Beyond Academia

Education is far more than books and tests in a classroom. There is an irreplaceable social aspect to school that prepares students for the world and allows them to make important interpersonal connections. The social side of school is something many students regard as the most important to them, this pandemic has taken away so much from so many, including the social-emotional connections within the school. Encouraging students to work beyond academia is quite powerful for their growth, not only as a student but as a person. Which ultimately should be the goal of the school systems. We don’t want to create one-dimensional robot students, we want creative, socially-intelligent, kind students and so much of that comes from outside the curriculum of the school. It comes from classmates, teammates, teachers, and more; diminishing this side of their education is detrimental to their success as a human.

The schools are controlling the pandemic in every way they can, using pods or “families” is one of the main tools boarding schools are utilizing for containment and contact tracing. This means that many students are eating, living, and going to class with the same group of people. Even with your best friends in the world, this can be draining, and the lack of choice in the matter makes it all the more tedious. They are unable to have unlimited social access to people at their school in the way they are used to, and the fact that there we have been in some sort of shut down for the last eight months makes it all the more difficult. Humans are inherently social creatures and to deprive students of this for so long is detrimental to their health. While being in small groups is better than nothing, it seems to be confining in a different way as well. This necessary structure put in place for safety comes at the expense of other aspects of their life. That is not to downplay the necessity and success of these type of structures, it is imperative to keep them in place for the safety of students and staff. While they are necessary, that is not to say that they are not harmful in other ways. And this is not unique to students, everyone across the country has felt this in one form or another, and those who are continuing to respect and follow guidelines put in place are still suffering from it.

Those who may not be following the guidelines may have a new sense of guilt if you are breaking the rules put in place by the state and the schools. As students may or may not be gathering outside of the set boundaries there could also be a feeling of guilt within the desire for social interaction that they have been deprived of for so long. Even if they are seeing friends there is a layer of obligation from society in doing what you can to stop the pandemic. Seeing people and friends may trigger a sense of guilt which can weigh heavy on small shoulders. Many students, or humans in general, have been starved socially for such a long period of time that it is absolutely normal to crave a sense of companionship in whatever form they can get. However, within that companionship could come this guilt and in that a lack of authentic human interaction.

The schools have been doing the very best they can to allow for whatever social access they can give the students. There is an important value of having non-academic groups on campus and allowing for a social experience outside your pod/family. Some sports have been competing in inter-squad games which is valuable for every person on the team. Being able to work with clubs and teams outside your class or assigned group of people can be fulfilling socially. It allows for a foundational part of boarding schools to continue. If done safely, this aspect of schools makes for a unique social experience that they are not receiving from the rest of the new form of the school. Permitting clubs and sports to continue in whatever form they can truly impacts a student’s social-emotional well-being. In allowing them to succeed in this aspect of their life, they are also able to achieve academic success as well. Boarding schools, and schools in general, are a holistic experience and the students deserve however much of it they can acquire during these scary times. The students are being shaped by every part of their life and it is important to continue to nurture the sides that cannot appear over a computer screen or within a socially distant classroom.   

Thank you for reading and please leave any thoughts below!

The New Perspective of Learning

The relationship between learning and simply completing assignments has been a complex one in the education system for many years. The pandemic has not changed that; however, our current reality has certainly amplified it. I have personally experienced this as a college student. As a tutor during the pandemic, I have seen the shift in kids. The information is far less appealing in this form of education, and it is difficult to see beyond the next assignment to complete. Which, to be fair, is something I think every American is feeling at this moment. We are all just trying to get through our next assignment, through this day or week. Everyone is searching for some semblance of normal that may never return.

Within this search for normalcy appears a desire to get things over with. For many children, this is how they have always viewed school and will continue to do so. Yet, in a classroom, with teachers and classmates, they can learn in ways beyond assignment completion. Nowadays, many students are learning over Zoom or in some sort of hybrid form of school, and the whole idea of learning has changed. Within this mode, there is so much room for students to lose the process of learning. It is far more than just acquiring certain pieces of knowledge through their course. They are losing a chance to acquire life skills that come just from being in a school setting. There are countless examples of this. One simple one is the ability to ask questions when in need. This is encouraged and allows students to go beyond their own set of knowledge in soaking up teachers and classmate’s ideas as well. There are a million other small life skills that students are able to achieve in a typical classroom setting that cannot be done through a computer screen.

My own experience with students that I have been working with has demonstrated a list-oriented learning style. The teachers convey what needs to be completed, and the students can check it off the list when they are done. This is very much a completion oriented learning style. This is to no fault of the teachers, nor the students. Lists are a great way to keep track of accomplishments and what is left to be done. However, in doing these completion oriented tasks outside the classroom, sometimes by themselves, it is incredibly difficult to retain the information that they should be acquiring. This is an adaptation to remote or hybrid that allows for success in this specific school type, a success that may not translate to standard school settings. On the other hand, increased responsibility and task assignment skills can also be an essential life skill when able to be utilized correctly. Some students may thrive in this setting and improve their organizational skills, which is a powerful tool in academic success.

Another contributing factor to the shifting process of learning is the lack of or different support systems they may have. Since they do not have the necessary support that they might from school, teachers, tutors, classmate support, etc. they are simply unable to focus on the educational big picture. The support system that exists in the school allows for exploration and new thinking patterns guided by people who are there to help students. Right now, everything else in student’s lives is looming quite large, and school has taken a back seat in many forms. As the school’s role has changed, the perception of school has shifted with it, and it has become a task rather than an experience. Many students do not have the necessary support system at home to succeed in the way they are able to at school with people who can lead them through the learning process rather than completing assignments. Even if they are in person, the social aspect of school is extremely minimized, and the group work that many students thrive on is nonexistent. Education, and school in general, are far more than the tests and books it comes with acquiring the skills to succeed in our world; in our current educational environment, that can be extremely difficult for many students who are still developing these skills.

Throughout my time in my semester off, I have worked with middle schoolers and high schoolers in a hybrid learning environment. While they are all capable and hard-working, this shift is not always easy, especially for middle schoolers. They are still laying the groundwork in becoming a student, and that groundwork is challenging to lay when students have such a disjointed form of learning. Because of this, all of their efforts go into completion rather than retention. It would be naïve to believe that this does not occur in every level of school, pandemic or not, but being at home or working through a computer makes this into a much larger issue.

The consequences of the education system at this moment have yet to be uncovered; however, I am extremely curious to see the implications it has on our students, especially those in primary school. I am also interested in witnessing how this evaluation will be achieved because of what the testing could convey. Perhaps students could do just as well or better on testing because standardized tests do seem to evaluate this type of learning. They can see this limited perspective of students that may have improved in this type of school setting. Standardized tests are based on the idea of completion over learning, the priorities being in time constraints, and finding one correct answer, seemingly mimicking the current learning styles. Perhaps these tests will relay positive results in our modified education system. In this sense, it is important to consider their specific perspective and how it may convey the implications of pandemic education. Regardless of the aftermath, it is clear to me that student’s perception of learning itself and allowing it to be a process rather than a task is shifting within pandemic education, and it is important to acknowledge this as we take on our future that may never return to normal.

Thank you for reading, and please leave any thoughts below!

The Home Becoming the Classroom

The basis for remote learning relies on the teachers only partially, outside factors have a far greater impact than ever before in our new realm of education. Each student comes from a different background with their challenges, some far worse than others. During these times each factor is amplified. While some with supportive, or at the very least, stable homes have a chance to succeed, others must overcome obstacles that children should not have to deal with. While home life has always had an influence on education, it is now at the center of education for many students and plays an even more powerful role. 

Students with different home lives are impacted by the new education jostling. Boarding school, college, or even a normal day school provides an escape from the grasp that reality holds in their own home. While most schools cannot be the perfect haven they hope to be, at the very least they are an escape. Remote learning takes away this escape and puts many more stressors in this new learning environment. There is also another layer of difficulties that inherently come with technology. Learning is now completely centered around the ability to have stable Wi-Fi, which is simply not plausible in many households across the country. Within the new remote learning, the academic gap that existed prior to the pandemic is only amplified during our new learning environment. Students now may be in charge of taking care of younger siblings, they may have a much greater responsibility in the house than they would in a regular school year. The pandemic may have even taken their parent’s job or ripped a loved one from their life. The tragic circumstances we now live under affect some far more than others, and that is now having an even greater impact on our students. 

 The pandemic does not affect everyone equally and even some of those under terrible circumstances can have greater success in our new form of education. Some learners seem to not only be accepting online learning, but thriving within the shift. The new learning, while bringing up very difficult obstacles, also takes away some stressors from other students. Many teachers have expressed their surprise over some students seemingly thriving during whatever form of pandemic education they are in at the moment. Allowing some students to be removed from whatever issues the classroom brings up, allows for them to succeed in a different sort of classroom that they can create on their own. They now hold a new sense of independence and freedom that for some can be difficult to navigate, but for others, it can be a powerful tool in controlling their education. Almost every teacher I spoke to reflected on a portion of their students that did extremely well under these unexpected circumstances. None of them knew a precise reason why this appeared to occur, but it was there, nonetheless. This could be for a plethora of reasons; it could be alleviating social anxiety, being away from a large group of people could contribute to this, or perhaps something as simple as the separation from distracting classmates. Regardless, there is an evident presence of a population of students that are succeeding academically under remote learning.

 There are a million factors that contribute towards whatever you may define as academic success. When academia shifts from the walls of the classroom to the walls of one’s home the factors shift as well. This can be an extremely abrupt change for many students with more turbulent homes. There is a definite loss of stability with the change and that can be quite troubling for many students. Another unexpected obstacle is the realm of Zoom. Social pressures on this platform are being unveiled in manners that were nonexistent in January; including whether or not you have your camera on, what is in the background of your video, the inability to have the sound on in a noisy house, bad Wi-Fi and not being able to be heard/hear anyone else. While students used to have been insecure about wardrobe and appearance, now they are apprehensive about the perception of their home and themselves through the tiny windows of Zoom, while this may seem unimportant it is extremely stressful for students, especially those of lower socioeconomic status. Additionally, in being so isolated through distant learning, the only social interaction they may be having is through these calls which are often draining and socially unfulfilling. Their emotional well-being is another part of their ability to succeed that has been tampered by remote learning.

School can be incredibly stressful for so many reasons, and during these times the reasons may change, but the stressors remain. Some students are able to find the silver lining and are even enjoying our new technological education, even preferring it to their previous learning styles. This is amazing for these students, but is also important to acknowledge the other portion of our learners, those who are barely hanging on by a thread. The complexities of every student have always been there and through my conversations with teachers, it is clear that these complexities are even more apparent during these times. While these are representative of much larger issues within our society, they appear in our school system which can be perceived as a microcosm for what is to come in the real world. 

This issue is far greater than any blog post could convey, but in writing it I hope to create an important dialogue on the acknowledgment of these different standards of life for every student. Thank you for taking the time to read and please leave any thoughts below!

Different Classrooms, Different Challenges

It is imperative to comprehend the differences in subject matters when allowing for a better understanding of pandemic education. Whether students are learning remotely or in some sort of hybrid learning environment it is crucial to consider how the content of what they are learning impacts the way in which they comprehend. Today I will be discussing the various impacts that different subjects in school have on our new form of learning. 

STEM courses are much more content-driven, and it is necessary to make it through specific units to obtain the desired set of knowledge. Guidelines must be set in order to achieve the standards the school or state has put in place. The goals are based on information and acquiring the information is vital to success in the coming years within the subject. Math and science courses need to learn equations and sets of knowledge that allow for them to gain what they need from the course. Last spring was particularly difficult for many of these courses in the abrupt change to remote learning for most of the population. Even now it may become more difficult to make it through the quantity of information that the course may have in the past.

Courses that are not as content-driven allow for the ability to adapt to different circumstances, like remote learning. English teachers can remove a book or story and still achieve the skills that are needed within the course. It is not always the actual literature that they are benefitting from, but the thought process and concepts behind them, therefore they can still hope to acquire the same skills with less content. While that aspect of it makes for a smoother transition, there is a lack of ability to have the discussions needed in this type of course over Zoom, especially for younger kids. Whereas the STEM courses have the opposite issue in that they are forced to stay on track, yet they don’t necessarily need the group discussions that a less content-driven course may need.

There is also the additional aspect of the pandemic intertwining with subjects and the decision on whether to implement aspects of the pandemic into the curriculum. Some teachers I spoke to said it naturally came up within their courses, but they didn’t make any intentional changes to the prior curriculum. Many teachers that I have interacted with, expressed that they do not have any desire to intentionally add it into the curriculum because of how much space it is already taking up in students’ reality. The pandemic never truly escapes anyone’s mind and creating a lesson around only exacerbates the issue. However, allowing it to be incorporated organically can be extremely beneficial to students and their comprehension. Utilizing this global challenge in allowing for a greater comprehension of the subject matter can create a long-lasting sense of knowledge. This can be true in science courses, obviously, but also in other courses such as English or social studies. In allowing for these current events to seep into their classrooms naturally teachers can successfully convey the necessary skills. 

While each type, of course, has its challenges in order to understand remote learning it is important to acknowledge the shortcomings as well as the benefits of teaching a specific subject amidst a pandemic. Remote learning and teaching is not a “one size fits all” type of job. Each subject has its own set of obstacles, but their differences can also allow for a set of unexpected strengths. This is not to say that one subject is easier to teach during a pandemic, only that in exploring the different challenges within each course we can understand education during the pandemic as a whole.  

Thank you for taking the time to read and please leave any thoughts below!

Persistent Sense of Hopefulness

The pandemic holds an enormous impact on students and teachers in our school system. Most articles and observers focus solely on the negative consequences of education during COVID, and rightfully so, but there is also is an interesting balance of discovering the silver lining during the unprecedented chaos. This lining takes on many different forms and requires a different sort of perception. As I have spoken to teachers, there is an inevitable focus on the issues surrounding their new teaching circumstances, but there always comes a time in our conversations where they reflect on the unexpected moments of hopefulness.

The sense of community rises amidst global tragedy, and that is especially potent in schools. The comradery I briefly referred to in the last blog is certainly present in classrooms of every shape and size. There is nothing like mutual suffering to bond a community. Schools, and more specifically classrooms, hold an inherent bond of togetherness. Educators have spoken about the sense of comfort and relief students have in being a part of a school community in whatever way they are able. Those who are in person, especially, have conveyed their positive reactions to being able to see and speak to students. In our world safety and normalcy are difficult to acquire, and a school can be that haven for many students.  

In order to achieve this sense of community, there is a need to utilize technology in ways that have not been used before, which can be scary. Technology’s grip on our society is undeniable in this day and age. It has complete control over our perception of the world and ourselves. Within technology’s control over humanity, it is important to understand and utilize it as well. Learning and teaching online allows for a great opportunity to harness some sense of control over this impending source of power that is technology. There have been so many incredible resources that teachers and students alike are discovering to benefit themselves and their education. Most are much more in tune with technology, or at the very least more aware of the potential it can hold. Teachers have reflected on how much they have been forced to learn through these times, willing or unwilling. The exposure to the newfound tools of education through technology has been largely positive, even though the process and circumstances are not.

The willingness to embrace technology also has a great impact on the transition to this brand new realm of learning. My own experience with online learning this past spring reflected the role that the professors’ willingness to change had on the success of the course. That is not to say that an educator’s technology skills have anything to do with their capabilities as a teacher, but amidst this chaos, those who are more accepting of technology have seemingly been able to make a smoother transition to our new reality of education. For many new educators, technology was already fully incorporated into their classroom, so this new reality was slightly more similar to their own before the pandemic. Whether on Zoom or a form of socially distant classroom, it is now necessary to branch out beyond the traditional classroom setting. Once again this does mean that those who are comfortable with technological learning are superior teachers, only that our new world is more similar to their own before the pandemic. Technology can be quite intimidating on many fronts, but the ability to harness and utilize it is invaluable. 

Modernity and technology are one in the same, one cannot exist without the other. Technology is an inevitability in our modernity and that truth has only grown stronger throughout this wild year. It allows for a unique sense of community and access to an infinite source of information. With this comes a dependency that is quite frightening on many fronts. It is impossible to quantify the success, or the harm technology is having in our schools, but the impact it has is undoubtedly complex and no one, let alone a twenty-something college student, is going to uncover a definite answer. Exploring education in technology is a journey without a destination, a journey that demonstrates the intricacies of being an educator. And amidst these complexities resides a persistent sense of hopefulness and community moving towards our future. 

Thank you for taking the time to read and please leave any thoughts below!