It's difficult to set standards in the midst of a pandemic. Before this all began, we had deadlines, and they were either met or they weren't. When the pandemic began, for some high school teachers and college professors, sticking to deadlines was still a hard and fast rule. But other teachers offered some leniency to students, knowing everyone was having a difficult time. This system worked reasonably well for those students who felt unmotivated due to COVID-19. However, just like everything else, getting back on track will require some tinkering since this has become our new normal. Let’s explore why it’s important to adapt to the new normal and how you can be active in your communication with your teachers and professors for a better educational experience than you may have had last spring.
The extenuating circumstances excuse
Instead of a small percentage of students with extenuating circumstances seeking leniency, we're all living in one massive extenuating circumstance right now: COVID-19. That was a valid excuse for every student for not completing an assignment or being prepared for a test (and for many students, it was genuine). This global health crisis has led to a myriad of problems, ranging from mental and physical health to bad Wi-Fi connections to having a place to stay. Students stressed in ways they had never imagined, and nothing about our current situation can be considered stable. However, many of us have a tendency to make excuses for ourselves, to others or in our own minds, about our ability to pull ourselves together to learn.
For instance, my family’s been relatively stable during the pandemic; we've had many lively debates on anything from washing the dishes to police brutality, and my anxiety about the pandemic flares up often—but overall, I'm doing okay. I know many students are in similar situations. But we’ve all had an adjustment period to this lifestyle, and hopefully we've found our way to a better place mentally and physically at this point. The point is: the pandemic should no longer be your main excuse for not getting your work done—even if it validly is for someone else.
Getting your motivation back
None of this is meant to undermine the value of mental health and taking care of yourself. This is not to condemn those relaxing and enjoying themselves over the summer. It’s simply to say that it's time to buck up for the upcoming semester. While this major challenge has come upon us, the world hasn’t stopped turning. The educations we’re privileged enough to receive and the important work we’re doing, whether it be at a job or in raising our voices for what we believe in, never lost importance. Now that we've had our time to settle in and process the situation, it's time to learn to push ourselves in this "new normal" environment. We need to take care of our health, now more than ever, but not at the cost of all productivity—and not at the cost of our goals and aspirations.
How students and teachers can work together
When it comes to a new normal in education, this means more effort from students and more patience from professors...and vice versa. We all know students ultimately need to listen to their teachers, but teachers who are receptive and understanding will listen to your needs if you’re still trying to give your best—even if your best is a little rusty.
Students accommodating teachers
Professors and teachers are changing their curriculums and finding new modes of teaching for the sake of providing us with a quality education. The good ones aren't there to make you miserable or just give you busy work; many teachers have the lofty goal of discussion and engagement in mind when students come to the classroom. As students, we need to be meeting them halfway. If before that meant showing up to class, now it might mean turning on your camera, asking questions, and meeting deadlines if at all possible. It may feel like more work, but it makes all the difference in terms of building a relationship with your professors and teachers, not to mention making for a good class. That's the kind of standard we need to set for ourselves, because we still deserve a good education. Although we may not be in an optimal situation, we can still grow as individuals and rise to what we're capable of.
Teachers accommodating students
Similarly, professors should be willing to accommodate for students’ concerns. For the classes in which this is possible, they should check in on individual students and try to get to know them and their situation. This allows for a relationship that ensures both sides are clear about expectations and realities. If one student is particularly struggling outside of class, the professor will know how to set a standard for that particular student. This has always been a helpful way to run a classroom, but now it’s imperative. If it's not possible to reach out to every student, teachers should make it clear that everyone is encouraged to reach out with any of their concerns or roadblocks during the semester. Although things won’t be as lenient as back in the spring, it’s likely there will be some patience with an overdue assignment here and there—so step up and email your teacher if you’re struggling. Your honesty will be responded to in kind. Neither students nor professors can expect anything from the other that they're not willing to ask of themselves.
Ultimately, starting a new school year in this environment means quite a bit more patience and effort is required from everyone. We have to have sympathy for our peers and our professors, and we have to push ourselves further than what we thought we were capable of. It's going to require a lot of nuance—every difficult situation won't be clear cut, and we'll have to ask questions we aren't used to asking one another. We must take this opportunity to learn and grow the best we can, even if maybe the economy isn't.
If you need more advice or information on the pandemic, visit our COVID-19 student resources page.