It’s not only parents who are finding it difficult to navigate the online education world during the coronavirus pandemic, but teachers, too, are often in unfamiliar waters. For people who are both a professional teacher and parent, the work can be especially confounding.

That’s the situation that Justin Parmenter has found himself in. He is the parent of two elementary-school-age children and he teaches seventh-grade language arts at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte.

In this post, Parmenter discusses his experiences trying to do both during the crisis, and at one point he describes his “mini covid-19 educator meltdown,” which led him to look at what he was asking parents to do as a teacher, through a parent’s eyes.

Parmenter is a fellow with Hope Street Group’s North Carolina Teacher Voice Network. He started his career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania and taught in Istanbul. He was a finalist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher of the year in 2016, and you can find him on Twitter here.

A version of this appeared in the Charlotte Observer.

By Justin Parmenter

This coronavirus-pandemic-marred school year is my 25th in the classroom. Despite that wealth of experience, lately I still find myself having moments where I wonder if I’m up to the task, both as a professional educator and as a home-schooling parent.

A few days ago I experienced a mini covid-19 educator meltdown.

NPR was blaring news about the frightening virus surge and lack of ventilators in New York City, and President Trump was talking about opening the country up by Easter. My fourth-grade daughter was on Google Classroom and the application was crashing. My son was trying to do his second-grade German lesson, didn’t understand the directions and was frustrated that his dad couldn’t help him. I was late for my fourth Zoom meeting of the day, and my recently cleared inboxes were all full again.

Then I opened an email from a colleague containing the latest draft teaching schedule which momentarily gave me the impression that I would be expected to be at my laptop physically teaching live classes via video conference from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, including office hours during lunch.

The burden of trying to adapt everything I’d be doing in a physical classroom to an online format, manage my own kids’ learning throughout the day, handle an insane amount of communication and do it all with the added stress of living under a deadly pandemic came crashing down on me.

I can’t &$#@ing do this anymore, I thought to myself. This is not sustainable.

When the moment had passed — and my misunderstanding of what was actually just a suggested schedule to help students budget time was corrected — I imagined experiencing this chaos as the parent of one of my students. Receiving an avalanche of electronic messages on a maddeningly wide variety of platforms, possibly not in my mother tongue. Struggling to assist children with assignments that don’t make sense to me. All that while trying to work full time from home. Or perhaps working outside the home in an industry where contact with the public brings heightened risk of my own exposure to the coronavirus. Or unable to work at all and wondering how I’m going to put food on the table.

Just a few weeks into a crisis with no end in sight, there are many lessons we have yet to learn. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that, in the covid-19 classroom, less is more.

I’ve been reading a lot of parent feedback since North Carolina schools closed. In-home education needs vary widely based on family circumstances, but there are far more parents saying they need simpler and less from teachers than those saying they want more.

Common refrains are that schools need to streamline communication so families aren’t inundated, simplify assignments to enable parents to help, and provide schedules that are flexible enough for the many different realities that our public school families currently face.

Those are the suggestions of many parents who are online or available by phone. We don’t have feedback from the parents who aren’t.

The North Carolina State Board of Education weighed in on the topic of grading and equitable access the other day, unanimously agreeing that grades cannot be assigned for remote learning unless a number of specific conditions are met. Among others, those conditions include accessibility by all students — including diverse learners — and consideration of the whole student and home learning environment.

As the coronavirus infection rate increases and daily life grows even more stressful and restricted, our students’ social and emotional needs will become more pronounced.

If we design it with those needs at the forefront, remote learning can help support students and their families by sustaining a healthy sense of community and ensuring young minds stay active and engaged during a time of unprecedented crisis. Limiting overall classwork to a couple of hours a day with additional opportunities for enrichment might be a good starting point.

If we disregard those needs and try to adapt our normal course of study to present circumstances, for many families we’ll be making a bad situation even worse.