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OPINION: Online school was hard. Going back will be just as challenging.

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Courtesy of Jane Hunter

Students learn about human genomes in the Collaborative Learning Space classroom in the Science-Engineering Library on Nov. 5, 2014. After more than a year away, students are finally looking forward to a return to fully in-person classes in the fall 2021 semester.

We all know the drill: log onto Zoom, turn in the assignment, repeat. It’s been a long year of online classes with no end in sight, but we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The University of Arizona is promising the return of in-person classes in capacities similar to before the pandemic starting this fall. Even now, classes are returning to the actual classroom all over campus as the university reaches Stage 3 of reentry after the pandemic. Coming back to classes has made me realize just how little I was learning on Zoom, and how hard it is to get back into the swing of things. 

The switch to Zoom was abrupt and life changing. Suddenly, there were no convenient office hours or study sessions, no hands-on instruction and no face-to-face interactions with professors or peers. School didn’t feel real anymore, almost like some kind of surreal video game. It took my first in-person class, back in the beginning of March at the start of Stage 2 of the university’s return to campus, to realize that although I had thought I knew my classmates, it was so strange to suddenly have them physically in front of me. It was real life! I wasn’t making these people up! 

RELATED:   University of Arizona to largely return to in-person classes for fall semester

The return to classes was a realization of how poorly Zoom school was working. The repetitiveness of online learning combined with the stress of quarantine was a mental challenge for almost everyone. I found a lot of my friends falling on either ends of the spectrum of coping: they either worked out more, tried new recipes and drank a lot of TikTok coffee, or they laid in bed for six months and cried a lot, or they ricocheted between both (e.g., me). Either way, we all avoided schoolwork and learned almost nothing.

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Slowly easing back into our old routines has us realizing that getting up and walking across campus, even when it means hightailing it with 10 minutes between classes in 100-degree weather, was a hugely important part of our daily routine that now seems about as likely to happen as growing wings and flying. That’s not even to mention the face-to-face interactions we used to engage in all day long which now seem both daunting and exhausting. As happy as we are to come back to campus and return to normalcy (safely), it’s socially and physically draining. 

If you’re struggling with coming back to the campus and dealing with Zoom burnout all at once, you’re not alone. Transitioning back to campus and real life is going to be a big challenge for everyone, not just students. Zoom has been just as hard on teachers, who have had to change their entire curriculums to accommodate students with different home situations and internet connections. 

RELATED:  OPINION: For online students, the challenges of pandemic learning are nothing new

Bri McLaughlin is a 27-year-old teacher at BASIS Tucson Primary, a charter school here in Tucson. In the past year, she’s had to do it all: teaching totally online, teaching in person while trying to manage 20-something kids under 10 during a pandemic and even a hybrid of both. When her school was incorporating a hybrid learning option, she had to teach her students in person in the classroom and then dash to a corner of the stairwell where she had enough WiFi connection to connect to her online students. Even then, she was sometimes shut out of Zoom and once even had a student take control of the Zoom and start messing around while she was locked out. 

McLaughlin went from being hands-on with her students in the classroom to struggling to persuade her students to do their work packets for her math and science classes while they were stuck at home. Because of the pandemic, she even had to move her wedding date back by a year. Handling young kids coming back to school who don’t have the same outlets for stress as adults isn’t any easier. 

“The kids aren’t emotionally, mentally and physically up to where they need to be … . Kids break down a lot. Lots of tears. It was hard to be out for a year,” McLaughlin said. 

The bottom line is we’re all struggling to go back to how we were before the pandemic. We’re not used to running ourselves ragged all day like we used to do without a second thought, and it’s going to take some getting used to before we’re back to where we were before the pandemic started. Have some patience and sympathy for your peers and your teachers as we all adjust to the world as it fundamentally changes for the second time in just over a year.


Follow Mandy Betz on Twitter



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Mandy (She/Her) is a junior studying journalism and public relations. She spends her free time shopping, writing and hanging with friends.


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (5/5)
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Total (8/4)
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Includes tests since August 4, 2020
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated May 5, 2021