Productivity During a Global Pandemic

Because staying alive isn’t enough.


Sally Cho

A lot more expectations and a whole lot more work.

If you told me on March 13th that I’d be crying every morning in front of my laptop trying to understand stoichiometry, I would have laughed in your face. 

When Mrs. Ewing’s voice came over the loudspeakers and announced that school would be canceled for two weeks, I was ecstatic. I was in blissful ignorance. Finally, there would be no expectations to live up to, no deadlines to cram for.

It is now May 21st. Now that I’ve had two months to re-evaluate this whole situation, I can’t help but think… isn’t it messed up that we were all hoping for a deadly virus to reach our city just so we wouldn’t have to go to school anymore?

That should have been a sign that something had to be fixed, something had to be done so that a rampant disease wouldn’t be the best news students got all year. 

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, workaholic culture was a huge problem, especially at North Allegheny. We measured our worth based on how many hours we stayed up studying and how late we got home from our extracurriculars that day. 

Somehow, this mindset has become even worse during a global pandemic.

When everyone is quarantined inside of their homes, everyone expects you to do something with all of this free time on your hands. There is no excuse, none at all. You should be able to reach your full academic potential during this quarantine because there is literally nothing else for you to do.

Some teachers have taken that generalization and really ran with it. 

Every morning when my alarm rings at 7:45, I am immediately filled with dread, wondering how many hours I’m going to spend sitting in front of my laptop that morning. Chemistry alone takes me two hours, and every time I get yet another bad grade on a test, I beat myself up more and more for being so stupid that I can’t even get a good grade in pass/fail online school. How can I be so dumb that I take an hour to do a five-question quiz and still get a C on it? Great, it’s already 11:00. I need to start working on my other subjects. I suck at time management, how did I let two hours pass by on one subject? 

I know I’m not the only one who goes through this torturous thought process every single day. 

The fact is, of course it’s normal to struggle during online school. We are literally living through a global pandemic—something that will be in history books. Nothing is normal for us anymore. Our parents aren’t going to work, we can’t see our friends, and even walking into a grocery store has become a whole different ordeal. How can we be expected to deal with this life-changing event and also sit at our computer for hours teaching ourselves concepts that we couldn’t even understand with a real-life instructor in front of us? 

I’ve been told the words, “What else do you have to do?” by many different teachers and instructors.

That made my blood boil.

I’ve had a six-part chemistry test, an audition via Blackboard Collaborate, an AP exam, and a Zoom acting class all in one day… so… yeah, I have other things to do.

A lot of people are struggling during this quarantine, and it’s unfair to have more expectations for someone just because you think they have nothing better to do. You don’t know what people are going through.

A lot of students still have their extracurriculars going on through online platforms, on top of online school and AP exams to prepare for. A lot of students’ mental health have been negatively affected by quarantine as their home lives aren’t great. A lot of students have parents who are essential workers, and that can be emotionally distressing. 

These circumstances may not seem very common, but they are. Just off the top of my head, I can name four students, including me, whose parents are nurses or doctors working during this pandemic.

I’m tired of being expected to do everything to 100% of my capabilities just because I technically, on a physical level, can. I was scolded a few weeks ago for turning off my camera during a Zoom call because that apparently meant I wasn’t paying attention. What gives you the right to discipline me in my own home for wanting a break from a two hour-long Zoom call?

How are we expected to participate in every single Blackboard Collaborate when they happen sporadically at the most inconvenient times? Do I have to be at my computer sitting in anticipation every hour?

I know there are measures being taken to make sure students don’t feel like this. I appreciate the emails telling me to take care of myself, but I can’t really do that when it seems like every teacher in the world doesn’t care. It’s not like anyone will excuse me from my assignments if I tell them I’m mentally struggling.

For far too long, we’ve measured our value in our productivity. I mean, that’s what our entire system is based on. If you work hard, you’ll become a successful billionaire and if you’re poor, you’re just lazy, right? Aren’t those the American values that made this country so great?

It is okay that you would rather be watching Netflix than doing online school. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It means you’re human. 

The fact is, no one has to be productive during this quarantine. No one should be expected to be productive during this quarantine. People are dying everyday, and our lives have been completely flipped upside down. 

You don’t have to write the next great American novel. You don’t have to come out of quarantine 10 pounds lighter. You don’t have to get an A in all of your classes. The only thing you should be expected to do during quarantine is stay alive.