Juggling the worlds of Zoom and parenting; teachers persevere


Illustration by Natalie Cronin

Lexi Babich and Grace Clark

From teaching their students on Zoom to helping their own children with schoolwork, a teacher’s job is never done. Tara Tate and Emily Ekstrand, social studies teachers, have both been challenged with juggling teaching at home while helping their own children learn. 

Rio Ekstrand, Emily’s 9-year-old son, is currently enrolled in e-learning to keep his grandmother safe from Covid-19. Like any typical 9-year-old, Rio is not a fan of his schoolwork, but he enjoys being able to see his peers and teacher. Emily believes that while Rio may not be learning in a traditional manner, he is continuing to learn lessons from inside a new classroom, as well as develop life skills outside out of the classroom.

“As long as [kids are] safe and have enough food and love, they can always get academic skills later,” Emily said. “I wish we as a society would stop worrying quite so much about the education of the younger kids right now.”

With a positive outlook on this new way of learning and confidence in her son’s academic ability, Emily said that Rio is on the right track and will continue to learn those skills taught to him online.

Kelcie Tate, Tara’s six-year-old daughter, is also enrolled in e-learning. When assisting Kelcie with her “to-do list” for the week, Tara incorporates her daughter’s learning into their daily routine. They count by fives, if that is what Kelcie’s curriculum is focused on for the week, or talk about the specific food groups during dinner for the nutrition unit in science class, Tara explained.

“She really thrived on the individual attention because I had a first-hand look at what skills she was working on,” Tara said. “[Kelcie] is handling the academic piece better than I anticipated.”

Although Kelcie has been keeping up academically,  she still has some complaints about the new learning situation. Kelcie said that she misses gym class and her best friend and she also found that it is much more difficult to learn virtually. However, even with the difficulties of the new learning environment, Kelcie has still managed to focus on the more positive elements of the experience, and look forward with optimism.

“I like my teacher a lot and she is very positive during e-learning,” Kelcie said.

Whether it is getting distracted by her toys, or the difficulty of trying to write on her iPad screen, e-learning has been more difficult than in-person learning, Kelcie explained. By focusing on the positive aspects, Kelcie has been able to continue with her e-learning process and complete the activities her teacher assigns.

“E-learning is harder than regular school,” Kelcie said. “[Luckily my teacher] has fun activities for us to do.”

Similar to Rio, Kelcie lives with a family member who is at risk for complications of Covid-19. However, Tara believes that Kelcie has become more resilient than the adults in her life. It is very important for Kelcie to get outside and participate in as many activities as she can while remaining in a safe and cautious environment, Tara said. Tara and Kelcie have found fun activities to do together during quarantine, Tara stated, including gardening, baking and exploring the Chicagoland area.

“I don’t know if I would be as involved in finding fun ways to incorporate the curriculum [into our daily lives] if I didn’t have the knowledge of what she was working on with e-learning,” Tara said.

Tara and Emily both have been put into situations where their teaching life is molded directly into their daily life at home. However, they both have decided to remain optimistic during these e-learning conditions.

“It breaks my heart some days [when] he wants to spend time with me and I have to tell him that he can’t talk to me,” Emily said.

Kelcie also struggled with limited playtime with Tara during the school hours, Tara explained. She had to learn to give her mother space even when being in a home environment. However, that made the time they spent together away from the screens even more special, Tara said.

“It was hard for her to hear that although mommy was at home, she had to let me work,” Tara said. “Prior to the pandemic, I did a lot of my work at school after hours and then came home. She has had to adjust to seeing mommy do more work at home.”

Rather than having a negative outlook, Emily, Tara and their respective children have learned to make the best out of their situations. Emily and Tara said that their children both have great teachers and that makes all the difference when they are doing their best to help their own students.

“His real teacher is doing an incredible job,” Emily said. “I get to see their morning meetings once in a while and I am always impressed with her ability to develop community over a screen. She’s amazing.”