What We Wish Teachers Knew About Online Learning

What We Wish Teachers Knew About Online Learning

12.18.20
Photo: Elva Etienne/GettyImages
12.18.20

The first half of the school year is coming to an end. As a high school student, even though I’m months into remote learning, it’s not getting any easier to do school online. In fact, it’s actually getting even harder for me.

I’m feeling a lot less motivated to do work because I’m someone who gets really affected by my environment. And learning from home is not what I’m used to. It doesn’t help that my anxiety is only increasing because of everything that’s going on in the world. My panic over bigger issues overpowers any of my attempts to do the work that’s right in front of me.

While sometimes I feel alone and lagging behind everyone, I’m really not. A lot of students are feeling burnt out from distance learning. I talked to two high school seniors about their struggles to stay motivated in school and what they wished their teachers knew about being a student in this pandemic.

The following interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

Leroy Yau, Senior

Oakland, CA

Photo courtesy of Leroy Yau

Tiya Birru: How have you been feeling in terms of motivation to do your schoolwork while distance learning?

Leroy Yau: I procrastinate a lot with homework. When you’re not in person, you can get off-track really easily. And you can stay off-track because there’s no one to check you because you’re at home by yourself. 

Like, say we’re working on an essay in class and typing away. If I just say a joke to my friends and give a laugh, it just allows me to take a small little break from what I’m doing.

But now, I feel like I let everything go up until the deadline to finish it. I just don’t really get motivation from seeing other people’s screen. Like on Zoom, it’s so stagnant because you just stare at blank screens of people and you only see their name.

TB: What makes distance learning more difficult than when you’re in person?

LY: I learn better in person and in hands-on activities. Like if we have a physical worksheet, then when you turn that in it feels like punching your ticket to completion. When you’re doing a worksheet, you’re also able to communicate with your teacher and get live feedback in person. And speaking to [a teacher] one-on-one is really helpful for me.

I think the main thing is you have a disconnect with your teachers because you’re just not interacting. When you’re learning virtually, you just try to learn as much as we can during that time, which doesn’t allow you to build those bonds or relationships with your teachers.

TB: What would you like to change about distance learning if you could?

LY: One thing I want teachers to understand is that a lot of kids are unmotivated. For me, I would love my teachers to understand if I’m a little off that day, I’m not really processing much because I’m a little bored or just not in the mood to learn. 

I mean humans are creatures of habit. For the past 12 years of my life, I’m used to learning in person, and then the sudden change of virtual learning came. It’s a steep curve to bounce over. And it’s just I have to relearn how to learn.

Ilana Drake, Senior

New York City, NY

Photo courtesy of Ilana Drake

Tiya Birru: How have you been feeling in terms of motivation to do your school work while distance learning?

Ilana Drake: Last year, I think teachers were a lot nicer and kinder with things being late or giving us less work to do because [distance learning] was all new to us. And this year I have seen that a lot of students are getting overwhelmed because there’s so much to do.

While Google Classroom has the times that assignments are due, if it feels like there’s too much that has to be done, sometimes it’s a bit nerve-wracking or challenging to face.

TB: So a lot of students can get burnt out in the middle of any school year even when we’re not learning online. Do you think that’s what you’re feeling?

ID: I think I’m completely burned out. And I know that there’s senioritis. But I think the burnout is from being on Zoom all day. I think the burnout is from wanting to go outside when I have to stay on the computer and complete assignments. 

We’re still kids. I’m 17, there are a lot of expectations as teenagers for distance learning and there are so many things to do. 

And I think the burnout continues because it feels like there’s so much happening and there’s so much going on [with COVID], especially in the city.

TB: What makes distance learning more difficult than when you’re in person?

ID: Specifically as someone who has extended time and a disability, when I take tests, I’ll be late for the next class because I have extended time. 

I think in-person school was a bit different — where you had your classes and you took exams in class. You didn’t have exams after school. But some teachers are doing it after school, so it does not interfere with teaching. And I think that’s great in some ways. But for students with anxiety or students with learning disabilities or any extended time needs, it can be more complicated to do it after school if there are other circumstances or other extracurriculars that students need to go to.

TB: What would you like to change about distance learning if you could?

ID: I think teachers should understand that some of our afterschool activities have continued in remote format so not all of our day is devoted to academics — even though a good portion is because we have to be in school. 

I enjoy distance learning for the most part, but I think teachers don’t understand that they shouldn’t be giving more work even though we’re working at home. Because not everyone has the same lifestyle. Not everyone has the time to complete two hours of AP environmental science or math, linear algebra.