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Both students and teachers are struggling with burnout as they try to adjust to the new normal of online school and some are expressing their frustrations online, calling on the education system for help.
Students say taking classes online has not been easy, and they want teachers to understand that not every home is conducive to learning. But some teachers say they’re limited in what they can do, and it never quite feels like enough.
In mid-April, KaMarie Jones, a junior in college in Atlanta, tweeted about how “emotionally and mentally draining” the new realities are and her tweet soon went viral. Many students quickly retweeted and began venting about their own frustrations.
Jones, 20, told BuzzFeed News her the biggest challenge thus far is finding the motivation to get through a day of schoolwork at home. Jones, like millions of others, has been taking classes at home for over a month now.
“There are some days where I can sit and complete my work and other days where nothing seems to click in my brain and I just can’t find the motivation to complete the work,” she said. “It was like every day I became less and less motivated.”
Her viral tweet got a chorus of nods from other students. Some said their grades are dropping, and others said they have lowered expectations for themselves.
Even though many students acknowledge that online school is necessary during the pandemic, some are hoping educators can be more empathetic and work with students who are really struggling at home.
For 23-year-old Lauren Camarillo, who’s in her first year of grad school in Missouri, she hopes teachers know that not every student’s home is a safe haven or the best environment for them to stay focused in.
“I wish [they] would be a little more understanding of the fact that home environments are so different for every student — so many people stay to study on campus because they need silence to concentrate but can’t get that at home,” said Camarillo.
“As students, we get into a different routine and find ways to effectively balance our time each semester but with staying home there’s no routine which leads to no motivation.”
A constant word that came up in tweets, and BuzzFeed News interviews with college and high school students, is that they are feeling “drained.”
Trudyann Hyde, an 18-year-old freshman in Florida, said the actual workload has been hard to keep up with on its own. But it’s the extra work to try to get in touch with her professors, or reach out for extra support, that’s been the most tedious part.
“This online experience has been draining: Not only with the constant deadlines, but also getting in contact with some of my professors,” she said.
“At this point I’m just trynna pass with a C,” she had tweeted to Jones’ original tweet.
Jones raised a similar point. She said many of her professors are doing their best and have been “very supportive in light of this huge adjustment.” However, some are expecting every student to rise to the occasion without providing any additional resources on their end.
“It seemed like they were only trying to do their job and get it over with all while still expecting us to do our absolute best without offering us other tools to help our learning,” she said.
“Just because one student is doing well with this adjustment does not mean all students are doing well.”
Jones added there is a disparity among her classmates when it comes to finances, internet access and speed, and overall safety and stabilities at home.
“We are all trying to do the very best that we can,” she said.
BuzzFeed News reached out to some of these students’ instructors.
Nora Flanagan, 44, a high school English teacher in Chicago who’s taught the subject for 22 years, said teaching is a “perpetual state of adaptation.” However, she said the past few weeks she has been “scrambling” to keep up.
“I have a son in eighth grade and a son in fourth grade. Their teachers are scrambling and adapting, too,” Flanagan told BuzzFeed News. “Some of them are defaulting to assigning work at the same pack of ‘normal’ school, but nothing about this is normal.”
Flanagan said she’s constantly worried for her students.
“A student emailed me yesterday to share that he is living with another relative now to help care for her three young children while she works … another student attended our Google Meet last week wearing a surgical mask, because a parent was just released from the hospital,” she said.
“None of them are kicking back without a care in the world, most of them are fighting like hell to get through this like the rest of us.”
She said on top of changing her curriculum entirely, she’s adjusted her expectations for her classes, too. Priorities have changed.
“My default setting right now is credit for any work they complete, coupled with frequent wellness checks. If I haven’t heard from a student in a week, I email them. I don’t threaten their grade; I ask how they’re doing.”
Monserrat Ibañez, a 30-year-old teacher to third and fifth-graders in Santiago, Chile, said the effort to stay connected with her young students is by far the most difficult aspect of her job now.
“Not all of them have computers in their houses. That makes direct communication with them very difficult,” said Ibañez. “Their parents write to me, not my students.”
She also echoed the motion to have school administration focus more on educators being a support system for students, rather than cracking down on grades.
“The influence that the school has in the community is vital to this. If the school generates spaces of communication, and not grading, we can help more,” she added. “But we are overwhelmed as well.”
Rudy Anderson, from Colorado, is only in 8th grade, but she’s been homeschooled since she was in kindergarten, she told BuzzFeed News. So, she really understands the massive waves of complaints lately.
“I think the hardest thing to cope with is the schoolwork itself — it’s either you’re not doing enough or you’re doing too much work, and that can be super stressful,” said Anderson, adding that it’s a constant feeling of”not [being “as successful as other people.”
While there are some who think these kinds of complaints are petty, a vast majority have responded in solidarity. They are trying to encourage each other to keep going for the undetermined future.
Students say they’re trying to be understanding of teachers who are struggling with this as well. They just want a little empathy, and for their instructors to remember that being at home also means juggling with a lot at once.
Some teachers believe being more flexible on scheduling, availability, and grades is key to getting through this.
“Getting through this school year can’t be about grades. It needs to be about the overall wellness of our students, the needs of our communities, and a version of school that stresses engagement to the extent that kids and families are able to get from one week to the next,” said Flanagan, the high school English teacher.
“What will it cost us if every kid who engages in any way passes with full credit? Maybe grades weren’t that important in the first place. Maybe they were never a good way to motivate anyway.”
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