties.

Jellyman has three daughters: a 14-year-old freshman in high school, an 11-year-old in 6th grade and a 5-year-old in pre-K.

With her children attending virtual classes, Jellyman shared that one of the biggest challenges with working from home is interruptions. She expressed that she relates to The Washington Post’s report analyzing how constant interruptions affect an individual’s workflow.

Regaining focus after an interruption is difficult, especially when sensing the next interruption coming shortly after, she explained. Without a home office and with four family members roaming around the house, Jellyman often works outdoors in her garden.

“When you’re working like that, you’re just inefficient; so everything takes longer and is a little bit harder and then your workday spreads and extends into the evenings,” Jellyman said. “Once you finally have everyone in bed asleep at 8:30 or 9 o’clock at night, then you sit down, and you do your four or five hours of real work before getting up to start again the next day.”

With three children at home, Cal Poly Pomona Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Juanita Jellyman juggles teaching and childcare during virtual instruction. (Courtesy of Juanita Jellyman)

At times, Jellyman feels that her professor side and mother side are clashing but explained that flexibility is key. She adjusted her daily routine to balance the two sides by implementing tasks like making sandwiches for her daughters while listening to her department meeting.

To maximize her time, she also collaborates with her children on work-related activities like relying on their assistance when filming lectures for her biology courses.

Along with difficulties to care for children while teaching, Jellyman shared that there are two main cons with the online environment: lack of student participation and struggles with checking in with students. She explained that fewer cameras are on and fewer students attend class as the semester progresses.

“Only the most confident students will interrupt you and say, ‘Stop I don’t understand. I got up to here and now I’m lost,’” said Jellyman.  “Most of the time they just kind of nod along and try to stay with you, and a good teacher recognizes when they’re just nodding along. It’s really hard to do that when you’re on Zoom, so I miss those personal interactions and the ability to reach each student where they’re at.”

To better manage her time throughout the day, Jellyman dedicates time to making lists to prioritize urgent, upcoming events.

She and her husband, Andrew Thompson, an environmental science and engineering professor at California Institute of Technology, work together to share the responsibility of parenting so they can find moments throughout the day in which they can focus on their research and teaching.

Jellyman added that the support from the university’s Faculty Center and her colleagues within the science department goes a long way in decompressing.

“I think the Faculty Center has been really helpful in providing tech support and training with various technologies,” Jellyman said. “I found my colleagues to be really supportive in the fact that they have been very accepting of children on laps during department meetings and things like that. They’ve also just been great by checking in. Biology is a really wonderful and collegial department and that has really shown through in the way that colleagues have had those Zoom calls to check in to say, ‘How are you doing?’, and send messages of support when they hear about various challenges.”

Despite the many obstacles in teaching from home, Jellyman enjoys that virtual instruction offers time flexibility while allowing her to avoid the terrors of finding a parking spot on campus. Additionally, the amount of time spent at home during the pandemic allowed her to spend quality time with her family.

The constant balance of being a professor and a mother during a pandemic comes with challenges, but the challenges are worth the trouble in the bigger picture, Jellyman said.

“I don’t want it to sound like I’m moaning about all the stuff that was hard for me because I’m lucky and I’ve had it easy,” Jellyman said. “I have my job, I have my family, I’ve not been sick and I haven’t lost a close friend or family member. The challenges I’ve faced are minuscule compared with what other people are facing during this pandemic.”

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