What Really Happens Behind the Camera: Faculty Edition

As Chair of the Mathematics Department Melissa Clore H’02 teaches her classes, her daughter Evelyn—just about two years old—suddenly pops up in the Zoom frame.

As Chair of the Mathematics Department Melissa Clore H’02 teaches her classes, her daughter Evelyn—just about two years old—suddenly pops up in the Zoom frame. She grins and excitedly repeats “Hi!” patiently waiting for the class to greet her in return. While Evelyn’s surprise appearances never fail to entertain students, Melissa Clore and Head of Upper House John Clore H’02 certainly have their hands full behind-the-scenes as they juggle their teaching responsibilities along with taking care of Evelyn and her four-year-old brother Tommy.

From remote to hybrid learning, many teachers found themselves in a similar position this past year, adjusting to the changes brought about by Covid-19. One of the biggest changes that faculty members, specifically Heads and Assistant Heads of Houses, faced was the lack of interpersonal connection with the students in their Houses. Despite the challenges that come with fulfilling various responsibilities from House to home, Head of McPherson House Brian Jacobs, Ph.D. appreciates that his “children have such great role models and people to look up to.” Jacobs misses seeing his nine-year-old twins Emma and Noah bond with the girls in McPherson, who would often entertain the kids with soccer games in the hallway.

Assistant Head of Dawes Jessica Pine echoed Jacobs’ sentiments, noting that her four-year-old Tobias, seven-year-old Avery, and nine-year-old Maeve eagerly looked forward to playing with the II Formers in The Bowl this past fall. “They get really excited when they feel included in the larger community and can participate in something I’m involved in outside the classroom, especially when it comes to spending time with members of the House,” Pine said.

Raising a family in the House also has its perks. On duty nights, Jacobs always makes it a point to “run home and give his twins a kiss good night,” something which he could not do previously as a Duty Affiliate in Boys Lower. Similarly, for Pine, “The physical proximity [between her home and the House] allows her to move back-and-forth freely,” making it easier for her to check on her children.

As Heads or Assistant Heads of House, faculty members must tend to students’ needs even when spending time with family. “I think the responsibility of ensuring students’ well-being is the greatest challenge of being at a boarding school,” Pine said. “You always ask, am I giving my own kids enough attention?” Still, John Clore noted, “The needs of a four-year-old and a two-year-old are going to be different from the needs of an 18-year-old,” adding that the “back and forth [between interacting with their kids and the students] can be refreshing too.”

On finding the right mix of “family time and faculty time,” Jacobs said, “I’m hanging out with the girls in McPherson [at Irwin], but my family’s there as well, so my family has a presence in my work life as well.” Jacobs usually finishes his Head of House duties during the day, so in the afternoon, he can spend time with his children. Oftentimes, the Clores merge their childcare and coaching responsibilities by taking their kids along with them to sporting events and practices, allowing them to “see other parts of school life.”

Unfortunately, the arrival of Covid-19 last March abruptly cut off the close dynamic between the families and students living in Houses. Co-Chair of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program Erik Chaput Ph.D H’02 and English Teacher Katie Chaput recalled that, last spring, their own children–Gavin, one; Liam, three; and Caleb, five– “missed [going into the Griswold House] terribly,” and even now, “they constantly ask to see the boys in the House” like Ben Gubbay ’22 and Connor Kilgallon ’22, as well as last year’s Griswold Prefects Charlie Uffelman ’20 and Theo Bammi ’20,” who they “still think live on campus.”

While the pandemic has been disruptive in many ways, especially when considering the widespread shutdown of schools and daycare centers, teachers are appreciative of the time they are spending at home with their children. “It’s great living on such a beautiful campus because we got out for bike rides everyday,” Jacobs said. The Chaputs noted, “The boys got to really watch the seasons change because we spent so much time outside.” The Clores also excitedly recalled that they were able to witness their daughter take her first steps at home instead of at daycare.

Although family time was a benefit for teachers, it was also the biggest challenge, especially with the arrival of virtual Spring Term classes. For the Clores, this meant doing work late at night, taking turns feeding the kids, and “conveniently timing [Evelyn’s] nap for when [their classes] overlapped.” Jacobs and his husband set up a classroom in the TV room of McPherson, where his children would have classes with him: “We were trying to make things as normal as we could in a world that was anything but normal.”

In the Fall Term, when Melissa Clore coached the Girls Cross Country team, John Clore took leave from his assistant coaching position on Boys Varsity Football to take care of their children whose daycare closed in the afternoon. Pine experienced similar struggles, as she and her husband, who is a teacher outside of Lawrenceville, weren’t able to take care of their children while teaching class. Pine recalled sitting at her table, teaching a class, only to look outside the window to see that her children were spraying each other down with a hose. Stuck at her seat, she had no other choice but to let her children get absolutely soaked.

Katie Chaput also recalled the challenges of being a parent and teacher during virtual learning. She found herself teaching while listening to Caleb’s class in case his teacher called on him, and amidst multitasking, she found Gavin crawling on the porch in the rain, while Liam “dive bombed in the hallway and knocked his front teeth halfway out.” After this series of events, she “sat on the couch and cried for two minutes and then got right back to work.”

During a walk with an advisee in early fall, when students were not permitted to walk around campus alone, Katie Chaput noticed Liam suddenly take off on his bike. Torn between staying with her advisee and chasing Liam down, she ultimately stayed with the student, after seeing another parent stop Liam. On a more lighthearted note, the Chaputs noted that “Liam got [his first] speeding ticket from a Dean at age three,” but in classic three-year old fashion, he ultimately ripped it up. Reflecting on these chaotic experiences, the Chaputs remarked, “Sometimes you literally cannot do everything” and that it’s better to bite off as much as you can chew, otherwise someone will get hurt. Similarly, Pine, acknowledging how challenging the past year has been, said, “We all just need to be more forgiving of ourselves.”

Reflecting on her experiences as a parent and teacher during the pandemic, Melissa Clore said, “The last year has taught me that I have to do the best that I can with what I have to give and that what I have to give is sometimes restricted by some part of my job or by the fact that the daycare center is closed because of the snowstorm,” advising others to “learn what you should and shouldn’t.” Jacobs offered one final—and very important—word of advice: “Stock up on Clorox wipes.”

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