In a year of virtual instruction, I’ve watched people wilt. My teachers ache for class engagement they don’t receive. Every time I catch up with friends I don’t regularly see anymore, our greeting is “Are you coping okay?” Although I sit all day, it feels like I’m never still enough to take a deep breath. Every morning, I look in the mirror and see the bags under my eyes have grown heavier. My overburdened hands cramp while brushing my teeth. The rest of the day, until sleep, I brave the barriers of virtual communication and teach myself what Zoom instruction can’t.
Eager to mitigate strain on myself and my teachers, I chose the in-person hybrid model.
However, after a strenuous and frankly bizarre first day, I wonder if watching my teachers conduct a Zoom class (if they’re even present) with occasional glances up at me is really benefiting anyone.
Note that, as I have a last name between A-D and was among the very first group of students to be in-person, I was a bit of a guinea pig. Many of the kinks I experienced will be resolved. Still, with less than 50% of students in the building, I believe adjusting to this hybrid model will be neither smooth nor productive for everyone.
On multiple occasions, I found myself talking to four people at once — some being faces flickering on a screen, some right in front of me. One of my teachers isn’t in-person, so I sat in his classroom alone with a room monitor. She probably had no idea what she’d signed up for (which made two of us) and was clueless of Zoom procedure. I tried to explain to her how to unmute and what a breakout room was, but my efforts proved fruitless and two technology helpers joined us for the remainder of the chaotic period. They helped her join the class through the projector, so I was watching and hearing class twice, meaning my voice echoed back to me. I was totally lost.
Hybrid Cedar Shoals is not the Cedar Shoals I know. At the Cedar Shoals I know, the hallways pulse with movement. Passing students excitedly greet each other, clogging traffic and making it a fight to get from class to class. Hybrid hallways are quiet, easily navigable and lacking familiar faces. At the Cedar Shoals I know, the cafeteria has no extra seating and laughter echoes off the walls. Secrets whisper through the tables and everyone is too busy catching them to be bothered by the harsh fluorescent lighting or questionable menu. Hybrid lunch has punishing fluorescents that make the scene relentlessly visible: kids too uncomfortable to eat are sitting alone at tables looking around with dazed eyes, as if trying to remember what went wrong.
However, despite the starkly different atmosphere, I found some aspects of in-person instruction refreshing. Being able to simply ask a question out loud, foregoing the virtual communication hurdles, is beautifully uncomplicated. In the class I struggle most in, I was the only in-person student, which gave me the opportunity to ask dozens of questions. My teacher checked on me throughout the class and, despite the strangeness of watching him teach to a computer full of kids I could only believe were there, I felt confident in what I’d learned.
Physically witnessing my teachers engage camera-less screens with muted microphones and wrangle uncooperative technology has made me very grateful for their efforts. Objectively, I knew it was hard — but it looks so strenuous and disheartening. The school district, too, is not to blame for an unglamourous and somber hybrid experience. All of the necessary safety precautions have been taken. They’ve probably saved lives. My family and I have never felt at risk, and I’m proud to be a student of a responsible district.
So, I am left with just the desire for the situation to be different. I miss — and I never thought I’d say this — hallways overpopulated with boisterous teenagers, kids an arms length away from me in class and smiles uninhibited by masks. I miss not worrying about catching COVID and killing someone. I miss the selfish ignorance of a pandemic-less high school life.
I have reckoned with this vain longing. I am ready to give hybrid learning a shot. Despite its hiccups and deviations from the Cedar Shoals I know, hybrid allows me to at least try to constructively engage with learning.