Dear Teachers,


A Santiago Student

“I don’t understand how students can be struggling online, their class periods are longer and they have less work. What’s the issue?” 

Variations of this question have been asked to nearly every Santiago High School student over the course of this pandemic by at least one teacher, but the answer isn’t as simple as you would think. Online classes can be draining, can magnify personal issues, and force students to teach themselves material that is not being explained during the allotted/shortened class time.

When I attended school in-person prior to the pandemic, I was tired. Waking up before sunrise to spend six hours learning every day for 11 years tends to be exhausting for most, but even then I had moments of relief. One of the primary benefits of attending school physically is the peer to peer interaction. Although many remote teachers allow conversation between fellow students during Zoom sessions, this minimal and solely work-focused conversation does not provide the socialization that most teens need. Socialization is vital for teen development.  We’re all humans and humans crave social interaction. Pre-pandemic classes always had downtime.  Teachers chatted with us about our weekends, last week’s football game, upcoming movie releases.  We were allowed to turn to our partners and talk during group work.  It’s hard to mimic those interactions on a Zoom session. 

Excessive social withdrawal would normally be a defining sign of psychosis or weakened mental health, and it has now become the norm. NCBI states, in a psychiatric journal, that “In a university sample in Spain, high numbers of students experienced moderate to extremely severe scores of anxiety (21%) and depression (34%) during the first weeks of confinement” and yet the work keeps piling on. I remember last year during finals week my friends and I went out to lunch every other day to prevent mental breakdowns that were all too common in AP classes. This year, socialization has been reduced to texts and calls, and the same individuals who were struggling with support last year describe their mental states as “depressive” with one individual going so far as to say that the isolation she was experiencing had made her consider suicide.*

For me, at least, school served as an escape from the rest of my life. Despite the stress of my classes it was good to get out of the house and separate myself from the day to day drama of my family. Nowadays, the separation of my two worlds is nearly impossible. And based on my discussions with other students at Santiago, this is the case for almost everyone attending exclusively online classes. Moreover, the relationship between parent and child has been strained over these last six months like never before. Many have been trapped in small houses – even sharing rooms – with family members 24/7 for the last half of the year. That alone causes a strain on any family.

And while all of this may seem overwhelming on its own, the increase of domestic abuse cases has been described as a “pandemic within a pandemic”. For the first few months of quarantine police stations and domestic abuse shelters were expecting an influx of calls. But the results were shockingly the very opposite, in some regions the number of incoming calls dropped by nearly 50% according to the New England Journal of Medicine. This decrease was not due to a decline in actual cases, but rather an inability for victims to speak out in such close quarters to their abusers.

Closures of all schools and some child care facilities have raised stress in homes making violence all the more prevalent. And students in families who are unable to remove themselves from the situation find less and less motivation to attend schools that overwhelm them with work and are far more likely to develop substance abuse issues. This inability for teens to escape negative environments will have catastrophic downsides for their mental health, grades, and futures. Teachers want to prepare us for the”real world” but this is our current world, and for many of us, these are things with which we are struggling.

The learning process is even more difficult than ever. Ask any Santiago student and they will tell you that at least one teacher spends very little time engaging with their students in a meaningful way and rather turns to videos or busywork that leave students confused, forcing them to teach the material to themselves. Not to mention, most of the time these teachers are pulling their lesson material, worksheets, and tests from the internet. And unfortunately, teachers, if your papers can be found online, students will cheat. If you do not fully explain the lesson material, students will cheat. If you assign excessive amounts of work with little to no substance or educational value- you guessed it, students will cheat. But can we really blame it on the students? Yes, but if the material they need isn’t being provided to them in a digestible way, teenagers will always take the easy way out. It’s just what we do. Teachers that come onto zoom for five minutes and instruct students to watch a video have not done their job. Why do you expect 14-17-year-old children to be responsible if that same responsibility is not being reflected by the adults?  If you are teacher reading this, you might very well be doing your best, but with almost a year of distance learning under my belt, I can promise you that that is not the case for every teacher.

But don’t get me wrong, there are teachers who go too far in the opposite direction. At the beginning of the year, I was told by one of my teachers that I could expect around 2-3 hours of homework every class period. If every educator had this mentality I would be spending upwards of 11 hours a day on my computer. In fact, there was one teacher who told me – and they were proud of this – that only a handful of students would earn an A.  I imagine this teacher was attempting to motivate their students, but for my friends and I, all it did was confirm our worst fears: that we would never be smart enough.  I understand that these are difficult times, but it is important to find a happy medium that fosters children’s education rather than discourage them from trying altogether.  

Most teachers care very deeply about their students – I know this. Most students care very deeply about their education – trust me we are all well aware how our academic performance in high school will impact the rest of our lives. We need to find a way to work together during the second semester and make the experience all-around more effective for everyone involved.  Talk to us.  Ask us – maybe in small group or anonymously  – how we are feeling.  Maybe let us prioritize what lessons are most important.  Survey us about the impact a certain activity had.  Tell us why we are learning something and how to apply it to something greater.  I hope with this I can open up the dialogue for both sides to communicate what will make 2021 a great year for everyone involved.  We know you care.  Believe it or not, we care too.


*This student is currently seeing a therapist and is under professional care.

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