Opinion | E-learning expectations must factor in student mental health

Linnea Mayo, Assistant Opinion Editor

With the first quarter already complete, students and teachers alike experienced one of the strangest starts to their school year. With various e-learning moderations implemented since March of last year, online learning has become one of the largest adjustments students have been forced to make. The unfortunate reality of this is the rare chance of things returning to “normal,” including our learning experiences. This especially means assigning a similar or increased load of work for students simply because they are online. As COVID-19 cases increase at concerning levels in Illinois, Chicago Tribune reported over 15,000  new confirmed and probable cases as of Friday, Nov. 13, as well as the new Stay-At-Home Advisory issued by the City Of Evanston, we shouldn’t expect to go back anytime soon. 

While we’ve had to adjust as students to a new way of learning, many teachers are still learning how to adjust themselves to accommodate students’ new needs in a remote environment. Considering online learning isn’t effective for everyone, teachers’ need to learn to understand this when it comes to workload and the way they teach.

“I feel like the teachers that try to go back to normal don’t really understand or respect the timing of other students, and how they are going through a lot using this time. Going through this time can be really confusing to be doing this school work, and they have other priorities,” says junior Abby Israeli. 

Online learning is not normal, and certainly not made for everyone. Personally, I’ve had a lot of trouble effectively learning through a screen, as well as having the motivation or capacity to complete my work without attending school in person

“High school teaching, we teach to one type of person often,  and I don’t think it’s the right way, so they might be struggling no matter what, but that number’s kind of doubled during e-learning,” says AP Government Business Law, Accounting, and Personal Finance teacher David Feeley.

However, as the work piles up and students like myself feel themselves continue to struggle, teachers should realize workload needs to lessen, and students’ health needs to be prioritized during these times. Two of the ways teachers could do this includes adjusting heavy workload based on student feedback, as well as having open communication and relationships amongst teachers and students. 

First, workload. Considering our current situation, the amount of work teachers would like to give is unreasonable because it can be difficult for students to meet and prioritize this large expectation, and the stress it causes. After spending hours on a Zoom lecture completing work or taking notes, students are left with additional homework. Personally, I always find myself feeling exhausted after class, in need of a break before starting my long schedule of homework, leading to late nights and increased stress. In fact, the Student Union’s Remote Learning Student Survey found that, “Two-thirds of Evanston Township High School students feel ‘highly stressed during remote learning,’” according to Evanston Nows report.  

“Only one of my teachers has admitted to cutting down on work and I appreciate it, but it still feels like so much. Like, as soon as school is done, I’m doing 10 worksheets, it’s like school all day,” says junior Emi Brady. 

The change to Monday’s asynchronized days are a prime example of this work overload, as many teachers distribute more work than the estimated 30 minutes. I’ve found myself spending hours on assignments meant to last less than an hour, only to have to continue on with the rest of my school work. While Mondays are not a day off, the fact that they are an additional cause of stress for students indicates change must be made.  

“I have definitely felt overworked because even if we don’t have a lot of the material or access to things, so we’re still getting the same or even more workload than we did in school, and it felt like a shorter amount of time to complete it. And it feels like there’s always a new assignment every single day, and it can be really stressful at times,” says Israeli. 

This e-learning stress detection can often be the determining factor of a student’s success. The Student Union’s Student survey was a prime example of a helpful checkin for students to receive. Having checkins like these on a regular basis, every few weeks if possible, could be beneficial. However, the key to sending out surveys similar to that of the Student Union’s is taking every student’s word into account. If a teacher receives feedback of work being overwhelming or too much, use this to adjust your schedule and lessen your work. 

“My feedback comes from students, so I do hear some students say they’re getting too much work, that it’s difficult to stay up,” says Feeley. 

Though this may be difficult, if teachers truly want their students to be successful, it’s their responsibility to listen. This is especially true for those having trouble with online learning overall. Oftentimes, school is taught to one type of person, and especially under e-learning, working with students when they have the courage to express their worries can go a long way. 

“Having a lot of work and having no time to reflect on your mental health and your physical health can be detrimental. I definitely think teachers should take time to ask students how they’re doing and to get input from them on the workload, because some classes yes they’re difficult, but no one when they signed up for these classes expected them to be in the situation that they are,” adds Israeli.

This leads into another possible adjustment, focusing on establishing relationships in the classroom. Had ETHS been in person, we would have been establishing regular relationships with teachers and staff, and working in a shared space. Without these key experiences, it’s become increasingly difficult for students as they navigate their online work. In a traditional classroom, teachers would be able to detect a negative mood or situation and work to alleviate it. Within a virtual classroom, this has proven to be difficult. However, although it might be difficult for teachers to connect to students in a face-to-face manner the way they once have, it is not impossible for them to connect with their students. There are difficulties added to both students’ and teachers’ experiences, and it’s imperative we connect during this time. 

Overall, rather than simply focusing on planning lessons, tests, and assignments, teachers could be doing more for students. This begins with the simple acknowledgment that it takes a lot for students to show up, stay engaged and complete all work with everyday stresses of today’s world. For students struggling with an overwhelming feeling of work overload, transparency and openness are essential. I know if more teachers were able to acknowledge the stress students are feeling, I would feel more comfortable and compelled to be as successful as possible. 

However, this also goes back to communicating and assigning reasonable amounts of work and constantly checking in with students to see how they’re handling this work. Changes like these would benefit students by making sure they are able to handle and learn as effectively as remote learning allows. 

“Ask students what better way they learn and focus on ways you can help teach them rather than just fitting in all the requirements they need to do for school, because I feel like a lot of teachers focus on ‘Oh, we need to get this done, and this done’ and not necessarily on ‘Are my students learning anything from this?’” says Israeli.  

Although it’s certainly become difficult for teachers to see how individual students behave and are learning, and, therefore, monitor their success, teachers realizing workload needs to lessen, and prioritizing students’ health during these times could begin to fix this issue. This new reality of e-learning may not be the most efficient or effective way for many to learn, but with the help of teachers, it’s certainly not impossible to get through together.