Online School: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
September 19th, 2020
Because of the global pandemic, millions of students across the world have to turn to virtual classrooms and online learning for school. Online school is a huge adjustment for both students and teachers. How has online school affected your learning and mental health? What issues have you/your classmates run into? How has the virtual learning experience been so far?
Online schooling has definitely been a difficult adjustment. When Brooke and I both left school last March because of the virus, we were automatically put into a virtual classroom and online meetings. The end of our junior years was a hard one, but we know we weren’t alone. Teachers were forced to change their lesson plans to accommodate the online learning experience and many students last year viewed virtual meetings as an option, so many didn’t show up. It was unorganized and hard to navigate, but it was no one’s fault. Teachers aren’t trained to know what to do when a global pandemic strikes. Many students do not have the resources to even participate in online learning. Some do not have access to reliable Wi-Fi, a working computer/laptop, or even softwares and apps that are used for online learning such as Zoom and Chrome extensions. All of these issues and more made online learning almost impossible last year. I believe that last year, our school district wasn’t prepared and didn’t really know what to do to ensure the most effective and best learning environment online. It got to the point where the teachers ended school early and made the last two weeks of school optional.
I’m not writing this to bash the teachers because my heart really goes out to them. They are constantly trying to experiment with what works best for their classes. If we look at it from the outside, both teachers and students are in the same boat. We are still trying to figure out the gist of online learning.
School just started and as I write this, I’m in the 3rd week of my senior year. Personally, I hate it. I’m the type of person that needs face-to-face interaction to really be able to understand the concepts that are taught, whether that's in math or econ. It’s so hard to pay attention in class especially because I wake up approximately 2 minutes before my actual class starts. I know I need to be more responsible in setting up alarms and starting my day earlier. My brain needs to wake up before I start class so I can pay attention, take better notes, and participate in class discussions. Sometimes I can’t even bring myself to get out of bed and to my desk so I often just join virtual meetings while sitting in bed.
Being on Zoom for hours seems so unreal. My friends and I have all experienced connection issues in the middle of class that make it so we cannot hear what the teacher is saying, see the notes, or view the presentation. I’ve gotten kicked out multiple times from the Zoom because of my unstable internet connection. It’s so hard because I have three other people in my house using the internet as well: my brother who’s in college, my sister who’s starting middle school, and my mom who’s an accountant for the Television Academy.
I feel like my learning progress has come to a halt. I feel like I am doing a lot of self-teaching.
Something what makes online school better, though, is that there are people who are going through the same exact thing I am. I know I’m not alone. In my classes, we’ve created group chats where we can all study together and help each other understand concepts we went over in class.
Something else that I’ve been struggling with is being organized. I sometimes forget things are due because I never keep track and make note of deadlines. It’s hard since I’m not reminded. Online school is teaching me to be a lot more on top of things and to be independent. I need to count on myself to remember what and when assignments are due. Procrastination has only become worse with virtual learning. Instead of waiting last minute to do the assignment, I should probably start it right after my online school gets out to ensure that I get every piece of homework done.
Although virtual learning is not great, I can say that I really appreciate how open my schedule is now. I’ve always been so busy, but since I can knock out school in just 4 hours, my entire day is free for me to focus on other things such as college applications, tennis, and projects. I feel a lot less pressure for me to get things done since I have a lot more time for me.
How has the experience been for you Brooke? How are you managing your classes and building up your relationship with your teachers through a screen?
Well I’ll be. You basically nailed everything. I’ve gone through everything you mentioned. I’ve even attempted to get up early, but I somehow fall right back asleep and wake up in a panic exactly as class starts. I've even slept through my 7:00 a.m. class once already.
I probably shouldn’t have entered my last year of high school with this expectation, but I’d always heard that senior year wasn’t as hard as junior year. If you are under that presumption, I would like to tell you nooope. I’m sure second semester is lighter. But will that make up for the pressure that’s on right now? Hopefully.
My days are defined by deadlines. Today, for example, I woke up and needed to turn in my math homework by 8:00 a.m., which meant that I had to get up early and do it before journalism class began. After a busy journalism meeting and before Period 2 started, I studied for my physics quiz coming up at 9:55. However, the website hosting the quiz was down, so it was postponed. I had to turn in a "brag sheet" and SSR evaluation request form by 3:00 p.m. I had a Zoom meeting at 4:15 and then a photo session at 5:00. And I know that’s nothing compared to you. You hop from class to internship meetings to class then back to internship meetings and then to other classes, then to projects and tennis… bam bam bam. I’m not used to that packed lifestyle.
I hardly procrastinate these days, and I still feel like I can barely catch up with school. I feel like I’m slower at completing work, and I’m constantly interrupted by more Zoom meetings, notifications on my phone, or family members.
It is an odd universe.
Group work can be refreshing or awkward—it’s a 50/50 chance. I laugh at my teachers’ jokes, but they can’t hear me since my microphone is off and so presume that no one cares. I am surrounded by objects that never made me think of school but that I’ve now cognitively associated with homework. Before the pandemic, I rarely thought of school work and studying when I climbed into bed after a long day; however, now that I do a lot of homework in bed (I’m typing this there right now, lol) everything is jumbled. School is life and life is school. That is a bit dramatic, but I spent the vast majority of my day in front of a screen completing school-related tasks.
When I attend school in person, I’m happily disconnected from the outside world and I can focus on education. Now, I’m constantly near my phone, which means I’m in tune to the news and my friends at all times. It’s hard to focus on your studies when you are simultaneously interconnected to everything else at once, you know what I mean Shaira? Only focusing on school for six hours each day is impossible now.
I’m happy to report that as far as actual learning goes, I’ve retained more knowledge than I thought I would in distance learning. The teachers are going at a normal pace, and I feel like I’ve absorbed all of the material after lectures in class. My teachers are really making sure that we understand the content and are giving us a plethora of activities to confirm our understanding. Even though it is a lot of work, it has been invaluable to me. Am I learning as much as I would in person? Probably not. But I’m learning far more than I did last semester, and I've actually gotten to know some of my teachers.
Remember context-dependent memory from psychology class, Shaira? For those of you who haven’t taken the class, context-dependent memory is basically what it sounds like: when you learn something in a certain environment, state, or mood, you are more likely to recall that information when you return to that specific environment, state, or mood. This is an especially important facet of teen mental health today. We are in the same place for hours upon hours every single day. If we develop toxic thought patterns in these spaces, we are almost guaranteed to return to them since we are in the same spot all day. That’s a big problem! To combat this personally, I move to a few different locations throughout my study day. I’ll start at my desk, then visit a different desk downstairs, return to my starting point, and then work on my kitchen table. It stimulates my mind just enough to where I feel refreshed and focused rather than mentally stagnant or anxious.
So, online school is… interesting to say the least. I am astounded by the fact that I am living and studying during a huge global pandemic. I am so proud of our school’s students and teachers for rising to the occasion and giving their all as we march into uncharted territory.
Shai, what is the one main emotion that you are feeling these days, good or bad? Is it tied to distance learning, and if so, why?
- Brooke Johnston
Bro, wow compared to me you are such a hard worker. I, if I am going to be completely honest, have 100% checked out of school. I have gotten to the point that no matter how hard I’ll try, I just can’t listen. Adding on to what you said about how school life and life are jumbled—I get that. I’ve been on two calls at once multiple times already this year. I’m constantly trying to fit school into my busy schedule.
Like you said, when you are physically at school, you are so disconnected from everything around you and are there solely just to learn.
It's hard for me to keep up with lectures and classes because I always have deadlines itching up my back. I’m so proud that I almost envy you for actually learning something in your class. I have been so worried because I constantly feel like I am left behind in my classes. I feel like I am on my own, with no guidance and with less support from my peers and teachers.
And I’m really not trying to bash on the teachers because I know they are in the same boat as the students, but can someone please explain to me why we are still doing the same amount of busy work that we would do in class? And honestly, the homework load has been WAY too much. Again I’m not criticizing the teachers, I just feel like they should be more open-minded with what's been going on.
Where Brooke and I live, we are literally in the midst of hell right now. Lol.
There’s a global pandemic and there are fires literally closing in on us. Not to mention, there is so much social justice within our local community and schools that needs to be accomplished. I feel so ignorant doing 41 math problems as the state is literally on fire. It just seems so insensitive. The teachers should at least try and assign less homework and focus on making class time more valuable. I just feel like school is a joke.
I guess you could say that the one main emotion I’m really clinging onto is hope. It is tied to distance learning but more than that, it's an emotion that’s been growing within me since the start of quarantine.
First, I hope that we can do and be better. In general, I hope that people become more compassionate, understanding, and open-minded. I hope that us teenagers can be kinder to ourselves and to those we surround ourselves with. I hope that individuals around the world can be more understanding when it comes to others and their circumstances. I hope that everyone can learn to be considerate of each other's health, safety, and happiness.
This also can tie in to distance learning. I’ve seen so many students belittle and mock their teachers on Zoom. I hope that this doesn’t happen anymore because our teachers are trying very hard to experiment with new ways to make sure that virtual learning is possible. Just like us, they are adjusting and some may not be familiar with the technology used today. I hope teachers can be more understanding with the workload they give and with certain situations. My Wi-Fi cuts out a lot and because of the fires I’ve experienced blackouts already. Also, just like other students, I’m taking a whole bunch of classes and learning how to work online labs and virtual presentations. Lastly, I hope that everyone at school can be a little more open-minded to each other and their own opinions. I’ve been clinging onto these hopes because I am so sick of the negativity cloud that I had over my head just a couple weeks ago. I’m going to work on a more positive mindset.
How about you Brooke? What emotion have you been clinging onto?
Well, since the time I last wrote, I’ve had a few too many mental breakdowns. Kinda glad I did though so I could really sort out what on Earth is happening in my mind and heart.
I dunno… it’s just hard. Some days feel harder than others, but really, they’re all the same because each one is surrounded by an endless barrage of responsibilities, expectations, deadlines, all of that. A day where I’m not scrambling all day and sleeping at 2:30 a.m. can still be a heavy one to bear as I remember that tomorrow will be worse. I am typically not a stressed-out individual, but there has been a gradual strain building up this semester that has been pumping pressure into my heart… and I didn’t realize it until it was too late. I really like how you described it, that deadlines are itching up our backs. It’s so true.
If I worked for a few weeks straight without sleeping, I wouldn’t even finish everything I’ve been trying to accomplish lately: going to class, doing homework, writing college essays, studying for the ACT, and keeping up with extracurriculars. I didn’t even cram my senior schedule, but school and homework take up my entire day. I am always typing as fast as I can, confused as to when I’m supposed to work on my college applications. Maybe I just have to sacrifice sleep for two months or so. But like… I don’t know!
Most of the time, school doesn’t stress me out. But now, I’m stressed out about having to be in school.
Like you said, I feel insensitive often—people all around the globe are in trouble as I sit at my desk for almost the whole day. It can sometimes feel superficial, like it’s not doing the world any good.
I know that being a student will make me a better citizen in the future, but man, it’s hard to see the pay-off right now when I just want to spend my day seeing tangible impacts from work. Especially as a senior… a lot of times I feel like I’ve done my fair share of busy-work and I need to do something hands-on in the world. To make matters worse, I freeze up from stress and just stare at the wall for way too long before returning to my studies. I seriously love academics—I love going to school and I love learning. It’s just a strange time to be growing up in the world and I feel uncomfortable sitting all day. I need to slow down and realize that my desire to help is coming from the right place, but I do have a job right now, and that job is important—to learn and to grow my emotional, social, and academic skills. The reason I'm anxious about sitting all day actually stems from education, from me educating myself on what is going on in the world. The other day, a friend of mine made the great point that education is truly the ultimate vehicle for positive change... it's just slow change sometimes. I’m learning to accept that I can’t singlehandedly heal the whole world. I can, however, harness the gifts I’ve been blessed with to embrace an issue wholeheartedly. That’s where real, genuine, and lasting change begins.
My main mental breakdown this week was born from asking my teachers for recommendation letters… hear me out. Some people have mental breakdowns from the amount of homework, some from their parents' expectations, some from a combination of so many different pressures. They can stem from sadness, anxiety, numbness, anger, frustration, pain, shock, anything of the sort. The things that overwhelm me the most in life are unpredictable or tense situations with other people. I was so beyond stressed about asking my teacher’s for letters. I had spent days and days preparing to ask them: I created a super detailed resume on Canva, I stuffed my “brag sheet” and made sure it was edited perfectly, I thought and prayed about how to write the emails to them for a week, and then it was finally time to ask them (even though I still didn’t feel prepared to do it). I don’t even know why I cried so much and got so overwhelmed. I just hate feeling like a burden and I was very scared to ask my teachers, even though they were super nice about it.
If that was all I had to do, I probably wouldn't have crashed like I did. But it was only a small task that day, squeezed between schoolwork, college applications, and thinking about the world's chaos. It had just become too much.
I’m not the only one who has shut down a few times lately. I’d be hard-pressed to find someone our age who hasn’t been winded by something at some point during quarantine, from schoolwork to current events to tensions in their own homes.
It is a privilege to say that my mind breaks down when reaching out to my lovely, respectful teachers as I fill out college applications. I don’t say this sarcastically—it is nothing short of a gift that I have the opportunity to be educated and that I have a fantastic support system, and realizing this does lift some stress off of my shoulders and replace it with gratitude. However, stress is stress, mental burdens are burdens, and it is okay to recognize yours no matter what they are.
Shai, I’m really sad to hear that so many students are being so disrespectful in your classes. My teachers are honestly giving amazing lessons and truly the saddest part about distance learning for me is the inevitable disconnect between the students and teachers. I hate it when they ask a question that is met with dead silence. It’s too common a phenomenon now, and the absolute lack of noise due to everyone’s muted microphones is a bit depressing.
To answer your question, my mind keeps circling back to loneliness, guilt, purposelessness, and the feeling of being trapped. But I’ve been trying to cling to faith, hope, love, curiosity, and youthfulness.
Reader, whoever you are, I want you to know that no matter what blend of emotions you’re feeling, whether it’s a strange new mix or a canvas of emotions that have been around for a long time, you are a warrior.
There is more to juggle and more to think about than ever before, and your mind is constantly adjusting to the shifting world around us. But to me, what goes down must come up. And I think that life grows stale if you don’t believe that.
Please, if you can, settle somewhere comforting today without any screens, any Google Classroom notifications, any news, anything.
Maybe spend some time with a loved one you trust. Cry if you need to. You might not think you need to, but the other day, when I allowed myself to reflect on my emotions for fifteen seconds, the tears came roaring and my eyes became floodgates. It made me recognize my inner gag reflex towards my emotions when they get to an overwhelming level.
Rest is vital. I don’t even just mean sleeping more or taking a nap: I mean mental rest. It seems elusive, and it is. It seems like you can’t ever work hard enough to achieve it, and well, that’s true. Mental rest comes to me when I let my emotions come to me. I get to recognize them, accept them, and sigh in relief knowing that someday, they will change. Whatever comes naturally—let it happen. It’s the inner you.
Anyways, I hope that you feel less alone. If you’re doing something small and it feels like it is the tip of the iceberg sinking your ship, that’s okay. It’s okay to tear down those defenses.
This has been a long journal, but there are stretches of quarantine in which each day feels like a long battle, and there is a lot that I’ve been storing up in my head while sitting in class or rubbing my eyes doing late-night homework. Thanks for listening to us—we hope you feel encouraged and less alone!
We don’t just want Hiraeth to be us talking at you—we’d like to reflect with you. We’ve just added a “Forum” page under “Our Journal” where you can talk to us and fellow Homebodies about anything we post, or anything at all!
We’ll be posting random reflective or funny prompts that you can answer. Nothing is out-of-bounds besides hateful speech. Be respectful, please!
Enjoy online school as much as you can, and remember that you can always find shelter here.
- Brooke Johnston
P.S. Congrats if you made it this far, haha!