The New Normal: Westminster Couple Adjusts to Teaching Online from Home

Associate Dean of Faculty Dr. Cinnamon Brown and Department of History Chair Dr. Mark Boulton are among many faculty adjusting to teaching online during the ongoing COVID-19 quarantine. Adding 4-year-old son Evan to the mix is resulting in a juggling act that leaves the couple simultaneously laughing and scratching their heads from their home in Columbia, MO.

How is the transition to online teaching going so far?

Boulton: It is a constant juggling act. We have to plan for who is working and who is watching our son. We have to constantly look at each other’s schedule to make sure we can do everything at work while still covering parental duties. But we are spending so much time together. We work so much usually that being at home has given us a lot of family time. It has been fun to integrate Evan into what we are doing. Plus, Cinnamon gets to cook more, which makes her happy.

What courses are you currently teaching?

Brown: I’m teaching an upper-level course on the Civil War and one independent study. I have two students doing internships. Mark is teaching the History Thesis course, an online survey class, Historiography (our capstone), an upper-level course in Museum Studies and three internships ― and this is actually a lighter semester for him. I’m also doing all of my administrative duties, which lately have been really focused on making sure faculty and students have everything they need for the online format.

What is your son doing during all of this activity at home?

Boulton: A lot of time, he is playing elsewhere with one of us or taking walks outside while the other parent works. We are lucky that we have a split-level house. So our main living area is upstairs, and downstairs is my man cave that has now been converted into an office.

Dr. Cinnamon Brown jokes that Dr. Mark Boulton “made a huge sacrifice” in transitioning the pool table in his basement man cave, above, to the couple’s workstation.

Brown: He has made a huge sacrifice by letting us use his pool table for our desks. When trying to keep Evan busy while the other parent works, we have built a lot of Lego stuff, made interesting things with Play-Doh, caught a lot of frogs and worms and played the Pete the Cat game 100 times in one week. I am hoping to integrate new activities for him each week. Coming up, he is going to build some model airplanes with Mark and continue to work on his writing and spelling.

Boulton, above, and Brown (not pictured) juggle 4-year-old Evan while continuing with their teaching and administrative responsibilities. Boulton says the above “big, giant robot elephant monster” Evan created out of Play-Doh and generic-brand Cheetos is an example of what is going on behind the scenes while their courses take place on Zoom instead of on campus.

Boulton: We are not always able to divide tasks. We’re actually on two committees together, so when we do video chats at the same time, Evan is there with us. He loves to see himself on camera, and he likes to talk to other people. So he has enjoyed the Zoom meetings he has been a part of.

Brown: I have also enjoyed Zooming with my colleagues and their kids. I got to have two meetings with Dr. Kali Wright-Smith’s daughter, Edie, last week.

How are your students handling the transition?

Boulton: They are so resilient. They are doing so great and trying hard. This is not an ideal situation for anyone, and they have really stepped up. We do miss them a lot. We have found that we love being able to see them on video chat, just to feel connected to them on some level. Cinnamon also loves video chatting with her colleagues in the Academic Dean’s suite. Again, it makes it feel less distant and more like are still together.

Brown: Ultimately, this has been a tough situation, but we feel grateful to work at a place where we can still continue to work despite our physical location closing. Moreover, we are healthy, stocked up on food and supplies and get a lot of unexpected quality time with our son. Evan will be starting school in the fall of 2021, and we might never get this kind of time with him again. That is our silver lining in what is a scary and stressful situation.

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.