By Emma, a 15-year old WIT Teen, in New York.
- Zoom classes have changed what “school” looks like to many students across the country, and in ways that go beyond academics.
- Remote learning has eliminated many of the organic social experiences and opportunities that come with being a high-schooler, including the disappearance of hallway conversations.
- These challenges also have some benefit, helping many teens to recognize and appreciate the value in everyday interactions.
It’s not breaking news to say that virtual learning has been a challenge for everyone. It’s difficult to sit in front of a computer and stay engaged for hours, the time being filled with busy work and assignments that all blur together.
But in my mind, the real cost of Zoom schooling has been the loss of social connections. High school is the time that we’re supposed to put ourselves out there and have fun and meet people and try new things. Simply being in the school building forces you to have interactions that seem casual, but turn out to be quite valuable.
Classroom friendships, developing personal connections with teachers, and even a quick laugh in the hallway are all aspects of the school day I once took for granted. Now, I miss them all.
And I believe many high schoolers will have a new respect for “in person learning” after experiencing what it’s like to learn remotely and not be able to interact with their peers.
The Loss of “School Friends”
“School friends” are people whom you don’t often talk to when you leave the classroom. Sure, you might follow them on social media or text them if you’re stuck on homework, but you wouldn’t necessarily make plans with them separately because you’re not really that close. They may be someone who was randomly placed in your group for a project, but over time they became someone you could glance at when the teacher said something funny, or that you would gravitate towards if you were told to “partner up.” You might have one or two of these “school friends” in each class, and even though you wouldn’t invite them to your birthday, they still make whatever class you had together that much better.
But, you can’t really share a smile with someone over Zoom; being stuck in a breakout room with someone just isn’t the same as toiling over a project in person. I’ve made hardly any “school friends” this year, and I’ve really missed the connection and bonds that came with those relationships. I didn’t realize the value held in the light friendships that appeared throughout my day.
The Student-Teacher Relationship Shift
Before this year, it was pretty easy to understand a teacher and get a good grasp on each class within the first couple weeks, and you could often feel like the teacher actually understood who you were and the work that you were going to produce as well. And though I feel most teachers have a sense at this point about who their students are, there’s still a certain lingering distance between the students and faculty.
It’s much harder to get to know someone over a screen than when you’re standing face to face. And, when you don’t know someone as well, it’s more challenging to be attentive, to want to learn, and to just be yourself.
It seems to be the consensus amongst students that we’re not as comfortable asking for extra help through one-on-one Zooms as we would be asking to stay after class to go over a question.
But I think the appreciation students have for their instructors will increase once we’re back in the classroom, due to the surprising impact this lack of connection has had.
The Disappearance of Passing Hallway Conversations
While in school, the time between classes were some of the best parts of my day. For students (such as myself) who enjoy being social, catching up with friends, saying hi to others, and just being able to see everyone and recognize the faces around me during the five-minute increments in the halls, passing time was…almost fun. Now, my time between classes consists pretty much of finding the next Zoom link (maybe I’ll get a glass of water or even go for a snack if I’m feeling really crazy). It’s just another factor that makes every day the same as the one before, and most likely a preview for the one coming after. I had never thought about the impact these short interactions had on my day, and now that they’re not there anymore, I really miss those moments.
The Silver Lining
However, it’s not all bad. Not being forced to see people every day means that we have to be proactive if we want to connect with others. I’ve been able to see who’s really important to me in a way that I haven’t before, noticing myself being more intentional with the connections I’m making, and not keeping in contact with some people who I previously thought were some of my good friends. With school no longer forcing us to interact, I’ve found out who I actually want to spend my time and energy with, as opposed to who I hung out with just because they were there.
Author Bio: Emma Wasserman is a 15 year old from Chappaqua, New York, attending Horace Greeley High School as a freshman. When not in school, she’s either playing piano, dancing, writing, hanging out with friends, thinking about science, or running her social enterprise “The Sweet Project.”