“You’re Still on Mute”

A look into the embarrassing and amusing moments of students’ Zoom classes, and how those experiences allowed them to reflect on remote learning as a whole.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

One might think that participating in class from the comfort of our own homes would inspire increased confidence and participation. After all, talking through a screen and clicking a blue button instead of raising your physical hand yield nothing to lose. However, embarrassment can be encountered anywhere, regardless of physical proximity. And many students have learned that the hard way.

Junior Krista Proteasa shared a humiliating moment that happened during math teacher Gary Rubenstein’s pre-calculus office hours. “I was asking a question about one of the DeltaMath assignments, [...] and the only way that I could get him to see the question was if he made me co-host to share my screen. So he made me co-host and I thought I was sharing the DeltaMath tab. [T]urns out I ended up sharing my Instagram feed,” Proteasa said. “So the remainder of the three people that were in there just saw a bowl of oatmeal. There was no context to this bowl of oatmeal on my feed, but I was so confident [that I was sharing the question tab].” Proteasa felt exposed and embarrassed, but also couldn’t help but view the experience as a funny one. She jokingly added, “Honestly, I was considering dropping out in that one singular moment. I was re-evaluating all my life choices.” Proteasa also learned a couple things from the encounter, reflecting: “Now I’m definitely going to be careful with double-checking and triple-checking whatever screen I’m sharing because I do not need that again.”

A senior who wishes to remain anonymous got the fright of a lifetime after his teacher’s vocal malfunction during an online class. “[Economics teacher Ellen] Schweitzer was speaking, and her voice suddenly became demonic and echoey. It lasted for five seconds the first time, but it scared the living daylights out of some people,” he said. He continued on, explaining Schweitzer’s second attempt to speak. “The second time it happened, she stared at the camera with a look of defeat while we were all laughing, and she reached for a pair of headphones, which cut out her audio completely,” he said jokingly. He concluded on a heartwarming yet unsettling note: “We [love] Ms. Schweitzer, but I'd give anything in the world to hear her demon voice again.” At least the moment had some value other than being horrifying, as it was the perfect precursor to Halloween.

Freshman Unique Zhang experienced multiple Zoom failures over the course of this year. “One time in Art Appreciation, [...] we were talking about this one specific picture someone took of a statue. Behind it, it had brass rods, and I made a comment saying that it looked like spaghetti. [M]y mic was unmuted, and [the teacher] asked me if it was thick or thin. It was kind of embarrassing for me,” she expressed. “Another thing that happened during band was that one girl speeded immensely and was out of speed on everything, but she played all the notes right.” Zhang then empathetically recalled the teacher’s reaction, stating, “He was like, ‘Nope, you’re switching to French [h]orn,’ and that poor girl said, ‘I don’t think my parents will allow it.’ He said it wasn’t her parents’ or her decision. [I]t was his decision [...] [I]t was so terrible and intimidating.”

An anonymous junior had a humiliating run-in with her sister—to the front row view of her entire class. “During Spanish class, our teacher asked us [a question]. No one was going to answer, so my teacher was looking for people to call on, and my six-year-old sister walked in with her underwear on,” she mused. “Out of coincidence, I was called on to answer the question,” she mortifyingly recalled, leaving the rest to the imagination of the reader. She clearly endured other memorable moments during remote learning, resignedly adding, “Man, this stuff probably won't ever end for me.”

Junior Debolina Sen Kunda, contrary to Zhang and Proteasa, shared a Zoom failure that was a moment of epiphany as much as it was one of humiliation. “When my teachers would ask us to raise our hands to answer a question for extra credit, I never got called on for any extra credit and thought that all of my teachers hated me. I practically had this idea until today during my last period when I mistakenly clicked ‘[P]articipants’ and saw the ‘[R]aise [H]and’ feature,” she described. Upon seeing the function, though, Kunda realized that she had been unaware of how to raise her hand in the virtual environment. Struggling with the raise hand button was not Kunda’s only difficulty: “I [realized] that I really suck at technology. It took me a couple of Zoom classes to understand the mute buttons. Like, I would have myself unmuted and have all of my classmates hearing my sister screaming,” she said. Similar to Proteasa, Kunda used the experience to reflect and learn from, concluding, “This happened so many times already that whenever I talk, I stop in the middle just to see if I am unmuted.”

It seems like Zoom can be just as embarrassing as a classroom. Otherwise unnoticeable mistakes in class are amplified, and the awkward silence that follows these moments is equally uncomfortable. Whereas normally, a couple of people would let out a laugh and the class would move on, students can’t exactly unmute and then mute themselves to laugh, thus making those awkward experiences even more memorable.