An overlooked perspective: what teachers wish students would would do differently

October 12, 2020 — by Anjali Nuggehalli

As English teacher Marcos Cortez watched his first-period students trickle into online class at 8:30 a.m., he waited for the chorus of “good morning.” 

He did not hear a peep.

Instead, Cortez stared at 35 bleary-eyed juniors. For some students, all he could see was their pixelated forehead, and others had their cameras entirely turned off. Cortez could not help but feel disappointed at his class’s lack of enthusiasm, adding to the list of things he wished students would do differently in online learning.

“I knew that it was going to be difficult to form connections and form a community while in online learning,” Cortez said. “But when students don’t say a word for the entire class, it affects everyone, and drags down the academic environment.” 

When even a few students refrain from bringing energy to the class, Cortez says that they are robbing their peers and teachers of a sense of unity and togetherness.  

For this reason, Cortez has encouraged his students to treat his Zoom classes as they would in an in-person school setting, whether that is being enthusiastic for class or simply saying hello to their peers. 

He acknowledges that many students, especially in a discussion-based class like MAP or English, struggle with finding the confidence to participate. Still, he said this is where the richest learning occurs.

 “Journeying outside of your comfort zone, even if that means raising your hand in class or just making one comment, is where the education takes place,” Cortez said. “The more positive contributions we all make, the better the learning experience will be.”

 Cortez also emphasized that teachers have had to deal with the same challenges that students endure, from navigating unfamiliar technology to dealing with the mental toll of shelter-in-place. 

While he understands that many high schoolers are caught up in navigating their own lives, Cortez wants students to realize that this is “a challenge for all of us, students, teachers, parents and loved ones alike.” 

Cortez has had to manage both navigating online school as well as looking out for his family. Cortez’s wife is a breast cancer survivor, and he understands her immune system places her at greater risk for contracting the  virus.

“The stress of shelter-in-place is a shared experience between all of us,” Cortez said. “Caring for our loved ones as well as our students takes an emotional toll for sure.” 

Chemistry teacher Kathy Nakamatsu has had her share of difficulties in online learning, primarily with supervising the integrity of her students.  

Especially while teaching the foundational lessons in chemistry, she worries that her students are relying too much on the internet for answers.

 “I’m concerned that my students are using Google instead of actually doing any critical thinking,” Nakamatsu said. “It’s really important to learn this material and it’s crucial that you go through the hard work of learning and analyzing it.” 

In addition to encouraging students to think deeper when doing individual work, Nakamatsu urges her classes to be vocal during her live lessons. While she cold-calls her students during class to keep them engaged, she also wishes to see a wider range of students actively volunteering to speak up. 

Several of her students rely on the Zoom chat feature to share their answers, but Nakamatsu hopes that they will eventually get comfortable enough to vocalize their thoughts in class.

 Although teachers urge their classes to bring more enthusiasm and ideas to class, they also acknowledge that students, like teachers, are figuring things out day by day.

 “I think for both students and teachers, we have all had to go through a period of adjustment,” Nakamatsu said. “But you don’t really grow unless you step out of your comfort zone, even if it’s just a little bit.” 

 

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