Happy Back-to-School season, or should I say, Back-to-Back-Zoom season? As if life wasn’t already on the grid enough already, schools and districts are offering (and for many compulsory) online-learning in the face of the pandemic. As a Class of 2020 high school graduate myself, I’ve had a taste of this e-learning that may become part of our new normal in the next four years of college and for students still in high school. It is an evolving learning experience, and no one said it was, is, or will be easy, but here are just some tips to keep both our feet on the ground in this unprecedented time.
Tip #1: Find your own space.
The beauty of “going to school” is that the performative action of leaving the house and entering a building not associated with family, sleep, and dinner compels students to be students, not just sons, daughters, or children. Compartmentalizing our lives makes it easier to “switch gears” -- walking in the doors of the school signals the time for learning, friends, and focus. Now you’re stuck home, without the symbolic “stepping into a different world,” so what is needed is to create our own boundary that serves the same purpose. Do this by finding a space dedicated to school, or if possible, to each class. This doesn’t mean you need to have nine separate rooms for you to set up camp; simply move to a different corner or swap out for a different chair. Anything to signal a change in scenery will help bring back that signal to the brain that it is time to learn.
Tip #2: Take breaks.
Zoom fatigue is real. Something about fixating a stare onto a screen, the millisecond to seconds-long connection lag, not being able to watch the complete picture of body language -- these things add up to make a forty-minute class feel like an hour and a half, and three back-to-back Zooms the exhaustion of a lifetime. I know it, you know it. While we can’t upend the schedules set by schools and districts, we can only do our best to work with them. When you have a moment to take a break, take it. Do not stay where you are seated and go on your phone. Literally get up, move around, pour some water or grab a snack, use the bathroom -- use physical activity to truly respect your body and your focus.
Tip #3: Go outside!
We are only human, and we are not made for staring at screens for hours on end. You would be surprised at how a moment of fresh air or glimpse of natural light can remind your body that you are alive and there is more to your daily life than staring into a screen of blue light. This tip is that simple: after lunch or during longer breaks, treat yourself and reconnect with Mother Nature.
Tip #4: Talk with friends.
Friends -- and social interaction in general -- are arguably as equally important as the material learned in class. You’re a teen, and you’re just learning the ropes of being part of a community and a society! I remember the chief complaint in the last few months of my senior year being online learning really takes all the social and energetic parts of school -- connecting with friends, classmates, and teachers -- out and leaves only the necessity to work hard. Don’t let this pressure take over you. Reach out to friends, to classmates, to teachers -- this is a great time to make new friends and reconnect with old ones, and 9.9 times out of 10, who you are trying to reach will receive you with open arms because they also feel that little tick of isolation.
Tip #5: Cut yourself some slack.
Repeat after me: You are worth more than an image on a screen. Just because you are presented in a box with a name tag at the bottom left corner doesn’t make you any less human than sitting at a desk in a classroom and being able to make eye contact. This is a hard time for everyone, so be kind to yourself and remind yourself that e-learning is not the be-all and end-all of anything. Be proud of yourself that you are making history!
This is not an easy time for anyone, let alone students, teens, and adolescents balancing grades, social life, and learning who they are. These tips are only to get you started and vary for each person depending on their study habits and circumstances at home. In any case, know that no matter what happens, you have a support system of people who love and care about you and your well-being and are forever open to talking about your concerns, struggles, and thoughts. As always, from any corner of the world, you are welcome to send us a message and we will be your cheerleaders. Good luck!