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Out of a Crisis: The Voices of Our Students

A teenager’s lament

Erin Roth

“Out of a Crisis: The Voices of Our Students” is a new series, launched by the Globe’s Great Divide team, that publishes student essays, poems, artwork, and videos featuring teenage perspectives on learning and living amid a pandemic. The stories are published in the Great Divide newsletter.

About the author: Michaelle Mota, 16, is a sophomore at Boston Arts Academy.

A teenager’s lament

I’m not going to lie, even though I like staying at home most of the time, online school just ain’t it. It’s not for me. I’m a person who needs support. If I’m at home working on something and get stuck, it’s not like I can just raise my hand and the teacher will walk up to me, like usual. I’ve had two mental breakdowns, and both of them happened during my first time going virtual. It was not cute.

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You know those types of teachers who don’t respond to your e-mails or texts on time? Yeah, I had my fair share of them these past few months. I can’t blame them - they also have stuff going on in their lives - but when they wait two to three days to check their emails, it’s like, “What are you doing? Did your laptop die? Do you not have Wifi?” And I’ll literally sit there waiting-not knowing what to do next.

Both my parents never even finished high school, so I can’t ask them for help with school work. They immigrated from Brazil and their English is not up to par, so I often become a translator. I also try to help correct their grammar.

Yet I definitely feel like online school is giving me more work than in-person did. I think it’s partly due to the longer class hours we have. Even though the support from teachers isn’t always sufficient, the assignments are endless. It’s like a bunch of ants carrying food to their homes and going back out again to fetch some more.

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Oh, did I mention how I’m sleep deprived? It didn’t happen my first year of high school but now my sleep schedule is COMPLETELY messed up. For the first time in my life, I went to sleep at 6 a.m. Sometimes I have time to talk or play with my friends, but I kind of feel bad after because the lingering thought that I have work left to do is still there.

No place to sing

Another challenge I face is singing. I go to an art school and am a vocal major. The worst part is that I have to sing in a car, since the place I live in right now has elderly people, and the landlord has told us we’re not allowed to make noise. I’m a vocalist, my dude. I like singing, it’s my life. Not only that, but it’s REQUIRED for my classes. The teacher can no longer help us in person, and now we have to record ourselves individually. I’ll be making videos in my mom’s car and my neighbors will look at me all funny. I can feel my anxiety rise up. I’m uncomfortable.

As much as I despise online learning, I don’t think hybrid would work for me, either. In the fall, we had the chance to choose hybrid. But there’s no point, because if we were to sing, we’d have to do it outdoors. What about winter? I also found out that not all the teachers were going back; we still had to bring our individual laptops; I would have to ask somebody to take me to the bathroom, and almost none of my friends would be there.

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I would rather be at home all comfy under the sheets and in my pj’s being ALLOWED to go to the bathroom whenever I want WITHOUT being accompanied by someone. Plus, my school is far. And If I did hybrid, it would take me like two hours to get home from school. That’s two hours wasted where I could’ve either spent my time sleeping or working on my assignments.

Technology ... without the ‘T’

In mid-September, the laptop the school gave me started to have issues. This was not good. We all know that when you have a school laptop, you can only access it if you have your login password and BPS email. Unfortunately for me, the “T” button on my laptop doesn’t work. And my email just so happens to require multiple “T’s.” I consider this unlucky, my friends. I was able to contact the school’s technician through my advisor. But he is only at school on certain days and times. It doesn’t match with my schedule and I didn’t want to miss any Zoom classes. Eventually, my mom bought me a Mac. So the problem was solved.

Zoom classes are annoying. There’s people cutting other people off, and the teachers keep on rambling, so you don’t know when you should cut in to get an answer to your question. When they share their screen and show a video, it gets blurry or the timing of the video doesn’t match with the audio. When the teacher can’t speak, it’s even worse. We waste 15 minutes just trying to get the teacher’s audio fixed.

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‘Stress is not a thing for us’

My mom says: “Stress is not a thing for us, you shouldn’t say that, or it’ll happen.” She’s Christian. She believes that if you say something out loud, it could happen. I can’t talk about my struggles to her. She wouldn’t understand. I have spent countless days with headaches from staring at a laptop screen for too long. My eyes twitch or burn from the lack of sleep.

I miss traditional school. Children get the help they need, and we mostly work on paper, so there’s less screen time for our eyes. We also get to continue to build relationships with our friends.

I often worry about my future. College is expensive, and my parents barely make enough for rent; I can’t expect them to pay my tuition. I was counting on scholarships, but if my grades keep slipping because of remote learning, I’ll be out of luck!

I used to think that I’d be the first out of our family to make it to college. Now I wonder if that’ll even happen.