We’re still in a pandemic. Keep expectations for students reasonable.

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Weekly Word: Each week, the Lasso Editorial Board will comment on an issue that is relevant to the students of George Mason High School. We strive to present a student-oriented opinion about topics big and small that matter to the student body.

Editorial Board

The GMHS community is still living through unprecedented times. We know, you hear that too often, but it’s true. None of us have ever done this before. Mason teachers have never had to structure their classes on Schoology Conferences, the administration has never had to institute guidelines for a school system operating completely online – and just as importantly, students have never been in such an unfamiliar learning environment. 

With that in mind, decisions regarding workload, testing, and student evaluation during this time should not be focused on making this a “normal year” moving at a normal pace, operating as if we are in person – the focus must be on flexibility and reasonable expectations for students.

With GMHS well out of the “slow roll” intended for the beginning of the first quarter, students are facing big tests, overwhelming class workloads, and grading stress. Many classes are now moving with the same pace and rigor they would during an in-person school year. But although we’re grateful to be learning again, and positive changes were made to online learning since the spring, we still don’t have the stable learning environment that would warrant the pacing of classes that Mason is used to. 

Almost everything foundational about the productive, effective learning environment that we’ve grown up depending on is still gone. By nature, active learning time for our classes is short, awkward, and stifled. We’re not able to work with peers in a way that feels natural, nor are we able to easily ask a teacher for help when we need a quick explanation. The unfamiliarity and discomfort of our school environment makes it hard to stay focused and motivated. Nothing about our learning experience is at the level of the normal in-person classes we’re used to – we shouldn’t have to make up for that through overwhelming workloads and inflexible assessment deadlines.

(Not to mention, we’re living through a pandemic. We’re isolated from our friends and extended families. There are still huge anxieties, uncertainties, and responsibilities outside of our schoolwork. Our extended time at home doesn’t mean we conveniently have more time than usual for school – it means we need as much flexibility, kindness, and relief as we can get.)

We realize that for some classes, there are specific, definitive expectations for this school year, especially with the looming possibilities of AP and IB exams. And yes, those institutions haven’t fully acknowledged the challenges of this school year that warrant a slower pace and lessened rigor for our classes, but that doesn’t mean that Mason teachers can’t.

Prioritizing a fair student experience should involve clear and consistent school wide guidelines about the format of assessments, in a way that acknowledges the limitations of online instruction. It should involve department guidelines that ensure manageable workloads for each class. It may even involve a reimagined grading policy that better reflects the unfamiliarity and uncertainty we’re all dealing with.

This is going to be a difficult, often frustrating experience for all of us – students, faculty, and staff. Attempting to stay on schedule by assigning excessive out-of-class work and giving assessments before students are ready will just make it even worse. We urge Mason administration and teachers to prioritize flexibility, slower pacing, and a reasonable, more forgiving workload, as conversation and decision-making regarding the online term continues.