For most teachers, finding the balance of leniency and strictness with students was a personal choice influenced by experience and the rigidity of their courses. In most cases, the idea of giving students the benefit of the doubt was easier to dismiss during in-person schooling, when students had access to all the resources they needed. Now, however, teachers need to recognize the limitations of online learning when they make class policies or issue penalties.
To say that teachers haven’t shown empathy for their students would be inaccurate, but it has often been the case that they fail to consider students’ individual circumstances in their online learning protocols.
The most prevalent example of this has been in their response to technical difficulties. While some students may feign these to ditch class or cheat on assignments, it would seem that teachers have forgotten that real technical difficulties aren’t rare at all; that printers can malfunction, phones can shut off inexplicably, internet connection can falter and, yes, webcams can glitch.
By assuming that all students are lying in order to prevent cheating, students can feel stranded and panicked when going through an unexpected issue. Even when teachers let students off the hook, many take a begrudging attitude that makes students feel as though they’re to blame for that which is out of their control.
To fairly and appropriately address cheating, teachers need to shift their curriculum and testing methods accordingly. The hard truth is that we’re already missing three weeks’ worth of instructional hours each semester from shortened periods. Some things, like long multiple choice exams, that are especially susceptible to cheating should have been first on the chopping block.
Teachers who aren’t willing to at least consider that their students aren’t all lying need to change their mindsets before someone’s grades and mental health fall victim.
For classes that are test-intensive–infamously, math–teachers should use this opportunity to evolve the competition-driven, anxiety-inducing system that makes upper levels of math much more stressful than necessary.
Though it may be idealistic to hope for, it would be nice to see more teachers fostering nurturing environments and class discussion that positively reinforce learning, like group activities and games, rather than stressing students out with strict protocol. The current setup in higher-level math classes, which includes having microphones unmuted and cameras pointed at one’s hands, frankly makes students feel like inmates.
The sad fact of the matter is that many upperclassmen have struggled with mental health and stress due to unjustly difficult tests and curves that pit them against students who have access to more resources. Added to the fact that an unmuted microphone can be a rather serious breach of privacy–for example, there may be a family situation that students would be unable to hide while unmuted–this testing protocol is far from ideal.
The school should not be in a position to crack down on students for technical difficulties or with privacy breaches. While teachers were able to work against our stress culture in person by cutting some slack for students who were visibly going through a bad day, we unfortunately don’t have that option anymore. The best teachers can do now is be as understanding and supportive as they are willing, and wait for school to return on-campus.