Have you ever tried to learn physics through a computer screen? It’s really difficult. Or any class for that matter? Have you ever tried to do an online lab? Yes, an online lab. It’s not exactly what you’d hope for in a class called “Chemistry: The Physical Setting.”
The pandemic has changed a lot of things in our lives that perhaps we took for granted before. Like being able to visit our grandparents without worrying about accidentally killing them. Or being able to shake someone’s hand. Or give someone a hug. Or just being able to smile at people as you walk past them on the street. Whenever I pass someone in the hallway these days, I find myself grinning like the joker in the hope that maybe if I smile wide enough my friends will be able to see it busting through my mask.
Online high school is really rough. I go to Delaware Academy and we’ve been on a hybrid schedule so far. I go to in-person school for two to three days in the second half of the week. For the first half of the week, I attend my classes via Google Meets. At first I thought it would be kind of nice. What teenager doesn’t want to go to school in pajamas? And don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the extra hour of sleep.
But in terms of actual learning, online school is like a black hole that sucks in A+ students and spits them out again at the end of the day, dazed, confused and completely alone with a mountain of unfinished homework. I’m a pretty talkative student, and I’d like to think I have a good relationship with my teachers. I didn’t realize how important that was until I couldn’t participate in class anymore. Supposedly, students are able to participate in class from home by using the microphone feature on the Google Meet. But, as I recently explained to one of my teachers, this doesn’t really work.
There’s no such thing as raising your hand through a computer, so to ask a question I would have to interrupt my teacher, which even I am reluctant to do. And, like I said, I am not a shy person. Some of my teachers do give students time to ask questions frequently, saying something like “just unmute yourself if you have any questions.” But even then there are problems. I have relatively good internet access at my house, but there’s still a lag time between when I ask my question and when it gets to the teacher, meaning the class has probably already moved on to a different subject.
You can see how this would make having a real discussion or conversation about the material almost impossible. And that’s a problem. For me at least. I stay focused in class by asking questions. Without the possibility for discourse, I feel lost and completely disconnected. It’s really hard to stay engaged with someone just talking at you from a computer screen.
I really appreciate how hard teachers are working to try to make online learning as accessible as possible. But there’s only so much they can do. And I know that most students are really trying to keep up with their work and pay attention in online classes. But there’s only so much we can do. I’ve had a lot of problems with logging in to Google Meets, and with staying focused once logged in. I can only imagine what this must be like for someone who has a learning disability such as ADHD. And I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it is for the kids who are 100 percent virtual. I have some friends who live in New York City who are fully online, five days a week, in their apartment in Queens. And I really don’t understand how they’re managing.
When I come into school on Wednesday or Thursday each week, I always have a load of overdue homework that I haven’t completed, and that I don’t think would ever get completed if I wasn’t able to ask the teacher for help in person. I am really grateful to my teachers for being so understanding about the trials of online schooling, and being willing to accept late work. If you are a teacher, I cannot emphasize enough how relieving it is to know that I won’t get points off for needing extra help.
One of the most annoying aspects of school, for me, is the fact that the system pushes teachers to get through material as efficiently as possible. I have been fortunate enough to have a lot of teachers who encourage students to ask questions and to ask for help if they don’t understand something. But this really goes against the norm. Teachers are obligated to get a certain amount of content covered by the end of the year in preparation for exams, they are encouraged to “teach to the test.” I have heard students and teachers, alike, complain about this phenomenon. It really discourages students from admitting they don’t understand something, or even that they haven’t been paying attention.
Should we really be punishing kids for zoning out? If the purpose of education is in fact to have a better-informed populace, wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage kids to speak up when they don’t know the material?
I think we are entering a new era of society. And maybe when we come out of this crisis we will be able to see the places where our systems of education and employment can be strengthened, and what parts maybe need to be scrapped and rebuilt altogether. You know what they say about what doesn’t kill you; it only makes you stronger.
Lucia Marsiglio is a junior at Delaware Academy in Delhi. Readers can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.