KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
May 10, 2020
By Natalie Cook Clark
Our world looks different this Mother’s Day as the nation continues to grapple with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. One of the biggest changes our community has faced has been adjusting to a new form of education that has forced Katy teachers to get creative while virtually teaching from their home. Many teachers have found themselves working while parenting and teaching their own children.
Heather Villano juggles teaching and parenting from her new at-home-office.
Katy ISD teachers entered new territory after spring break as concerns over the continued spread of the coronavirus canceled in-person lessons and the district was forced to roll out virtual school. Adjusting to new a new kind of learning during a pandemic has challenged teachers and students alike. Katy ISD teachers continue to show creativity and strength as they end the school year while managing teaching and parenting from their homes.
Creating a Workspace at Home
The pandemic has kept entire families at home and learning to meet everyone’s working and education needs. Many Katy teachers quickly had to set up at-home offices in order to best teach their students while still parenting their own.
For Heather Villano, the Assistant Theater Director at Tays Junior High, working from home wasn’t a foreign concept as her husband worked from home about 40% of the time prior to the pandemic.
“We ended up taking my desk and setting up what I needed in a corner of our dining room,” says Villano. “There's plenty of space and good light and works well for my Zoom meetings.”
Villano is mom to Greydan 13, Harrison 11, and Natalee 8 and has been helping them with their virtual school in addition to working with her own students.
For Pattison Elementary third grade English and social studies teacher Ashley Rice, this year has brought a lot of changes to life other than the pandemic. Ashley and her husband welcomed their first child, daughter Charley this year. Now the 6-month-old is known to make guest appearances in Zoom classes.
“My husband and I are both working from home,” says Rice. “We have a home office that he is working from, and I have my card table upstairs.”
Ashley, like many teachers was able to get items from her classroom to help set up her new home workspace.
“I don’t need much,” says Ashley. “I have my laptop, Lucy Calkins books, and sticky notes. I also spruced it up with fresh flowers and a candle!”
Some teaching moms prefer to move around.
“I mostly move from the kitchen island, to the couch, to the bedroom, to our back porch, and sometimes even poolside via my laptop,” says Rachel Reid, an English and Journalism teacher at Seven Lakes High School.
Reid has also been working virtually with students to provide the Seven Lakes newspaper and finish the yearbook.
“There have been a few times that the yearbook or newspaper has taken over more space in our house,” explains Reid. “For instance, a few weeks ago when we were trying to finish the yearbook, I had to spread our yearbook proofs all over the living room floor.”
“For the newspaper, we had this idea to make the front cover using giant 2020 balloons, so for a while those were blown up in my house and I was trying to take different pictures of them to see what might work,” says Reid. “Thankfully my Zoom calls with my students can be done from almost anywhere, so I have gotten used to my traveling and highly adaptable home office space.”
Finding Time for it All
Working from home comes with distractions anytime, but now our new world is forcing everyone to get creative with work, parenting, and when we have the time - housework. Many Katy teachers are parenting and teaching their own children while seeing their students through this new kind of educating. But finding that balance comes with many welcomed family moments.
“Each morning, my husband, Nick, and I do a run-through of our schedules,” says Ashley. “We discuss meetings and deadlines we might have. Then, we take turns with our precious six-month-old daughter, Charley.”
“With both my husband Greg and I working from home, and our three kids working on their assignments, things can get tricky around here,” says Heather. “One interesting thing about teaching remotely is that every day is a little bit different. Greg and I will take turns working with the kids and getting everything done. It is a juggling act for sure.”
“Although this is my 17th year teaching, it is my first year doing this job,” says Rachel. “I already had a huge learning curve to deal with this year, and I never anticipated our staff would have to finish the yearbook or our last edition of our newspaper from home.”
Being over the Seven Lakes High School newspaper and yearbook brought Rachel much more work to her work-from-home life.
“There were many, many days I worked well beyond my school-day hours,” says Rachel. “There was just so much to do on top of lesson plans and grading for the other classes I teach (Photojournalism and Journalism I). My students were having to budget their time, too. So many of them were working to finish spreads, trying to identify students, trying to get interviews, tracking down coaches, all while keeping up with their schoolwork for their other classes.
Leading Students Through Uncertain Times
“We want to make sure that our kids are healthy and feel seen by us and know that we are still here for them,” says Heather. “While we do have expectations because school is not 'closed,' our priority is that they are ok, and that they know we care about them as individuals.”
“I am trying to motivate them them,” says Rachel. “After clearing a really big deadline, I dropped off some crumble cookies to my co-editors in chief of the yearbook. I was so proud of how hard they were working, and wanted them to know we were almost done!”
“Once a week, we Zoom with our entire class for Community Circle,” says Ashley. "I usually try to do something fun like a scavenger hunt or a themed day.”
“In addition, my team and I plan each week,” says Ashley. “We record lessons for the students. We all miss teaching and being with our students, and this is one way that we get to continue doing what we love!”
“For many students, electives are their 'happy place' in Theatre we really are a family,” says Heather. “I call them my 'Theatre babies' and relationships are number one in our company-so keeping that bond is challenging without the face-to-face. We have tried to create assignments that foster creativity and fun-they are working on newscasts right now.”
Biggest Hurdles with Teaching, Parenting from Home
“Although finishing everything at home was hard, as a teacher, my biggest hurdle has been trying to make the end of the year special for my press staff,” says Rachel.
She has organized virtual banquets and a car parade to welcome the new yearbook staff.
“There are times in the day where I have to be on the computer - for a staff meeting or class meeting on Zoom,” says Heather. “Sometimes I have a professional development class I am finishing or a deadline to meet. Sometimes there is an urgent parent or administrator email or call that I cannot push back.” “It’s stressful as a teacher if my children are needing something at the same exact time that my principal needs me, or if I'm in a Zoom and the sibling rivalry kicks in,” says Heather. “I feel terrible telling them they have to wait or to shush.”
“During a time where everything is so uncertain, I want to be the best teacher I can for my sweet kids,” says Ashley. “It is important to me that they feel loved, safe, and still a part of our classroom family.”
“I also want to be the best mom and wife,” adds Ashley. “So, I try to make sure that I get as much as I can done during the workday, so I can be with my family during the evenings.”
Ashley is also the Team Leader for the third grade team at Pattison.
“Just as I want my kids to feel loved and supported during this time of uncertainty, I want my team members to feel the same way,” explains Ashley. “Teaching is not a one-person job, it takes a team of teachers working together, building each other up, and supporting each other both inside and outside of the classroom.”
Managing Stress in a New Normal
For most people, a key to managing work stress is to not bring work home. Well, that concept has gone out the window this year. However, this new normal has brought with it a break from the end-of-year rush.
Normally, this time of year is packed with banquets, parties, meeting, etc. As teachers work from home, end-of-year events have been canceled or reworked into virtual formats or car parades.
“I am trying to really make the most of this time when we are just at home, and I don’t have a million places to be,” explains Rachel. “I try to get up each day and make a list of what I need to accomplish for the day, and I just try to stick with it.”
“I try to take breaks as much as possible and enjoy the outdoors,” says Rachel. “My husband and kids have both been a huge help to me and give me lots of love and encouragement.”
“Now let’s be real-there is no going to get the nails done, or a massage but just walking away for 30 minutes can make a world of difference,” says Heather.
“Just know that you are enough,” says Heather. “Whether you are a teacher, parent, or both - everything you are doing is probably right - and all of those things you are not getting done, probably also right too because you know your kids best.”
“My advice is to find something that makes your heart happy. For me - it’s been family, friends, ice cream, and fresh air,” explains Ashley. “I’ve eaten a lot of ice cream and taken my fair share of walks. Charley loves to be outside and laughs when the wind blows the leaves in the trees.”
Like many Katy families, these teachers are finding time to laugh and have fun during this crazy time.
“I try to find something to laugh about every day in this crazy situation,” says Ashley.
“One night we had a "theme" night and we all dressed up as a different family member for dinner,” says Rachel. “My daughter was me, I was my son, my husband was my daughter, and my son was his stepdad! It was pretty funny!”
“My husband and kids have become mildly obsessed with purple martins - a type of bird,” says Heather. “They have the houses and the cameras and they feed them and it’s been a whole wild kingdom thing over here. Our house is always crazy with three kids, two Great Danes, a Sheltie, a bird and a cat - we are always entertained.”
Even with plenty of laughter, the school year is quickly coming to a close during a most disruptive and strange academic year.
“I just hate how the school year is ending, and I want to make it as memorable for them as possible,” says Rachel. They have so much to celebrate and be proud of, and I wish we could all celebrate in person.”
Full of Understanding and Compassion
While in-person celebrations are off, Katy teachers have and continue to lead our students through this time. From assisting on lessons and providing a sense of familiarity by seeing their classes, Katy’s teachers are bringing smiles and a sense of normalcy to students.
“We are trying to have grace and be understanding that many families are having a hard time right now. Many students are struggling with unknowns, and school may not be the priority for all families at the moment,” says Heather. “We get that. And as a mom I get that my child cannot complete all of the work assigned every day. Some days that is just not going to happen. And that is totally OK.”
To all the Katy moms teaching, parenting, and enduring life during this time of many unknowns and adaptability - Happy Mother’s Day.