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Go Back to the List April 23, 2020
Teachers and Students Describe a Remote-Learning Life

This article is part of our latest Learning special report, which focuses on the challenges of online education during the coronavirus outbreak.

We asked teachers and college students about their experiences with the change to online instruction. The Learning Network, a site about teaching and learning with content from The New York Times, asked students in grades K through 12 how they have been coping with remote learning. The following comments have been edited and condensed.

Teachers’ Voices

So much of what we do in classrooms are driven by student responses and reactions. I’d give anything to watch their faces light up, their hands in the air, their smiles and fist pumps when they share a new learning or big idea with me. – Meg Burke teaches grades 3 through 8, Doylestown, Pa.

Here I am, at 66, within a year of full retirement, having to learn how to use Google Classroom with 35 first graders at various places in their learning. I feel as though I am attempting to drive on a road that I am simultaneously paving while also following a paper map. – Janet Kass, teaches first grade, Bloomingburg, N.Y.

Over 80 percent of the students at my school come from low-income families, and only a quarter of my students have a computer at home. For economically disadvantaged students, this outbreak means they will fall even further behind their wealthier peers. – Kaitlin Barnes, teaches fourth grade, Baltimore

Dear Parents: I promise you that we have your child’s best interest at heart. We worry about them, we miss them, we want more than anything to be back in the classroom. We don’t teach because we like figuring out how to work Zoom, we don’t teach to stare at a screen all day, we don’t teach to field an onslaught of emails each day. We teach because we love your children. – Kara Concision, teaches sixth grade, Watertown, Mass.

I work with continuation high school students (where I have been for 23 years) who have a deep connection to our school, and I know we all feel lost, lost without the daily hugs, fist bumps and dose of reality we try to provide to each other.  – Gregg Witkin teaches grades 10 through 12, San Jose, Calif.

I miss getting to celebrate with them, cry with them, laugh with them. These are memories with my seniors that I will never get back. That is what hurts the most. – Stacey Travis, teaches high school math, Maryville, Tenn.

I miss real conversations with my students, about anything, but particularly about their writing. It doesn’t seem like students have any motivation to participate in things outside of school. – Matthew Ebersole, teaches eighth grade, Gloucester, Va.

Teaching involves human connection, and I feel like that’s been taken away from me. – Mathew Kennedy, teaches grades 7 and 8, New Orleans

My students are eighth-graders. They may not be learning as much history as my former students or writing as many essays, but they are LIVING history right now.  But they’re learning so much — resilience, time management, and how to be responsible for their own learning. – Lauren Brown, teaches eighth grade, Oak Park, Ill.

I believe that this distance learning has enhanced portions of my teaching. I am now allowed to utilize technology that perhaps I haven’t had time to before. I’ve also noticed that my students who struggled academically in class are excelling online.   – Jodi Ramos, teaches sixth grade, San Antonio

No amount of online instruction can replace the power and potential of student-teacher relationships and the learning that happens in that context. Both teachers and students are the lesser for that. – Joshua Fleming, teaches ninth grade, Redmond, Wash.

I attempted a Zoom discussion about the end of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with my eighth graders. In response to my questions, I heard two or three strong ideas and a parent asking about chores. It made me a little sad, since the play is always a favorite of ours, and our study of it ended in such an anticlimactic way. – Pauline Brew, teaches grades 6-8, Columbus, Ohio

Student Voices
I have had more free time, but I feel less productive, taking more time to complete each assignment (however this hasn’t necessarily led to better results). I very much miss the social aspect of school. – Ariana Oppenheimer, 15, The Pennington School, Lawrenceville, N.J.

I believe that I have it very lucky and I know that some of my peers are struggling a lot. I know that my school is trying very hard to help the kids, like providing food for children that relied on school lunches and having a curbside pickup for laptop rentals.  – Morgan Sharp, 15, Anna High School, Anna, Texas

Me and my friends often have to work for quite a long time, like at least 5 hours on all the assignments. It’s really boring to read the lesson info by yourself and then apply it to your assignments. I feel like this is the hard part. The good thing however, is that we don’t have to wake up at a certain time, so we are at least now getting enough sleep. – Danny Peng, 13, William Alexander Middle School, Brooklyn

Remote learning has introduced a new classroom dynamic, in which the inability to see one’s classmates/students causes classmates to begin speaking at the same time (and consequently stop speaking) and teachers to move on to the next subject despite a student’s hurried attempt to type their question into the chat box. – Cindy Li, 16, Glenda Dawson High School, Pearland, Texas

I have committed to college, school has been canceled (any student’s dream), and ice cream can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So why do I still wish that I was back in school? – Ethan Turkewitz, 17, New Rochelle High School, New Rochelle, N.Y.

There are some distractions when learning at home. Since everyone is required to do remote learning, it can be really loud if there are people in your house who are also doing the same thing. – Alvin L., 14, William Alexander Middle School, Brooklyn

Since my school has started online class it’s been harder to motivate myself to work and pay attention. I also miss my art elective. We had our first online art class today and it was only 20 minutes long which was strange because it’s usually two hours.  – Alexis Jennings, 16, School of the Woods High School, Houston, Texas

It can become very stressful to completely shift our schedules and our academic plans. Due to this, one day at a time method has become extremely helpful for me. – Valeria Casas, 17, Glenbard West High School, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

In the beginning, I was so confused and didn’t know how to work anything and set up my Google classroom for different classes, and keep track of all the homework. But I’m getting the hang of it. Hopefully, things can go back to normal because I miss going to school. – Mia Mohamed, 13, Middle School 51 William Alexander, Brooklyn

Online school has been a stressful process for many of my friends and me. I live in an area where internet access and Wi-Fi are hard to get and, as a result, I’m not only stressed about school but I’m often anxious that I will not be able to join and maintain access to online classes and assignments. – Kitty Evans, 16, The Pennington School, Stockton, N.J.

Remote learning has been difficult for me. I have encountered obstacles such as slow internet, procrastination, and feelings of isolation from my friends and family. While technology does allow us to interact with each other somewhat effectively, it should not replace face to face interactions. – Argelina Jeune, 15, Valley Stream North High School, Valley Stream, N.Y.

I wake up every morning and do homework all day long. I thought having all my classes online would make my life easier because I’d be able to work ahead, but I’m actually falling behind. – Laney McDermott, 17, Williams High School, Burlington, N.C.

College Students’ Voices

I was studying abroad in Buenos Aires and was sent home after 17 days. I am now living at home, taking classes in Spanish about Argentina online, and struggling to get a refund for room and board from my study abroad program.  However, all in all, I have been incredibly lucky as no one in my family is sick, and I’m not worried about where my next meal or paycheck is coming from. – Pearl Sullivan, Atlanta, Elon University

I’m an international student, so I had to go home. The time difference is nine hours, so all my classes are at night and extend into the early morning.  I’m studying at desks I share with my brother and dad. My campus bookstore is offering to ship my textbooks for free, but it’ll take months for them to reach me. – Amina Elmasry, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Northwestern University

My schooling was online already. The difference is now being faced with food and financial insecurity and still being expected to turn in all homework, study topics that are all pretty disturbing (for social work master’s degree), and get projects done on time.  – Sonya Davis, San Diego, Rutgers University

My attention span at home is a lot shorter than it is at school since my house was not created to be a school environment. Every time I have a class or I want to get some homework done, there’s always some kind of distraction.  – EJ Onah, Ithaca, N.Y., SUNY Albany

I would so much rather be back in class. Online courses are more work than the normal classes.  It’s also harder to get feedback on your to work. The professors and T.A.s are doing the best they can to support “office” hours, but it’s just not the same. I can’t wait to be back in class. – Howard Lukk, Los Angeles, University of California, Santa Barbara

I am a biology student with the intention of going into medicine after graduation. One of the most important parts of our undergrad education is science labs, which give us practical experience and application of the difficult concepts we learn in our lecture courses. Due to the outbreak, my organic chemistry lab has had to go online, which is essentially an impossible undertaking. All of us are missing out on this essential process of synthesizing our own reagents and running a chemical reaction, replaced by this poor substitute for watching videos and doing worksheets.  – Andrei Robu, Greenville, S.C., University of South Carolina, Columbia

My university gave me three days to move out of my dorm. With my parents living 10 hours away, it was terrible circumstances. I had no car to put everything I owned. My boyfriend’s family came in a clutch and helped me move out and let me stay in a spare bedroom of theirs. If not for his family, I would have had nowhere to stay. The day after I moved my stuff out, Whitmer announced a shelter in place order to start the next day at midnight. I called my parents, and my dad drove 20 hours round trip to get me home.  – Karen Larss, Iron Mountain, Mich., Western Michigan University

I am a 55-year-old man who takes two classes per semester after work towards a TESL degree: teaching English as a second language. I enjoy the classroom experience. It is how I effectively learn. Listening to live lectures, asking questions, and speaking with other students about assignments and concepts. Both my classes went online, and I knew immediately that I would have to drop one of them as I was having trouble with the material in a normal classroom setting. I knew that I would not be successful sitting in my living room with all the distractions of home around me while trying to focus on a tough subject. – Kent Shimizu, Santa Clarita, Calif., California State University, Northridge

I do enjoy being able to wake up later because now I just have to log in to a class rather than get ready for an entire day. I can also sleep more, but I still miss the in-person interactions going to class on campus provides. I’m also worried about how moving online is going to impact classes that require sequential learning or classes that assume I acquired skills already learned in a prior class. – Kate Carniol, Great Falls, Va., Syracuse University

As a senior, transitioning to online learning has been nothing but difficult. Sometimes I’m not even motivated to do my work. I am a good student, I have a 3.5 GPA but everything is on you now.  – Casey Malone, Milford, Conn., Westfield State University

Being at college, I was able to forget the sometimes-traumatizing moments I lived through as a teenager. But now, every part of my childhood home reminds me of the past I’ve tried very hard to move on from. I know I should be grateful simply to have a roof over my head and relative financial security at a time like this, but it’s hard not to let myself get sucked down the rabbit hole of my high school mental health challenges that seemed so far gone while I was living on my own at college. – Kelsey Bonham, Washington, Colgate University

As a theater major, the online curriculum poses particular challenges for my classmates and I, since much of our learning is highly kinesthetic. In my Presentational Styles acting class, we’re performing Shakespeare’s Macbeth via Zoom, and the project certainly loses much of its excitement and immediacy when we aren’t all performing in a room together. Despite these setbacks, I remain impressed by how adaptable and positive my professors have been in approaching them. – Sydney Cahill, New Providence, N.J., Providence College

Our academic advisers are going beyond and above to make sure all students are comfortable with this change. Online tutoring has been implemented for the success of the students. We meet with the president of the school weekly via Instagram live along with our academic advisers via Zoom. I’m a hands-on type of person, and as a member of the Quinnite Nation, I am proud to say through these trying times we are an uplifted community. – Pakedra D. McCoy, Dallas, Paul Quinn College

Things are much more self-managed. My emotions toward school range from feeling unmotivated to writing shadow letters to my professors apologizing for my lack of focus. I have always loved school, but this doesn’t feel like learning. My professors try to create normalcy, but there is none.  – Alexsis Tarte, Fairfax, Va., George Mason University

I’m a junior, and my anxiety is at an all-time high. More recently, my exams, assignments, discussion boards, and document submissions have been piling up. I work at a noncorporate, family-owned, restaurant drive-through full time and go to school full time. With Shreveport and Louisiana becoming a hot spot, I fear I might attract the virus by working, but going to work is my escape from school and general life.  – Jacob Pickett, Stonewall, La., Louisiana State University, Shreveport

Going to school filled me to the brim with nirvana, that is until we switched to online instruction. Now, my education is no longer an escape into “me time” — it is midnight after a long day, dry-eyed and exhausted, staring blankly at my laptop screen searching for motivation. As a new mother of a 4-month-old, in-person classes held the irreplaceable value of “me time.” Even the hourlong commutes, with raging drivers and construction detours, were enjoyable because of the break it gave me to just do something for myself.  – Alexis Coates, Ridley Park, Penn., West Chester University of Pennsylvania

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Written by The New York Times,
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