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From middle school teacher to stay-at-home dad: Why one father left his job
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For many parents during the pandemic, balancing work along with supervising children’s distance learning became untenable — leading to a workforce exodus.
That was the case for Michael Cochran, a father of four young kids in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When the pandemic hit, Cochran and his wife were both working full-time in education — him as a middle school teacher; her as a college professor. After months of juggling supervising their children’s remote school alongside their own work schedules, they decided Michael would leave his job in the summer of 2020 so he could help manage it all.
“We had a nine, seven, five and three year old — so it was not really possible for us not to have a parent at home,” Cochran said in an interview with Marketplace’s David Brancaccio.
Cochran talked to Brancaccio about how his family made it work financially, and whether he’s planning to return to classroom teaching. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
David Brancaccio: What’s the math of a decision like that, how could you pull it off? I mean, are you a trust fund baby or something and had two and a half million dollars in the bank?
Michael Cochran: No. We do have some savings. We are not trust fund babies at all, though. But we had a nine, seven, five and three year old — so it was not really possible for us not to have a parent at home. It just didn’t seem like it was going to be possible. My wife was set for a sabbatical at the same time; she only took half a sabbatical and she went back to work early, as a way to kind of help us out.
Brancaccio: I see. But, you know, you still have to feed these mouths, and there other bills to pay. The savings — they probably won’t last forever.
Cochran: Well, right before the pandemic started, we had had a house in Washington state that we had kept for a while because we couldn’t sell it when we moved to Pittsburgh. And we were able to sell that like a week before the shutdown, so we had some savings there. We ended up buying, which isn’t what you would expect, but we ended up buying a house in August of 2020 — and that actually cut our housing costs significantly.
Brancaccio: Did you ever do the math on maybe hiring someone in so that you could keep working?
Cochran: We looked at it a little bit — like what would it take — and pretty quickly, the idea of that was just impossible. As a school teacher, I’m not making that much money that would be able to really pay for someone to be here full time, or even a large part time.
Brancaccio: How’s it feel to you to do it this way? I mean, look, I love my kids; I’m sure you love your kids — it’s a lot of kid time.
Cochran: It is a lot of kid time. It’s not the best fit for me — my wife could probably do a better job of it — but she has much more earning potential than I do. She has a PhD, she’s a college professor, she has a lot more experience in her field. And so we’ve just had to make it work. It’s a lot of kid time. But overall, with the benefits of being able to have more family time, it’s much more possible than I probably would have thought it would have been two years ago.
Brancaccio: Here’s a question for you: I’ve got a bunch of stay at home dad pals, and they’re very comfortable with it, but sometimes they do feel judged by society around them. Do you think, in a sense, the pandemic has offered cover for you, a little bit? That maybe there’s a little less of people ready to judge if you, the guy, are not out in the workforce?
Cochran: It has. And it’s also, I think, affected my impression of what the judging is because, with the pandemic, there’s not these other community programs that I would go to where I’d show up and I’d be the only male. And so it’s less on my mind in a lot of ways. But there is a pressure for that, and the pandemic has helped with that, for sure.
Brancaccio: So the children now — are they still remote or are they back in school?
Cochran: They are back in school. Even last year, they were back in school a lot, but it was a question a lot about when we would know [when their school went remote]. And that’s been true this year, too. In September, my younger son — he’s in first grade — and his class had a COVID exposure in the class, and they had to go to distance learning. And we were given three days notice. So we just don’t have that certainty of being able to plan for when it’s going to be or when it’s not going to be.
Brancaccio: If that comes down, in the sense of it becomes a much more reliable idea that your kids would be in school — they’re dying for workers out there in the economy right now. Are you thinking of going back out into the workforce?
Cochran: We are considering it. My guess is, if I go back, I might be looking at a different field. I might not go back to teaching, not sure. I’m going to be looking at part-time rather than full-time; something I can do during that block of time when the kids would be at school. And we have a little bit more flexibility there.
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