When the new school year begins Tuesday in the Santa Clarita Valley, classes will be taught online, but Brady and Jennifer Burrill will not be working from home.
Burrill, who serves as an assistant baseball coach at Valencia West Ranch High, plans to teach Advanced Placement calculus from his classroom. His wife will teach Advanced Placement statistics from her classroom at Valencia High. Both said staying home is not an option with children ages 5 and 9.
“Functionally for us, there’s no way,” Brady said. “Our 5-year-old is starting kindergarten. She will want her mom and dad to help with everything all the time. My wife and I are passionate about teaching and pretty loud when we talk. All the distractions, it would be an absolute circus.”
Under a mandate from Gov. Gavin Newsom, schools in California can’t welcome students to campuses until their county sees at least 14 consecutive days of declining coronavirus cases and are removed from the state’s watch list. That means most schools will start with distance learning.
This week, Brady returned to his classroom at West Ranch for the first time since March 19. After turning the key to Room 506 and walking inside, “It brought tears to my eyes,” he said. “I miss it so much.”
The room smelled of cleaning solution. Everything looked the same from the day he left. “It was a classroom stuck in time,” he said.
There are six Burrill family members teaching in the William S. Hart Union High School District. Casey is the baseball coach at West Ranch and teaches Advanced Placement computer science and web design. Casey’s and Brady’s sister, Mitzi Mandel, is a math teacher at Rio Norte Junior High, and her husband Rob, is a history teacher at Valencia. Casey’s wife, Kristin, is a seventh-grade physical education teacher at Placerita Junior High.
Kristin said being a teacher is “a requirement to marry into the Burrill family.”
She isn’t kidding.
“When we get together, we say it’s a faculty meeting,” Casey said.
Casey is feeling sympathy for his wife, since she must figure out how to control more than 50 11- and 12-year-olds peering into a computer screen during a 75-minute P.E. class.
“There’s no eating donuts,” Kristin said. “No soda, no coffee. You might want to check with me in a couple of weeks to see how it’s going. It’s going to be a lot of trial and error.”
Said Casey: “Me being online is a piece of cake. I was made to be online with computer science. She’s into a nightmare.”
Brady said Jennifer, a former college gymnast at Michigan State, has been preparing for online teaching for weeks.
“She’s got her Google classroom. She has a laptop and iPad. She’s very creative. She’s now a TikTok person when it comes to teachers,” he said.
He is feeling a little nervous. When he first went online in March to teach calculus, he had been teaching that class for several months. He knew the students and they were familiar with him.
“This is going to be harder because we don’t know the kids this time around,” he said. “I’m ready to do this and I know it’s not going to go well the first few days or first few weeks. I understand. I look at it like my first year of teaching. You prepare for the unknown. We’re going to be better teachers when it’s all said and done.”
The Burrill children got the teaching bug from mom and dad. Maureen and Jerry Burrill were teachers for 38 years. Casey, 49, and Brady, 40, are both former teachers of the year at Saugus and West Ranch, respectively, and were standout baseball players at Hart and Valencia then USC and Michigan State.
Kristin will be taking over the family living room starting Tuesday and working from her computer. Casey will take over the kitchen with his own computer (“I’m closest to the refrigerator.”) They moved in May to the Tejon Pass mountain community of Pine Mountain Club, elevation 6,300 feet. It’s a one-hour commute from work up Interstate 5. They exit at Frazier Park and take a winding road to their home that features appearances by deer, coyotes and bears.
“We’ve counted 17 bears,” Casey said. “The only thing we were nervous about was the commute thinking it would be difficult. We moved up during the pandemic, went online and are still not making the commute.”
They have satellite Internet, so teaching from home via video shouldn’t be an issue, and their backup is tethering to their cellphones. They have strong cellphone reception because a tower is near their home. The biggest family issue could be lunch breaks, since the nearest restaurant is 40 minutes away. Since their son and daughter are recent college graduates and have returned home, they’re about to be put to work.
“I think they need to step up and make us lunch,” Kristin said. “They’re going to be the new chefs.”
Kristin calls herself “the black sheep in the family” since she’s the only P.E. teacher.
“The joke going around is P.E. teachers have it easy but they certainly don’t,” Brady said.
Last spring, Kristin’s online teaching consisted of recommending exercise videos to her students, communicating via email and trusting her students to spend 30 minutes working out. This time, she’ll be seeing her students live on video.
“I love seventh-graders,” she said. “They’re so sweet and adorable. I tell them not to bring out the mean Mrs. Burrill.”
Teachers throughout California will be experimenting to see what works best with online teaching. The Burrills are ready for the challenges ahead.
“Our family is just trying to do the best we can and be great educators in the classroom,” Brady said.
Brady said he used to hate it when a student would ask the question all teachers fear in the middle of a classroom lecture, “Can I go to the bathroom?”
“I’ve never wanted to have those questions asked more in my life,” he said, dreaming of a future without COVID-19 and a return to interacting with students in the classroom.