There is almost nothing that’s easier with kids around, but that doesn’t stop hard-working parents. A professor dad found himself in his “most stressful and surreal teaching experience” in none other than a New York City apartment elevator.
Jay Van Bavel, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, and dad to an 8-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy. On September 23, when Jay was set to teach an intro psychology course to 360 students, he got stuck in his apartment elevator with his two kids. Of course.
“The first problem is that the local schools are closed, and I have limited child care,” Jay wrote on Twitter. He had to race to pick up his kids from daycare at 3 p.m. and get back to his apartment in time to teach his 3:30 p.m. class. “My son crashes my course and likes to share his thoughts, but the students find it funny so I don’t mind.”
As they got into the elevator at 3:20 p.m., right on time, it halted and then started dropping, before stopping completely. “I got that feeling in my stomach that happens when you are in a roller coaster and it starts falling,” he wrote.
The dad pushed the call button on the elevator and the staff let him know a repair man was on the way. As he pondered what to do, the kids started to melt down. After dealing with weak WiFi, he was able to login to his NYU portal and let his class know at 3:28 p.m. that he was stuck in an elevator. Getting antsy in the limited confines and worried about his students’ midterm the following week, 30 minutes later, Jay decided to start his lecture via phone from the elevator after troubleshooting Zoom didn’t work.
There were over 200 students already in the room chatting, “speculating about my new life in the elevator,” he wrote on Twitter. “Apparently they’d never been taught from a professor stuck in an elevator before.”
Without his prepared lecture slides, Jay taught the class on consciousness from memory (unironically) to the best of his ability. “It went surprisingly well for [a] stressed-out guy giving a lecture over his phone with no notes while trapped in an elevator with his kids,” he wrote. “Sure, I lowered my standards. But I felt it was only fair under the circumstances.”
Isn’t that how this entire crisis should be treated by employers? After 50 “excruciatingly-long minutes” in the elevator, they were up and running again and Jay was able to finish the lecture from his kitchen table. Reflecting on his decisions, he said he hadn’t even considered canceling his class—but would never teach from an elevator again. His kids were fine and got to see their dad at work, even under unique circumstances. Talk about problem-solving!
The predicament and the professor’s Twitter thread encapsulated what the coronavirus pandemic has brought upon working parents. We’ve all been metaphorically trapped in an elevator with spouses and kids while working full-time for the last six months, yet we’re expected to deliver the same as we would’ve pre-pandemic.
It’s up to employers to show flexibility and compassion during these unprecedented times. Especially as parents adjust to back-to-school, whether virtual or in-person, there’s no way we’re able to give 100 percent of ourselves to both our job and our children without childcare. If Jay’s ridiculous story and this pandemic have taught us anything, it’s this: For better or worse, working parents roll with the punches. Let’s hope this dad’s teaching evaluations reflect his grit and perseverance.