The COVID-19 pandemic sent millions of people home from their traditional office and classroom jobs. Some were able to accommodate working from home easily, while people in other industries and roles have had a harder time. One particular challenge that couples face is having both partners working remotely within a small space. This can be difficult when one person has a sales job or sits in on conferences all day, and it gets harder when the other person is an educator leading a virtual classroom of students.
If this sounds familiar, this guide may help. We explore how to manage your virtual classroom and the relationship with your partner while working together from home.
Most Educators Developed Their At-Home Classroom on the Fly
The first thing to remember is that no one had ample time to prepare for remote teaching. Even districts that gave teachers a week or two to prepare still put an immense amount of pressure on educators to move their classes to a remote setting.
“Teachers are set up to teach in their bedrooms, home offices, kitchen, or living room and their students are at home with their parents or caregivers who may have lost their job during this pandemic,” Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., author of “Instructional Leadership: Creating Practice Out Of Theory,” says. “It’s a recipe for stress and depression, and teachers are doing their best to step up.”
You may not have the materials you need right away or an ideal workspace to teach your students. This is okay. Students, their parents and fellow educators understand the situation and are all doing their best.
Diana Greene, Ph.D., deputy superintendent of Marion County Public Schools in Florida, emailed her staff on March 20 highlighting the magnitude of the challenge ahead of them.
“Three days to create, print and distribute about 5 million pages of instructional content,” she wrote. “Three days to load classes onto an online platform. Three days to gather online resources so aligned instruction could continue to take place. Three days to train about 8,000 teachers in a whole new way of work. Imagine that!”
While many educators breathed a sigh of relief when the spring semester ended, they aren’t out of the woods yet. Now is the time to prepare for fall. States are still deciding how students can return to the classroom — or if they should at all. Some are looking at shorter days or three-day in-person weeks, while others have proposed offering virtual learning for students who don’t feel safe at school.
“We have several superintendents who have received calls from parents asking will they be allowed to start the school year in the same way they closed the year, with their children at home,” says School Superintendents of Alabama executive director Ryan Hollingsworth.
You may well be teaching remotely in the fall and working alongside your spouse for the better part of this year. It’s okay if you didn’t have the best coworking set up this past spring, but now is the time to get what you need.
Pick the Top Materials You Want to Use
Start by considering the materials you need for your classroom. What are the essentials that you rely on for effective teaching?
Susan at Shared Teaching developed a list for educators who were scrambling to get the supplies they needed to set up a home classroom at the start of the pandemic. She says some teachers were only given 10-15 minutes in their classrooms before they had to leave them.
The first item she recommends is a whiteboard or easel, even a small tabletop one that you can use. This will allow you to write messages and notes as you normally would, while working from home.
Choosing the right materials also means investing in the technology you need. If you limped through the spring semester and are gearing up to teach remotely in the fall, now is the time to find proper office technology and tools that both you and your partner can use.
Christina Cauterucci at Slate says almost every coworking couple she spoke to on the issue said a quality pair of headphones was essential. Improving your WiFi or getting a hotspot can help both parties work more efficiently and avoid minor technological frustrations.
Familiarize yourself with this technology now so you are prepared. Educator Matt Shields says he double-checks his settings, disabling emojis before starting class. Even checking small features, like the volume, can make the class move more smoothly.
Find a Teaching Spot Away from High-Traffic Areas
Once you have an idea of how much space you need with your essential materials, take steps to find a spot in the house to teach from each day.
Many of the tips given to students about effective learning can be applied to educators. Dusty Rhodes, SmartBox Solutions vice president, encourages students to avoid working in “high traffic” areas of the home, like the kitchen table or living area. The same goes for teachers. You never know when your significant other will walk past during a lesson or decide to make a snack mid-presentation.
Finding your own space gives you privacy while allowing your significant other to navigate the house guilt-free because they know they aren’t bothering you.
However, finding private workspaces and avoiding high-traffic areas in your home isn’t always easy. Judy Herbst, director of marketing at Worthy, shared her own experience with USA Today.
“On a normal day, [my husband would] walk into the kitchen and start a conversation and all would be fine,” she says of her days before working from home. “But now, I’ve taken over the kitchen table and he’ll think I’m rude for not answering him when he clearly doesn’t see I have my earbuds in and am in the middle of a conference call.”
If your house has several rooms, try working in separate spaces away from each other. Even if you are working in the same room, designate your own space for teaching and give your partner the space they need to work.
Let Your Partner Known When You Are “At School”
It can be hard to differentiate between home and school hours when you never leave the house. You may run to the bathroom or to the kitchen for a drink and your partner might assume you are on a lunch break. Let them know when you are free to talk and when you are working.
Julie Morgenstern, time management consultant and author of “Time to Parent,” encourages teachers to stick to the same schedule they had during in-school lessons. Take lunch at the same time, teach class at the same time, and start and end work at the same time.
It may be tempting to use the time you would normally spend on your commute to start work early or to work late into the night when the barriers between school and home are gone. However, this may create stress for you and makes it more difficult for your significant other to know when work begins and ends.
Still, maintaining separation from your partner can help your relationship.
“Couples who are together now 24/7, any differences can become magnified,” says psychologist Anthony Chambers, who is chief academic officer at the Family Institute at Northwestern University. “Often times when we stay away from each other for eight to 12 hours a day, that helps manage those problems.”
Maintaining physical separation during work hours allows you to better appreciate the time you have together. This is particularly important when the number of places you can actually go to is severely limited.
Get Creative With Your Home Classroom
If your partner already has a workspace set up in your home, then you may have more leeway with where you work and what you do. There are some teachers who are getting exceptionally creative with the teaching experience.
Jonte Lee, a chemistry teacher at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C., turned his kitchen into a makeshift chemistry lab so he can continue demonstrating experiments to his students and keep them engaged virtually. “Life has changed but the love I have for my students still has not changed,” Lee says. If that means his kitchen becomes a chem lab during school hours, he’s happy to do it.
Another example is Jamie Ewing, a science teacher at P.S. 277 in the Bronx, who uses his love of baseball to connect with students during this time. “Science can be really hard for a lot of students,” Ewing says. “The best thing to do is to bring it to realms they can understand.” Even students who don’t particularly like baseball engage with the lessons, and the baseball-centric curriculum makes teaching more fun.
You may be able to turn your backyard into a classroom for a day or get creative with different rooms in the house to make your lessons more engaging.
That said, you don’t need to go overboard with intense, complex lessons for your remote students. Natalie Wexler, education writer and author of “The Knowledge Gap,” encourages teachers to keep lessons simple through this period of online learning. “It’s important to be cautious about introducing new material. Teachers need to concentrate on reinforcing what students have already learned, lest they forget it,” she writes.
Lean On Your Partner for Emotional Support
Remember, your spouse is less of a roadblock to teaching and more of an asset to your sanity than you realize. Sarah Bland, project manager at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, tells CNBC that she and her spouse have been able to adapt to changes and support each other, leading to a successful work-from-home experience. They share concerns with each other, provide emotional support and create plans for how to continue working together.
After two months of working together in close quarters, it’s very possible for couples to emerge with their relationship stronger than before, having better communication and problem-solving skills.
“We recognize that for us to get through this together, we have to communicate with each other,” Alyssa Swantkoski writes at Thrive Global. “It’s crucial to address issues as they arise now more than ever as the amount of time spent together in a small space increases in the coming weeks.”