Students and Teachers Have Messages for One Another During Distance Learning


Pete Zivkov

Menlo students and teachers sit socially distanced during the first round of hybrid learning in November 2020, with some students present in the classroom and some on Zoom for the lecture. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov.

Danielle McNair, Staff Writer

From Teachers: What I Wish My Students Knew…

During the first semester, distance learning significantly hindered the interpersonal relationships often forged between teachers and students. Furthermore, teachers have struggled to observe students through the screen and understand the strengths and weaknesses of their teaching models. The Coat of Arms asked numerous Upper School teachers to respond to the open-ended prompt, “What do you wish your students knew?” and many teachers expressed hopes that students would be more open and communicative leading into the hybrid learning model, which begins on Jan. 19.

English teacher Lena Pressesky wrote an email to The Coat of Arms addressing students. “Hello my dear students! I want you to know that I’m always wondering what you need,” she said. “It’s extra hard to tell how you are doing over Zoom – most of the time I have NO idea if you’re loving my lesson or slowly dying inside. I realize it’s probably somewhere in the middle. But I still love teaching you, even though it’s hard this year. I miss you and I’m glad you’re my students!!”

As Menlo begins the transition back to hybrid learning, many teachers wrote about how they are looking forward to interacting with students in the classroom again. “I hope that my students know how much I/we miss their physical presence. I miss them lounging in the quad, listening to music, playing ping pong….even cutting in the lunch line! I miss hearing their chatter and their laughter. I miss the office drop-ins. I miss seeing the *light switch* turning on when a student understands something new,” Spanish teacher Janet Tennyson said. “I am thankful for Zoom, but I am excited to get back to the classroom full-time, and without masks.”

English teacher Jay Bush had a message similar to Tennyson’s, applauding students on their efforts and adaptability during this time. “I wish that my students knew just how impressed and humbled I have been by their strength and resilience during the last year. It has been remarkable to me how my students have adapted to online and hybrid learning in the face of constant uncertainty, and how they have chosen not to relinquish their convictions to adversity,” Bush wrote in an email to The Coat of Arms. “There have been some exceptions, a few who have chosen to take advantage of the situation, but the fact that the vast majority of Menlo students have chosen to persevere in the face of such temptations only strengthens my faith in our community.”

Director of Sustainability and Environmental Science teacher Chrissy Orangio is new to Menlo this year, but she has loved interacting with students online and during hybrid learning. “I wish my students knew how proud I am of them for showing up to class every day, for putting their best foot forward, for coming to class against many unspoken odds,” Orangio wrote in an email to The Coat of Arms. “I wish my students knew how grateful I am for them this year, for welcoming me into the Menlo community, for their vulnerability and honesty in feedback, and for reinvigorating my love of teaching. I wish they knew that this has been hard for me too. I know I make mistakes but I am trying my best, and that is all that I ask of them too.” 

English teacher Cara Plamondon had a message specifically for seniors. “My wish is for seniors to know –to believe– they are going to land at a college that’s a great fit for them, regardless of the decision they may have received in December,” Plamondon said in an email to The Coat of Arms. As a senior English seminar teacher, Plamondon works closely with the senior class during college application season, and she constantly works to reassure students that they will all end up where they are meant to be. 


From Students: What I Wish My Teachers Knew… 

Hybrid learning has impacted many students as they have had to adapt to a new style of learning online and make uncomfortable changes to their daily routine. For many freshmen, having spent only one week on campus meeting teachers and classmates, it has been a challenge to meet new people and learn more about Menlo. Sophomores, who only got roughly three-fourths of their freshman year in person, long to experience Menlo to the fullest. With the loss of sports seasons and a regular school year, many juniors are uneasy about how distance learning may impact their college process. And for seniors, it is heartbreaking to comprehend that they will top off a memorable four years split between the computer and campus without their final season, competition or retreat.

Aside from overwhelming emotions during this time, students are seeking ways to navigate school. Freshman Jake Sonsini wants his teachers to realize that students notice when work has not been graded and returned. “I wish you guys knew we notice when it takes a month to grade an essay you gave us a week to complete [and when you] use the excuse that you have work to grade for other classes. We also have other classwork to do, on top of extracurricular activities,” he wrote to teachers through an email to The Coat of Arms. Sonsini wishes the timeframe for returning assignments was better communicated.

Sophomore Erica Fenyo has a similar feeling of being overwhelmed. “While I know teachers know we are in a difficult time, I wish that some teachers would consider this more deeply when cold-calling or overloading students with assignments,” she wrote in an email to The Coat of Arms. Fenyo feels there are adaptable solutions to these issues. “At times it feels like teachers could reduce our screen time and give us small breaks that would help myself and other students get through the long Zoom days,” Fenyo said. “However, I completely understand that teachers are also enduring this challenging period of Zoom learning as well, and they are trying to do all they can to keep us on track to learn all the necessary material.” Overall, Fenyo believes a greater understanding of both the teachers’ and students’ perspectives would benefit everyone’s situation during online learning.

Junior Noah Kornfeld believes it would benefit him if teachers were more clear on their instructions and expectations during distance learning. “I wish teachers knew how much it helps when they provide clarity. I have never been more frustrated than when I am working on an assignment and I start to question whether this is what the teacher wants. I can think of countless examples on tests or papers or projects where I could have easily answered the question or got the right idea but my lack of understanding on what was being asked of me initiated the mess-up.”

As the second semester commences, many seniors are drained from working on college applications, school and other commitments all fall. Senior Christian Corcoran wishes his teachers would strive to find a balance between screen time and asynchronous assignments. “Some of my teachers do a great job at this, but I wish more understood when students were absolutely zonked from too much time on Zoom. I would greatly appreciate more ‘asynchronous’ classes, where we are still assigned work, but do not have to stare at the computer screen for the whole class time. This, every once in a while, will give us that extra energy so that we can focus when we do have to be on the computer,” Corcoran said.

While on the computer, senior Dani Biscevic wishes her teachers were more considerate when it comes to participation. “I wish my teachers knew not to cold call. I think it puts people in an uncomfortable situation where they may not know the answer but be forced to say something. I am someone who if I know the answer or want to contribute I will voice it,” Biscevic said. “I know that teachers are aware of most of our sentiments regarding schoolwork, time on screens, and the amount of homework. I hope they know how appreciated they are for making online school work as well as it has been going this year, and overall I think they are doing a fantastic job.”