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Virtual Learning Fatigue

This is [one scenario] happening in lots and lots of places around the country right now:

Sarah wakes up at 7:00 a.m. She turns on her school-issued Chromebook in order to check into her homeroom by 7:30 a.m. after quickly brushing her teeth. She eats a slice of toast while saying hello to her classmates. Then, her day really begins. A long day. A boring day. A day where she wonders what pillow she can find in the house to place on her chair because her lower back is killing her.

And so, she follows her daily schedule. 8 periods. 45 minutes each. Five minutes "passing time" in between. A twenty minute lunch. A synchonous nightmare.

Outside, the sun is shining. Summer feel-good-weather is quickly coming to an end. Her dog has been begging her to take him for a walk. Sarah just stares at him and says, "I'm sorry, but I cannot be absent from class or I'll fail. I'll take you for a walk later, buddy."

The work is piling up. Packets and worksheets are sitting in Sarah's inbox. All that her Google Classroom does is store stuff for her to work on. She quickly manipulates PDFs to usable editable formats. A couple of videos to watch are next on her to-do list. Her eyes are hurting her. Even Sarah's teachers seem bored. She doesn't have physical education today and even if she does, she has to record something silly in the yard instead of running a mile or just going crazy on her recording. She doesn't have recess. She doesn't have friends to interact with. She doesn't have any fun or joy at all. She stretches her arms and is tired.

And then when Sarah thought that her long day was over . . .

She is assigned three hours of homework behind her same computer screen that now needs to be plugged in to charge because it is too tired to go any further, either.

Our teachers and students are working hard, yes. Some schools are open for face-to-face schooling while other schools require digital accountability all day long. Our students are snacking while computing. "Virtual obesity" might be a new crisis term in health education for 2020. Cases of diabetes may grow. Prescription eye glasses may become the norm for our youth. Back pain is the new Tylenol-reason. Homework and packets are now, sometimes, only digitized, so what's the difference? Sarah is asking for some mercy. Sarah wants to walk. Sarah needs us, now more than ever, even if we seem distant to her. How can we recreate learning experiences that literally take the pain away and demand learning beyond the screen? For years, we wanted learning to go beyond the school walls. Now, we have a new problem:

How do we get our students to learn beyond the screen?

I invite you to share your creative thoughts on how to support our students' health and social-emotional needs during these trying times. But, don't forget our students' physical needs. In what ways can we keep Sarah in mind when we boot up for another day of school?

I am on your side and sit with you, in awe, of the miracles that you are creating . . .

Your friend in education,

Dr. Rick Jetter


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