It was music class that finally drove Melissa Mawn over the edge.
She was already dutifully arranging her quarantine workdays around the expectations of her three children’s math, English, and science teachers, surrendering her work station to their Zoom meetings.
Now, the music teacher was proposing a “fun activity” and Mawn’s thoughts immediately turned to the recorder — the piercing woodwind instrument that her twin 10-year-old boys are learning to play this year.
"I mean, we’re stuck here in the house, and I cannot have recorder class for an hour,” said Mawn, who is working full time from the Wilmington home she shares with her three children, her husband, and her in-laws.
“We have to live here and, like, not kill each other,” said Mawn, “and the recorder is definitely going to knock one of us over the edge.”
Mark the fourth week of school closures as the moment when parents began to crack. The state’s experiment in home schooling may have been interesting for a week or two, but as social media rants reveal, many parents are now fed up. Managing their children and their anxieties amid a global pandemic, and working from home if they still have jobs, some parents have begun resisting the deluge of demands coming from their children’s teachers.
“It’s just overwhelming. Everybody’s overwhelmed,” said Mawn, who aired her frustrations last week on a Facebook page for Wilmington residents.
“I understand a love for the arts but in a state of emergency, I can’t teach music and gym," she wrote. “My children can play outside, in their own backyard or ride their own bikes in our driveway. That will have to count for gym.”
Around the same time, Sarah Parcak, a renowned archeologist from Maine, was drafting a lengthy, expletive-filled Twitter thread reiterating what she’d already told her son’s teacher: First grade was officially over for the year.
“We cannot cope with this insanity,” Parcak wrote. "Survival and protecting his well being come first.”
The parent rebellion is not at all fun for teachers, who have found themselves in a no-win situation since schools were closed in mid-March. First, they were hounded by some hard-charging parents who expected more daily structure and an immediate and effortless switch to online instruction. Teachers had to quickly develop new coursework and ways of presenting it, and jet into families’ living rooms via video conferencing, where their every move would be scrutinized.
Now, with teachers more regularly holding classes online, parents are pushing back, saying the expectations are unmanageable — particularly for younger children who can’t handle the technology on their own and need a parent by their side.
One mother reported that her Dorchester nursery school is offering twice-a-day Zoom meetings for her toddler and preschooler — a gesture that she appreciates but that she considers more trouble than it’s worth.
The first time they participated, she said, “it was like a nightmare.” The 4-year-old did not understand: “Why can’t they hear me? Why can’t I talk?” she said. When the girl did get time to speak, she grew shy and clammed up.
“And five minutes later she wants to do it and the Zoom call is over and then she’s hysterical," the woman said.
One irony is that many parents have been schooled to limit young children’s screen times; now they’re being steered to it by preschool teachers.
It feels like some weird science fiction story, said the Dorchester mother.
“It’s like we’re trying to re-create the illusion of school and being together but it’s not working," she said, “and there’s an essential component missing and we would be better off accepting that this is life now and trying to do something else.”
Another irony is that working parents like her are paying dearly to participate in their children’s “circle time."
“I’m not paying $2,600 a month for you to do a video chat with my kids twice a day,” she said. “I’m paying for you to watch them and provide high-quality education so I can work.”
Keri Rodrigues, a Somerville mother who heads the National Parents Union, an education advocacy group, said many parents are in survival mode, having suddenly lost their income or begun working at home to maintain it, and they shouldn’t feel pressured about academics at the moment.
“Do not destroy the fabric of your family because you’re trying to please a school district,” Rodrigues advised. “We are living through a generational unprecedented crisis. Get your family through it without hating each other.”
Like Mawn, Rodrigues has three children and is fielding an onslaught of e-mails from each of their teachers in each of their subjects. Some point the students to assignments on Google Classroom. Others direct them to activities on private educational websites that require additional sign-ups and the management of yet more passwords.
“My kids are in first and second grade. They’re barely tying their shoes, let alone remembering all of these different passcodes for all of these different websites,” Rodrigues said.
Meanwhile, some of her boys’ teachers had never used Zoom before and their Google Classroom pages weren’t working, requiring intervention from the schools’ information technology professionals.
“By the time the district IT director is involved,” Rodrigues said, “I’m out.”
She recommends that parents do only what works for their children and feel empowered to make the decisions. As far as she’s concerned, she’s the superintendent now, Rodrigues wrote in CommonWealth last week.
“School is not open. You do not have control over my house,” said Rodrigues, who is also the founder of Massachusetts Parents United. “I appreciate your resources. I think they’re great. But if you stress me out, I’m not reading your e-mail.”
Mawn is picking and choosing her academic battles now, even — oops — missing the memo that one of her son’s Zoom classes was moved to a different day this week.
“The e-mails are killing us,” Mawn said. "I think it would have been easier if, every Monday, we got a letter saying . . . ‘We want to do those 10 things this week.’ Just one e-mail, please.”
She understands that the teachers have never handled a pandemic before. But could they not streamline the assignments?
“If I wanted to teach," Mawn added, “I would be a teacher."