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The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

‘Is this benefitting my family?’

How biology teacher Mariah Vu balances her demanding work and home life
Keith Luo
Mariah Vu smiles during seventh period while assisting a student during a test. She saves time by multitasking, carrying around a clipboard, grading papers and proctoring the test.

She sits among piles upon piles and stacks on stacks of her students’ assignments.

HADV and IB Biology teacher Mariah Vu grades on average 130 papers a day, along with lengthy lab reports from her IB students.

But Mariah Vu ventured into her seventh year teaching at Bellaire with a new addition to her family: her daughter Ellie. She realized that with two young children, this year would be a different experience for her.

“It has definitely been an adjustment juggling two kids instead of just one while working full-time,” Mariah Vu said. “I had to accept that whatever work I was taking home would only be completed after both kids went to sleep.”

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Throughout her career, Mariah Vu has strived to keep her work and home life separate. However, with her kids demanding more of her attention now than before, she has more difficulty separating the two.

“I’ve always made it a point to not take work home even before I had kids unless it was unavoidable,” Mariah Vu said. “I usually only grade at school, but if I do have to grade at home, it is usually after I put Ellie to bed and finish any housework that needs to be done.”

However, this school year is drastically different. Mariah Vu juggles the demands of lab experiments, reports, tests and lessons while raising a family, both demanding her full attention and effort.

“This year especially, I think the mental struggles [of] the school year are starting to affect my home life,” she said. “I’ve always struggled with compartmentalizing my mental to-do lists or worries from the day [after] I get home, and it’s been worse this year for sure.”

The timeline shows Vu’s daily evening routine, from her arrival home to the time she begins grading papers she did not get done during school hours. Family time is crucial to Vu; she spends more than two hours eating and playing with her kids after work. (Made on Canva) (McKenzie Le)

Despite these hardships, Mariah Vu has developed pastimes to cope with her intense workload. These strategies have evolved, adjusting to her students’ and kids’ needs.

“It’s been hard to find de-stressing activities now that there are two kids,” Mariah Vu said. “I often volunteer to do the boba tea or Target runs so I can get out of the house.”

With double the work and half the time, Mariah Vu has discovered a plan that enables her to manage her workload most effectively, maximizing her productivity during the school day and minimizing the work that carries into her home life.

“I think I learned to pick and choose my battles now that I have two children,” she said. “Things that need a lot of attention, I’ll devote the necessary energy toward [them], but if something can be done quickly, I won’t put as much detail into [it].”

Ever since she had her firstborn, Mariah Vu has changed her perspective on managing her work, becoming selective with her expectations and demands at work and home.

“I’m constantly asking myself, ‘Is this benefitting my family?'” Mariah Vu said. “When I didn’t have children and I would have to do work at home, I would tell myself, ‘It is what it is.’ However, now, if my working isn’t a benefit to my family—and it’s often not— then I’ll leave it for the next day during school hours.”

With Mariah Vu’s busy schedule, multitasking is her best friend. She makes sure to maximize her time completely, grading papers during Cardinal Hour or while monitoring students during exams.

“I am constantly on the move during my conference period, whether that’s running to the copier, grading [or] prepping items for future lessons,” Mariah Vu said. “For example, if my students are taking a unit exam, I’ll grade while I’m walking around so I can maximize my time.”

Mariah Vu works closely with Caroline Vu, the second HADV Biology teacher, in embracing the “work smarter, not harder” mantra to execute tasks and achieve the common goal: separate work and home lives.

Vu’s children, two-year-old Kai and six-month-old Ellie, sit in front of a Christmas tree. They are mad for plaid this holiday season! (Provided by Mariah Vu)

“Labs are prepped during my PLC [Professional Learning Community] time with C.Vu,” Mariah Vu said. “Any tasks regarding lesson plans or materials that are needed are divided between us and we split the work. We both value not letting work cut into our time with our kids, so it’s easy to be productive when you have a common goal.”

Caroline Vu has worked at Bellaire for 17 years and has also had a baby while working full-time.

“From my experience, after having my child, Chase, I found myself more productive and efficient at work,” Caroline Vu said. “Knowing that I had to come home to take care of a child and find [a] balance between daily chores fueled my motivation to stay focused at work.”

Through the years, the Vus have developed a close friendship. They constantly help each other when needed, whether it’s covering lesson plans, watching the class while the other runs an errand or mentoring.

“I provide a listening ear to Mariah Vu and offer emotional support in terms of encouraging words or provide advice based off of my parenting, life and work experiences,” Caroline Vu said. “We use each other as a sounding board when it comes to situations in the classroom.”

For Mariah Vu, “work can be stressful sometimes,” but with the help of the right person, everything works out. That person in her life is her husband.

“I’m really lucky that if I have to do physical work or if I’m struggling with separating the mental aspects of work, my husband steps in to help me,” Mariah Vu said. “If I have to do work before bedtime that’s time-sensitive, my husband will take care of both kids so that I just need to assist with bedtime, or he’ll act as a sounding board if I need to vent.”

Sophomore Emma Tran learns a lot in Mariah Vu’s biology class and believes the quality of learning hasn’t changed even though her teacher has more obligations at home. Tran compares her workload to that of her friends who had Mariah Vu last year.
“The work isn’t too much because most of the time, the assignments are small, or we start them in class,” Tran said. “Biology class is difficult, but as long as you study and do your work, it’s manageable. Mrs. [Mariah] Vu is a pretty good teacher. She helps when you need it.”

With Mariah Vu’s full plate, she has quickly learned the “best way to succeed” after one semester filled with trial and error.

“My advice is to be intentional with your time,” Mariah Vu said. “If I know that I only have 50 minutes during second period to get things done, then I’ll make sure to tackle what has to be done during that time. Additionally, make sure to be organized.”

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  • S

    Serena LiJan 13, 2024 at 12:38 pm

    This is an amazing story McKenzie! It really highlights the work a lot of teachers do behind the scenes that isn’t talked about as much! Congrats on your Best of SNO :))

  • J

    Joy XiaDec 21, 2023 at 5:32 pm

    I love this story McKenzie! Ms. Vu’s kids are so cute!