When working and teaching collide

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, March 31st. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Governors in every state have shuttered schools, and sent students home. Remote learning is the new norm, for now. Teachers still distribute classwork but parents must now guide the instruction.

EICHER: Those parents who can work from home can now add “tutor” to their resumes. 

But striking that balance between paid work responsibilities and tending to their children’s education isn’t easy.

WORLD reporter Bonnie Pritchett recently spoke with a mom in southeast Texas about the lessons she’s having to learn.

HEATHER AND CARSON: [TYPING AND SNIFF] Mom? Hold on a second. Ok, what do you need?…

BONNIE PRITCHETT, REPORTER: March 26, 2020: Day 11 of the Kimbrough family’s “work and learn from home” balancing act.


Heather Kimbrough is working from home. Her husband, Chas, is required at the office. So, by default, Heather is now homeschooling the couple’s three school-age kids. Kyla and Sara are seventh and eighth graders. And 8-year-old Carson is in second grade.

KIMBROUGH: So, I’ve been preaching a lot about routine and not following it myself as much as I needed to (laugh) So, in the beginning….

Heather is up each morning before the kids. She works while the house is quiet. Conference calls. Skype meetings. Emails and more emails. Her inbox has exploded with over 100 messages a day.


By 7:30 a.m. the kids shuffle into her work space foraging for breakfast.

KIMBROUGH: So right about the time they’re trying to get breakfast, I’m trying to make everybody be quiet because I’m on a call…

It took more than a week for the family to find its groove.

KIMBROUGH: OK, guys. So, we need a plan for this morning [DOG BARKS]. Let him out please. So, we need to figure out what we’re going to do. I have a call at nine o-clock, but I don’t want you wasting time while I’m on the call…

The kids list their assignments for the day and are dispatched to complete them. Kimbrough is grateful for their cooperation and patience.

KIMBROUGH: Yesterday was the first day I really had the opportunity to sit down with them and work with them the way that I need to. Up to that point I was very unavailable to them…

Kyla and Sara use school-issued laptops they’ve had all year. Carson uses the family computer. Students in this school district are well acquainted with various computer platforms and programs…but their parents aren’t.

KIMBROUGH: It’s not working is it. It acts like it should just open but it didn’t. Sara, have you ever used Tumblebooks or any of the online things? SARA: No maam…

Technical problems test the limits of the school district’s servers and Kimbrough’s patience. 

KIMBROUGH: It’s wonderful that we have these options but it’s a learning curve for each individual program. And so, if one teacher’s lesson plan includes two different kinds of platforms like Flipgrid and Kahoot then the next class has two different ones.

This isn’t the first time the family has homeschooled. So, this should be easy, right?

KIMBROUGH: Their first reaction when they heard that we were transitioning to online learning they were like, ‘Oh, yeh. This will be like homeschooling again.’ Then they realized very quickly that when we were homeschooling, they were my only four students. And now they’re sharing mom with 125 other kids…

Kimbrough is a high school English teacher. Communicating with her students and their harried—but mostly agreeable—parents, coordinating with her colleagues, and helping her own children is stretching her too thin.

KIMBROUGH: We as teachers totally understand what our students’ parents are going through. And the same situation where they, you know, have to be on Skype calls for hours at a time. And not only do the kids have to work by themselves but they’re supposed to be quiet in the meantime (laughs)…

Like her students’ parents, Kimbrough vacillates between roles as mom and employee

Teacher Kimbrough receives emails—some typed in all caps—from flummoxed parents and students. Then, mom watches her son grow frustrated when he can’t type fast enough to participate in a class video chat. Teacher is worried about some of her students she hasn’t heard from since spring break. And mom puzzles at her daughter’s desperate pleas for her “Wabbit Emu.”

KIMBROUGH: And I’m like ‘What is a Wabbit Emu?’ Have we really just gone off the tracks here? We figured out it’s a TI 84 calculator. I’ve got a TI 84 calculator, here’s this and suddenly she’s really relieved because it’s what’s familiar and it’s what she knows how to use.

There’s security in normalcy, she says. The new educational normal is anything but. 

Some teachers across the country face additional challenges like trying to help students without reliable WI-FI, having to deliver and then pickup handouts and assignments. 

Southeast Texas schools may open by April 13th. But that date is tentative.


Kimbrough said parents and teachers have been walking in each others’ shoes in this new education normal.

So, when schools do open she hopes teachers and parents have more empathy for the roles each plays in the students’ lives.

She expects that she and her colleagues will better understand the technological tools at their disposal for more effective use in the classroom.

And she believes her students will be so thrilled to see each other again that, at least for a while, they will set aside their devices for real facetime.

Until then, the new normal has taught the Kimbrough family lessons from a timeless curriculum. Gentleness. Kindness. Patience. And teamwork.

What has the teacher learned?

KIMBROUGH: When I first started this, I really was trying to do too much on my own and of my own strength. And kind of hit my face on the concrete a little bit. And realized that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing and I’m going about this the wrong way. And I needed to readjust my attitude and put my faith where it really belongs.

For WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett reporting, remotely, from League City, Texas.

(Photo/Creative Commons, Flickr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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