Burnout: The Side Effect of Remote Learning

Stuyvesant students discuss the burnout that comes with remote learning.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Nada Hameed

A disease is spreading among Stuyvesant students and it’s not COVID––it’s burnout. To borrow from “Macbeth,” as tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creep in this stressful school life from day to day, students find their motivation gradually depleting. One missing assignment turns into 10, and five minutes of extra sleep during first period turns into a whole class gone. This epidemic of burnout has left students with a variety of symptoms, and in some truly catatonic cases, a lack of symptoms.

Junior Ashley Tian feels the effects of burnout deeply. Lately, she has had trouble forcing herself to do work for the classes she doesn’t enjoy. Tian thinks her procrastination problems are more an issue of discipline rather than motivation. “I’m not disciplined enough to force myself to actually sit down and do the work, even if I am motivated for it,” she said. In the online environment, classes, deadlines, and school in general can feel a lot less real––there is no teacher to hover over your shoulder in class the next day, taking down notes about your homework––and Tian has felt the effects of that. When she gets overwhelmed, she shuts down and ignores everything, and she’s very aware of the problems with that. “The stressful part is that I know I should be stressed, but I have no sense of urgency or responsibility either, so I’m stressed about not being stressed more than I am about not getting my work done,” she said. These challenges with online school have taken a toll on her mental health. “I’m an overachiever, but I’m also a massive procrastinator at the same time. And it definitely has caused my mental health to deteriorate.”

Underclassmen are not exempt from burnout either. As one anonymous sophomore wrote in an e-mail interview, “I was a super motivated student in in-person school, so you can imagine the shock I have of looking at my grades then versus now. It was also much easier for me to retain information and pay attention in class before, but I have trouble doing both over Zoom.” They also noted that the majority of their burnout can be attributed to academics, rather than a surge of extracurricular activities.

After one exits the Zoom meeting, it is impossible for teachers or fellow students to tell what happens afterwards. Who knows what goes on out of the camera frame? The truth is that outside of the frame, outside of class, and outside of regular school hours, students are exhausted. “The hardest part for me is probably homework. Zoom fatigue absolutely sucks and I have no energy to do my homework, so I turn a lot of things in late,” the anonymous sophomore explained. Students have become no strangers to late assignments and extensions this year.

Nevertheless, some students and their work ethics are thriving in the remote setting. Burnout is nowhere to be found for them, thanks to remote learning. “During in-person school, I was not very motivated because I was really sleep-deprived,” junior Mandy Wong said. “I feel like I was a different person. I’ve had a lot more time to focus on my mental health during quarantine.”

Sophomore Ameer Alnassar, too, has found a healthy amount of motivation in remote learning. “The workload’s fine, the periods are fine, I’m not tired,” Alnassar said. “The fact that we have two half days instead of one full day––it’s very nice.” Alnassar’s period one, six, and 10 frees have also kept him energized throughout the day. The extracurriculars he’s part of have slowed down this year, so he hasn’t been particularly active on either the extracurricular or social scene. Nevertheless, Alnassar remains content. “Hot take: Stuyvesant did what they could, and it works, for me at least,” he said.

Yet online school, even for those for whom it works, can have its drawbacks. Wong said that being able to wake up later has demotivated her, which may seem counterintuitive. “I think the idea of being able to wake up later causes me to not do any work until very late at night,” she explained. “The only motivation I have is when I am under time pressure and it is very late at night, like at 3 a.m.”

Even more perilous in remote learning is that academic burnout often links arms with social burnout and extracurricular burnout––the fall of one can mean the fall of the others. “In October, [...] I stopped talking to someone who I was very close with. As luck would have it, it was a week before applications for something I wanted to participate in were due, and I didn’t have the energy to do it,” the anonymous sophomore said. “That made me even more upset, and I thought I would take a week or so to get over it and go back to normal, but it didn’t. It affected my grades too, which in turn affected my mental health.”

But for those students who can muster up the energy to participate in clubs, extracurriculars can provide an escape from the mundanities of online school. “Extracurriculars have definitely remained an escape for me,” Wong said. “Extracurriculars made me feel productive even when schoolwork didn’t.”

Tian has also had an undeniably positive experience with extracurricular activities this year. “When I’m really passionate about something, I’m determined to do the things that need to get done,” she said.

For Wong, extracurriculars can’t solve the fundamental boredom of pandemic life. “Being bored has led to a dip in my motivation. I’m generally not allowed to go outside because of [the coronavirus], so I don’t have much to look forward to now,” she said. “Sometimes I’m allowed to go on walks around my block, but it’s just not the same as being able to walk around school everyday.” She also added that she didn’t have much time to go outside in the first place because of homework, school, and extracurriculars.

Fortunately, there is relief in sight. After these many months of toil, June has arrived, and the sun shines in earnest. Those who are burnt out can at last flop down on the lawn. They will watch the clouds and feel the sun. For now, there is no need to get up.