School is draining for everyone. Whether you are a student or a teacher, it seems like there is always too much to do and too little time to do it. I have struggled to maintain a healthy balance between my academic career and my personal life. I have had mental breakdowns before tests, many restless nights worried about passing classes, and cut out all my extra curricular activities to make more time for school work. These strategies did not work.
I recently made the difficult decision to do school part-time while I complete an IOP program for my mental health. I know far too many people who have similar stories. My mother is a high school math teacher, and I have witnessed firsthand how detrimental the expectations for teachers can be.
It is not easy being a student nor a teacher. While I am taking time to decompress and prioritize my mental wellbeing, I hope to share some wisdom for those who are struggling to have a life outside of school.
When I would need to meet with other students to work on a group project, we would use when2meet. Instead of messaging back and worth about everyone's availability, we used a website that made it easy for everyone to highlight when they were available, and everyone would be able to see where everyone's availability overlapped. This was much more efficient and less stressful than trying to calculate when everyone is free by hand.
Piazza allows students to ask conceptual questions or post pictures of their broken code. Then, students and the professor can respond with advice, possible solutions, and additional resources. If everyone becomes the teacher for a course, then the more that everyone learns and the more teachers are able to act as a guide rather than an instructor. Instructors can also flag certain questions in Piazza for importance, and students can pay extra attention to this concept for exams and assignments. At the end of the semester, teachers can offer give extra credit to the student who answered the most questions on Piazza.
Another classroom policy that can encourage students to help each other is to create a class Google Drive. Here, students can upload their notes and annotated lecture slides from class to help students who cannot attend class in person. This could be especially beneficial to students with disabilities who struggle to navigate inaccessible buildings, students with mental health concerns, and immunocompromised students who are at high risk for COVID. During class time, all students can collectively take notes in the same Google Doc and post what questions they have in the comments. This is great for students that have social anxiety and find it difficult to speak up and ask questions. By writing down everyone's questions in the same place, other students can jump in and provide further explanations in real time.
My favorite Women's Studies professor used to hold regular class brainstorms to address any challenges that students were facing that day. I and my classmates really appreciated the consistent check in with not only our academic progress but our overall wellbeing. During exam season, she set aside a few minutes and had us talk about different self care techniques to cope with the added stress. She would also go over how to write a large paper in a manageable way, and this helped me pace myself rather than trying to write the entire paper at once.
Limnu can be a wonderful tool to facilitate the brainstorming session virtually. It gives the ability to mark up images, add text, and more!
Just like respect, engagement is not inherent between students and teachers; it is continuously earned. Offering online options for students and explaining how they increase access for disabled, low-income, and neurodivergent students is crucial. Bringing equity into the classroom shows that you care about all students.
One thing that never failed to get me and my classmates excited for any subject was a game of Kahoot. My data analytics professor did this to review class concepts before our first quiz, and that was the most engaged I saw my classmates. No matter if you teach data analytics, Spanish, or math, Kahoot is a great tool to test your students knowledge and address any learning gaps while creating an energetic, playfully competitive learning environment. Students can also search for free Kahoots that other teachers have made for specific school standards. I did this a lot for my World History class in high school because I was tired of using Quizlet and wanted to have fun while learning.
Another great engagement tool is Mentimeter. Mentimeter is basically Kahoot+. It lets teachers use quizzes as well as live polls, surveys, word clouds, open-ended questions, and presentations to spark class discussions and gather feedback. By giving every student a voice, teachers get a holistic view of each student's progress and areas of improvement.