“Morah? Morah? Morah?” This is the sound echoing in most frum homes in New York’s “red” danger zones where schools have been shut down by the government, forcing students to attend virtual classes over Zoom or Google Classroom.
These digital platforms have allowed school to remain “open,” but they’ve also caused much stress and frustration – to students and teachers alike. Many are even suffering from “Zoom fatigue,” judging from the comments of numerous parents on various WhatsApp groups. The parents of one 10-year-old boy said their son was so overwhelmed by his Zoom schedule that they felt he earned a “mental day off.”
Chana Mendlowitz, a parent from Marine Park, said her teenage daughter, a 12th grader, attends a girl’s school in Sheepshead Bay and is required to sit in uniform for nine hours a day staring at a glaring computer screen. The strain of the experience has led to stress, which in turn has led to weight gain, moodiness, and sleep difficulties.
“It’s like her brain can’t shut down,” the worried mother reports. “She’s telling me that she’s tired, but she just lays in bed for hours.”
Nechama Spero, a fourth-grade math teacher, has two boys in Yeshiva Ahavas Torah, a 13-year-old girl in Lev Bais Yaakov, and a 16-year-old special needs son in STEP. “Kids today are exhausted,” she said. “They can’t relax; they have long, rigorous days sitting in front of a screen, and in the end it’s sensory overload.”
Spero said Zoom is a difficult medium for teachers too. In addition to the challenge of making lessons interesting, it’s difficult for teachers to gage the progress of students. “Oftentimes,” she said, “while on Zoom, I assume that the kids are getting my lesson and we are on target, and it is not until later that I realize they have no clue what we are doing. And that’s frustrating since I can’t walk around their desks to individually check up on them.”
She said some kids are embarrassed to raise their hands on Zoom to ask a question. “It’s so much easier to just space out,” she says. Meanwhile, older kids, says Spero, are more tech-savvy and may be chatting with friends or playing video games during class.
Spero said it’s unrealistic to expect mothers – especially working mothers – to juggle household chores while supervising their children on Zoom. She says some parents have resorted to hiring a person to literally sit with their child to make sure they are following along on Zoom, but not every household can afford this luxury.
She added that while a typical child can follow instructions on Zoom, children with learning disabilities have a much harder time of it.
Even college kids find Zoom learning difficult. This author, an adjunct professor of English at Kingsborough College, has noticed that her own students are often “MIA” – in both the physical and academic sense. Of 28 students enrolled in her most recent course, only 13 bother to sign in to their weekly Zoom sessions. Of those 13, only a handful actively participate, with most opting to have black screen and choosing to be mute for the entire duration of the class. When asked why they don’t hand in assignments, students often say, “I am just all Zoomed out.”
Elisheva Teitelbaum, a mother with children enrolled in yeshivos in Midwood and Marine Park, argues that for kids aged six and under, Zoom is not helpful. As the head of a local playgroup, she said she tried remote-learning last year with her tots, but it was exhausting and a huge time waster. “I sent home projects, baking, and spend tons of money,” she said. This time around, she said, she plans to close her playgroup and refund everyone their tuition money.
As for older children, she said, “Zoom has its pluses and minuses.” Her children, she said, are adjusting nicely to remote-learning and enjoying their classes. “Listen, nobody loves Zoom, but what’s the alternative?” she asks, “It’s meant to be a temporary solution, not a long-term fix.”
Teitelbaum is positive about Zoom learning and said she even notices a major improvement in her son’s ability to concentrate compared to last year.
She also said that Zoom has become a facilitator of mitzvahs. Parents can see other households struggling and offer assistance. Parents can help other parents by printing out sheets, answering questions, or fulfilling other requests.
“Zoom is making more people become givers,” she says.