Amber has a lot on her plate. She’s a teacher and a mom. Her kids lost their daycare spot when her town went into lockdown, and now they are in quarantine. So Amber is teaching her students online and taking care of her kids simultaneously. Quitting isn’t an option. She loves teaching. She needs the paycheck. She’s doing the best she can to manage, but it’s not sustainable.
Teacher moms like Amber are missing work or doing two jobs at the same time because they don’t have anyone to care for their children. “A USA TODAY analysis of new Census data shows that Americans missed more work than ever before due to childcare problems in 2020, and the burden was shouldered almost exclusively by women.”
Most teachers are women, and the pandemic is putting a unique toll on women
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that 76 percent of public school teachers in the 2017-2018 school year were women. And many teachers are mothers. About half—48 percent—of all public school teachers have children living at home, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution’s Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero. If you’re a teacher and a mother and you have kids at home, it is very likely that you don’t have reliable childcare. It’s also very likely that your children cannot attend school in person. So this means, like Amber, you are trying to teach your students and care for your kids at the same time.
“I am expected to be online and provide feedback all day, yet I am a mom too, so I feel like I am not juggling work and school well enough. It’s rough. It’s been a long day (not even 10 a.m.), long week (it’s only Monday), a long month (February 1st), a long year (2021),” Amber says.
Unlike women in other roles, teacher moms have the burden of caring for their own kids and their students
Teaching isn’t a job with a lot of flexibility. You can’t cancel a class at the last minute because your toddler is sick. A teacher’s responsibilities require us to be present and engaged with our students. When we have our own kids to care for at the same time, the quality of our teaching and our parenting suffers. “I just feel like a chicken with my head cut off trying to keep up with the sub, grade and give feedback to my students to, somehow do homework with my preschooler, and keep the kids safe, healthy, and entertained enough to not need me the entire time,” Amber says.
For teacher moms, work/life balance is harder than ever
Like Amber, I am struggling to balance work, family, and household responsibilities, and we aren’t alone (I don’t know any working mom who isn’t). This working conditions survey of teachers found that “40 percent of respondents said that caretaking responsibilities made it difficult to do their job, and 16 percent said they were unable to balance their work with other responsibilities at home. Mid-career teachers—who are more likely to have school-aged children—were more likely to have these work-life balance challenges.”
Teacher moms deserve a better system: we can’t do it all
COVID-19 and this past year of living, and working, and parenting during a pandemic has been challenging, painful, and at times impossible. And yet, it also brought right out into the open all the systems that are broken and set working women up for failure. We want to teach. And, we want to care for our children. We want to care for ourselves. But we can’t. Not the way things are now.
Amber can’t make daycare reopen. She can’t leave her preschooler unsupervised. She can’t stop showing up for work. But she also can’t teach without reliable childcare for her kids. To all the teacher moms who are hustling and teaching students while caring for your own kids, I see you. I hope it won’t always be this way. And just so you know, my kids are eating fruit snacks and Cheetos for breakfast too.