Lockers slamming shut... The constant ringing of the school bell. The chatter of conversation on everything from test answers to relationship problems.
These are just some of the sounds that you hear during your typical high school day. At least, they were the sounds I heard until my school and thousands of others across the country transitioned to virtual learning. Now, my typical school day consists of sitting in my room alone, working on my computer.
I miss many aspects of my former life — sports, hanging out with friends, and even a few of my teachers. So why don’t I miss school?
As this school year finally winds down to a close I’ve found myself pondering this question a lot and I think I’ve come up with a few answers.
Virtual instruction is sometimes better than face-to-face instruction
Some subjects that I have struggled with in the past have become easier to understand during virtual school. Even though I usually only have a half-hour of class time a week with most of my teachers, a significant drop from the three to four hours of instructional time I used to receive, I find that I sometimes understand the material better than I did in regular school. Maybe this is because some teachers feel the need to over-explain the material now since we’re not in the typical class setting and the virtual, in-person time to ask questions is limited. I don’t know for sure, but I have noticed that during this time of virtual learning many of the subjects that challenged me previously have become easier to understand.
With virtual schooling I can learn at my own pace
My teachers post assignments on Monday and they are not due until Friday or sometimes even the following Monday. This is very nice. Sometimes, in subjects like science and math (specifically, physics), grasping new concepts can take time. And yet in traditional school we are expected to all learn on the same schedule and at the same pace. This is not realistic for most students, myself included.
Virtual school also affords me the ability to take breaks and stand up and move around whenever I choose. If a topic is frustrating I can walk away from it and go do something else, like read a book or juggle the soccer ball. Also, while studying I have the freedom to switch from subject to subject whenever I please, so if I am having a hard time understanding math I can just switch over to history for a while and then come back to math later. The flexibility that virtual school offers students to work at their own pace is awesome and I think as a result some of us are learning better.
With virtual school there are far fewer social interaction
I am one of the most introverted people I know. I do not enjoy parties, school dances, or any function that has large groups of people. I can sometimes be anxious and socially awkward. I often spend way too much time thinking about the things I have said long after I’ve said them. I am also atrocious at small talk, which makes up a lot of your average high schooler’s school day. With virtual schooling, I can avoid the interactions that freak me out the most and at which I am, admittedly, not very good.
Drama makes up a large part of your average teenager’s day, and therefore, high school is full of it. Sometimes it feels like I’m walking on eggshells, trying as hard as I can to not say or do something that will either hurt the feelings of others, or get me involved in ongoing drama. I am constantly stressing over my every move and word.
Online school allows me to have more control over my social interactions. Platforms like Snapchat, iMessage and FaceTime don’t require talking so for people like me who sometimes obsess over thinking they’ve said the wrong thing, they are perfect mediums for communication. I can think through what I say before I say it and rarely find myself over-thinking what I have said because I know I’ve read it over and there is no way that I can regret what I have said. Virtual school allows me to have much more control over my social interaction.
Virtual school is less work
Your average high schooler does at least two hours of homework a night and that’s on top of the hours we spend on extracurricular activities such as sports or clubs. As an admitted perfectionist I usually spent at least four hours a day on homework pre-pandemic. During the pandemic I’ve found that teachers have cut back on the workload. For this, I am grateful, but the decision to reduce the work should have happened long ago. Our current situation has eliminated pretty much every time commitment that most high school students have, absent being an essential worker. Students no longer have sports practices and games and most extracurricular clubs have postponed their meetings. If anything, students now have more time on their hands. This is ironic. The amount of homework I’ve had during the pandemic has shown me that the amount that used to be assigned was too much and needs to be reduced, especially as we place more and more value on “well-roundedness” in young people. How can we be expected to be well-rounded when most of our available after-school time is taken up by homework?
Virtual school starts at a reasonable hour
The school start time debate has been going on for a long time but the topic has been brought to the surface recently as some schools in Rhode Island have rolled back the time they begin each morning. During virtual school, the earliest class I have begins at nine — a full hour and forty-five minutes later than the old in-person start time. Pre-pandemic, a lot of my peers were waking up as early as 5:30 a.m. to catch the bus, further reducing the amount of sleep they got, especially due to the amount of homework that we were assigned.
I think that it will be very hard for students to return to the old school start times if their bodies have become acclimated to later wake-ups during this period of virtual schooling. Sleep is important and even more so for teenagers as our brains are still developing and our bodies tend to “wake up” later at night when the adults are beginning to fade. If I’ve learned anything about the school start-time debate during coronavirus it’s that the people arguing for later start times are right: school needs to start at a more reasonable time that meets the needs of teenage brains and bodies.
In light of all this, it’s clearer and clearer to me, as the pandemic rages on, that if we don’t go back to school in the fall it will be fine with me. I enjoy online school more than in-person school and, more importantly, I feel that I am learning better this way. Virtual school just seems to better suit my learning needs, and I’m probably not alone. I’m willing to bet that there are many other introverts out there who are happily sitting in their rooms, doing their classwork for hours each day. We are the descendents of generations of poets and artists and thinkers like Henry David Thoreau, who, in his book Walden, writes, “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone.” I, too, enjoy being alone. My bedroom is my safe haven and virtual schooling has given me the ability to escape the stress-inducing and often boring influences of the typical academic school day.
Thank goodness for that.
The author is a freshman student at North Kingstown High School