As a college student about to wrap up my junior year this week, it’s easy for me to get lost in the rhythm of too-close deadlines, unhealthy caffeine consumption, and late nights defined solely by procrastination.
The general emails my advisor has sent out since the start of quarantine regarding thinking about my senior thesis for next year have gone unread. I’ve put off an ungodly amount of assigned reading material this semester, but the bottom line is, I truly enjoy school, learning, and my teachers. Quarantine brain is just unfortunately a thing, in my half-hearted defense.
I’ve had instructors in both high school and college who have been incredibly understanding. They’ve supported me personally and creatively through rough patches, but also supported me when I was at my best and creating work of which I was truly proud. It goes without saying, but I wouldn’t be where I am today with the privilege to study history and journalism in college, at a school I truly enjoy, and have all these amazing academic and personal opportunities if it wasn’t for the kind and empathetic teachers I’ve had.
To say the least, the COVID-19 pandemic has created daunting and unsettling consequences on the education system for students, teachers, and parents. Whether we’re talking about elementary, middle, or high school, or college, all students across the globe have been affected in one way or another by COVID-19. Zoom classes have replaced in-person lessons and seminars. Campuses across the world have closed, and students have had to move out of dorms on short notice. Proms, commencements, and graduation ceremonies have either been canceled or postponed.
One of the truly defining factors of graduation festivities and commencements is simply being surrounded by the people that love and support you. There’s importance to be found in even putting on makeup or getting ready for prom with a big group of friends. Events that define spring semester can be as momentous as group graduation photos or signing yearbooks. But they can also be as benign as pulling a cram session before finals in the library. Either way, all these events require being in public, or around people—which completely contradicts social distancing, unfortunately.
As the month of May draws to a close, I’ve watched my friends in New York hold Instagram Live graduation ceremonies on their rooftops. Some of my old classmates in California are having “graduation car parades” to celebrate their younger siblings’ foregone middle school graduations. There has been more than one occasion in quarantine where younger kids in my neighborhood have driven around, ringing bells, to celebrate a “birthday parade.”
The lengths that school administrators have gone to still celebrate their graduating classes are admirable. Local news outlets across the countries are sharing stories about teachers creating lawn decorations and individually going to celebrate each graduate—all while social distancing.
Especially from a student’s point of view, we can sometimes see teachers as just people who assign us work. It’s easy to forget that teachers are people with busy lives as well.
Sarah Newton is a junior English major at Arizona State University, who also works full-time as a preschool aid. She’s been an online student since the start of the 2019-2020 academic school year, which allows her to accommodate working full-time while juggling a full course load.
Newton has noted how being an online student prior to the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely helped assuage stressed-out parents and her younger students who have run into technical or personal challenges with the switch to online school.
“I can definitely empathize with the parents and be like ‘Oh, guess what, I do this too, and I work full-time too, so I get how stressful this [adjustment] can be,” she said. “It’s helped to be able to help troubleshoot the challenges that parents run into.”
In quarantine, some of her responsibilities include putting together and mailing activity packets to students, creating lesson videos, and keeping track of classroom attendance.
“I’ll send the kids pictures of me doing my homework at the dinner table, for example. I think online school has kind of helped my students be more open to their teachers. Like, they can see their teacher at her house with her dogs in the video,” Newton explained. “The overall human relatability is important because I feel like a lot of education has to do with being personal.”
Teachers are incredibly vital and important to our education journey. Their acts of selflessness, care, and empathy haven’t gone unnoticed. It truly speaks to how valuable and essential teachers are, even when the world isn’t experiencing COVID-19.
The educational transition we’ve all undergone in light of COVID-19 has been challenging in many different ways, but I want to thank the brilliant teachers who have been understanding and continue to care for their students in any way during this uncertain time.
Illustration by Shonagh Rae for The New York Times.