It is often said that you never know what you have until it’s gone. As cliché and overused as the phrase my seem, I find it eerily relevant in the current day, where hundreds of thousands of students across America – and millions more across the world – have been evicted from the classroom and forced to acclimate to the online learning system.
Some of us have made the transition easier than others. For many, it was just a momentary bump in the road that may have upset our schedules. Others took a little while longer to figure out WebEx, Zoom, Canvas, Kaltura and all the other miscellaneous online services that became the new face of education.
For some, the transition to online classes was brutal, leaving them dazed and confused, or, if you’re like me, it left you feeling angry, cynical and betrayed when the rapid transition seemed all but impossible.
For me, the classroom was something of a sacred place. The physical connection between students and instructors was – and is – crucial to our participation and understanding of the material. Not only is it easier to learn in person, but the daily rituals of waking up, making coffee, getting dressed and going to class further enhanced the experience by making it seem worth the effort.
It wasn’t long after returning to school in the fall of 2020 that I quickly realized that this system wasn’t working for me. I was unengaged in class, had no clue what was due – or when – and couldn’t help but cringe every time one of my professors asked – and eventually begged – anyone in the silent WebEx to answer a question.
My frustration gave way to boredom, and my boredom soon gave way to anger. Day after day, I complained to my parents, roommates, adviser and friends. But this wasn’t healthy complaining; this was me looking for justification for my rage. I didn’t care about the pandemic; all that mattered was that I was upset, and felt that the world owed back what was stolen from me.
I began to ditch lectures early – if I went to them at all. My grades took a turn for the worse, as did my attitude and relationships. It seemed as though I was setting myself up for failure – and I was. But, at some point on the downward spiral, I had a moment of clarity that changed everything.
The holidays came and went. The new semester was rolling out, and I was ready to fake it just as I’d done last semester. After a rocky first few weeks, I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere.
In my deluded and angry state, I thought that I was fighting the system when, in reality, I was only fighting myself. Putting in less effort because I didn’t think that school was worth it anymore did nothing but prove a lack of dedication and respect for my education – which I had claimed to hold in high regard.
And then it became clear to me: online classes were not a force to be opposed, as I had once ignorantly thought, but a challenge to be met and defeated. It was not the change, but my attitude toward the change, that was responsible for what I perceived to be unfair. And once I made that realization, I had a plan to get back on the saddle and try again.
Now, I barely notice a difference between online and in-person classes. My grades are improving, as is my attitude, health and happiness. While I still look forward to the day that we can all return to in-person classes, I take pride in knowing that my success is dependent on me and my effort – and not even a pandemic can change that.
So, what led me to my mental turnaround?
Your success depends on your effort.
Only once you accept that what’s stopping you from academic success is your own effort, can success become possible. By believing that my problems stemmed from some intangible source, it became impossible to understand or dismantle the problem.
By realizing that I am the problem, I gained the power to solve it. Make no mistake, it’s a difficult realization to make, as it requires you to bear the responsibility of your own shortcomings, but that is a small price to pay when the opportunity for success becomes limited only by the effort that you put in.
Clean your room.
Physically prepare for class, as though it were in person. Instead of waking up five minutes before a Zoom lecture, or taking the lecture in bed, wake up an hour early to brew some coffee, make breakfast, splash some water on your face or comb your hair. Once you get that far, you’ll be awake and aware enough to sit down and pay attention in class.
This preparation extends to your work station as well; other than a laptop, notepad and a textbook or two, clear the area of all garbage and distractions that make it hard for you to pay attention. If your bed or desk isn’t comfortable, try any of the vacant study centers around campus.
Do whatever you can to create the feeling of going to a real class, and soon enough, it will begin to feel like one.
Talk to your professors.
As I said earlier, few things match the sadness of listening to a professor trying to get an answer out of 80 silent people. Not only does participating in class make it go by faster, but it draws you in by definition, making the class more beneficial and enjoyable.
Any professor will gladly listen and try to help you. By keeping an open line of communication with your professors, you show them that you genuinely care about the class, which they will remember and appreciate.
Do the work.
Taking notes, asking questions during lectures, doing your homework and starting projects early will guarantee that you are continually up to speed in the class, and your grades will show it.
Eat, drink and be merry.
You can’t function on an empty stomach or a substantial lack of sleep, and you shouldn’t try to. Your education is important, yes, but it is ultimately secondary to your well-being; it’s meaningless without your well-being. In that regard, try to get no fewer than seven hours of sleep each night, and eat at least two whole meals daily.
Now, of course, none of this is easy; if it were, everyone would be doing it. But it is these practices, and the will to put them into action, that I believe separate a good student from a great student.
Before I figured it out, I was prepared to give up at online school. I had no control, so why try at all? But now, my grades are better than ever, and I’ve all but gotten used to online classes. With a little bit of perseverance, I believe you can too.
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