You get up earlier than you did when you could leave the house to be on campus because you need to make your daily well–check rounds.
First, you text your coworkers and local friends. It’s important to recreate the interactions we used to have every morning. No one wants to forget what we had before or feel forgotten.
Then, you start the rounds of phone calls to your loved ones, some living far away. As time goes, you dread those phone calls. You must remain the strong one, reassuring your mother that,"The borders will reopen soon," and, "Yes, we’ll see each other again." She mentions the ice rink turned into a morgue, the neighbor who died of the coronavirus, your sister who works at a hospital in the capital, the form she had to sign when your grandmother underwent surgery saying that the hospital would not try to resuscitate her if needed. You interrupt her: you can’t talk too long. You still need to call other relatives—who count on your daily pep talk—and your attendees are waiting for you on Zoom. She doesn’t understand you are still working.
You agree this whole Zoom thing is not that bad, but you are convinced that nothing replaces an actual face–to–face class. You miss smelling K.’s perfume in the hallway indicating that, as every morning, she is the first to arrive. You miss N.'s infuriating daily lateness with her big sorry smile, J.’s crazy bed hair the whole class loves to tease him about, the stories they would informally exchange as a whole.
Your remote office hours turn into therapy sessions where you cheer up students that you realize are just kids—some living on their own after their native countries closed their borders.
Online teaching seems to entail more grading. Your work ethic makes you feel the need to compensate: you feel guilty for not being in the classroom and for receiving a paycheck when so many don’t anymore or are dangerously exposed to potential contamination. You must show, at least to yourself, that you deserve this.
Break: it is now time to homeschool your own children. In the course of two hours, you will have taught second–grade reading, writing and maths, fourth–grade fractions and decimals, and reading practice for the standardized test that will probably occur this year. At least these activities remind you how much you love your own job.
Your mother tells Airbnb to list the small studio next door to her house for free for any medical staff who needs it. The retiree who struggles to make ends meet reminds you, "I’m happy to help! You are so proud of her."
Some friends who don’t seem to work from home the same way you do keep sending you all well–intended links that make you feel like a total failure: "I decluttered my house and feel so good about it," etc. You look around and see the overflowing dishwasher and heaping laundry pile. Before you declutter your house, you need to grade those thirty assignments.
A student sends you a message on WhatsApp. You’ve been keeping in touch with them as their family lives abroad in a country ravaged by the virus. You’ll write to them tomorrow to make sure they get up early and attend their online classes.
A colleague does not know how to use a function on Canvas. It takes you twenty minutes to write a pretty detailed guideline. There must be tutorials on the list put together by your institution's learning support center. But, once again, you’d do anything to help. It is a time when we need to support each other.
Your significant other tells you they were laid off. You can already hear what your mother’s reaction is going to be. "Everything will be okay! Don’t worry about us!"
Dinner around the table: the whole family tells stories, cracks jokes, and sings songs. Later, you play a board game. There is no way you won’t make sure to create great memories for your kids.
Your kids take a shower, brush their teeth, and get ready to go to bed. Your eight–year–old comes running, crying hysterically. He is convinced he is going to die from the virus. You reassure him everything will be okay.
You set your many alarms: wake up alarm, alarm to WhatsApp your student to make sure they’re awake, alarm 15 minutes before the beginning of class.
You are finishing this list when your mother calls you. It is midnight where she lives. "You’re careful I hope? It is catastrophic in the US we hear! What is your President doing? He wants to put an end to the lockdown? And you’re going to let him do that?"
"Everything will be fine, Mom! Don’t worry about us!"
It’s 3 a.m. and you are turning in bed. You’re exhausted but sleepless. One more contradiction to add to your new nonsensical identity: working stay–at–home parent with public–schooled/homeschooled children, unfair turned–parent–to–your–own–parent/child, legal alien forbidden to go visit their family back home. But: Everything will be fine! Don’t worry about us!
This imaginary yet truthful schedule was inspired by the lives of many colleagues around me. It reflects the new reality for many of us. It is surely not comparable to the reality of the delivery people we don’t think of when we finalize our online grocery order, the families without computers whose kids are supposed to attend classes online, the households without a paycheck, and obviously of the medical staff who are in the front line to protect us.
While our institutions effusively thank us for supporting our students in these dramatic times, few acknowledge how our own personal lives are impacted. We, as mere individuals who are simply improvising as anyone else, have no clue how to ride the storm. As much as I am a fervent supporter of mutual aid and collective support, we need to remind each other to take care of ourselves. Taking care of ourselves means accepting that sometimes we are not able to cheer up someone, that we are not superhumans, and that we don’t have most answers. Taking care of each other means making sure we do not expect more from others than is reasonable. As much as we are empathetic, understanding, and flexible with our students, we must remember to be so with ourselves and each other. And, yes, I do believe that everything will be fine after all.
Mélanie Péron is a Senior Lecturer in French and the Penn–in–Tours Associate Director.