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Kids in the Classroom

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By Stacy Palen

I teach at an open-enrollment university with a very large number of non-traditional students: nearly all of my students have jobs with large time commitments. Many of them are parents of young children. More than half of them are married.

This semester, something interesting has been happening that has not happened before and it started with just one student. I suspect that the time of the class has something to do with this as it’s at 2:30 in the afternoon, rather than in the morning or evening when I typically teach.

A young mother, in the first week of class, emailed me to let me know that she was having trouble with her child-care arrangements for her 9-year-old daughter, and she wouldn’t make it to class. And also to ask if we were we doing anything “important” that she would miss. LOL. Fortunately, I received this email in advance, and was able to suggest that she just bring her daughter with her. So she did. And her daughter was quiet, but attentive, and even “took notes” on a sheet of paper. She even asked a good question!

So then another young mother, in week four, asked if she could bring her daughters to class, for a similar reason. These two are 8 and 6. Both sat and listened quietly. The 8-year-old raised her hand to contribute to the conversation. Her comment was not entirely on point, but she was brave to do it, and I didn’t mind.

This past week, in week five, I’ve had another bring her daughter to class. I don’t know her age, but she looks to be about 12. This young girl also sat quietly, was not disruptive, and then came to ask me a few questions after class.

This week, the first mother came to see me, and now the 9-year-old who started it all, will be coming to class every other week on Wednesday, which solves a complicated co-parenting problem for her mother, and enables the mother to come to class on those days.

Other students in the class have reacted really well to this, and I think it puts them on their best behavior a little bit, when the little kids pay attention, focus and ask questions. I suppose it’s possible that I may wind up with a class half full of little kids, but actually think that’s unlikely. The mothers have always asked permission, and are very much aware that their kids could be disruptive. It’s probably a little distracting for them, but better than not being in class at all.

This week in Physics Seminar, we had a psychologist talk to us about ways to make STEM fields less intimidating for women. I suspect this is one of them; being a little bit flexible about accommodating the complicated lives of students with multiple obligations.

I’m interested to see how this develops as the semester continues…

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