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Alex Smyth @guch_world

‘I miss having a future’: I kept a lockdown diary and realised I took school for granted

As schools remain shut, one student documented their remote learning experience over the course of a week.

18 Jan

I’m Nia. A queer, non-binary 18-year-old aspiring to become an author one day. Right now, I’m a student at sixth form in East London. 

I never thought I’d have to live through multiple lockdowns in one of the most stressful and important years of my life. I’m in my final year of school  taking English Literature, Politics and History A-Levels and I want to go to uni next year to study English Literature and Creative Writing.

But since the pandemic happened, everything has changed.

I celebrated my 18th birthday at home and couldn’t experience the things that come with officially being an adult. Instead of going out and enjoying my freedom and doing things like learning to drive, getting my first tattoo and maybe having a drink or two, I’m stuck in a flat with my parents and brother, being treated like a child in time-out. 

I can’t even remember how things were before! I miss having the liberty to travel and go wherever I wanted to without restrictions. I miss the way school was before we had to be confined to certain areas or move around the premises in bubbles. I miss lunchtimes and going to Tesco with my school friends. I miss restaurants. I miss having a future. I miss the life I had before the endless classes of remote learning. At times, “the new normal” feels like a prison.

But for now, this is my life and this is what my typical week looks like in lockdown:

Monday

Another week and another lockdown… Spending most of last year at home, I hoped the New Year would be marginally better, but life feels like a horrible deja vu. I’m disappointed at the inconsistency of the government; it’s hard to rely on them when they change the rules day by day.

With all the negativity in the news, this is the worst time to be an over thinker. I’m not worried about getting sick but I do worry about how my life will be in the future. How will everything play out? How will it all end? Will it end? 

“Being in lockdown has forced me to be my own teacher”

I was meant to return back to school with the Year 11s on Wednesday, but we’ve been told that this has been pushed back to next week and now I’m stressed about my exams and whether they’ll go ahead. What will happen to my university applications? Is my mental health going to suffer again?

I know that when you’re in sixth form, education is meant to be more difficult and independent, but being in lockdown has forced me to be my own teacher. Though the internet is amazing, learning by staring at a screen all day is not very effective. Teachers are doing everything they can, but online lessons via Zoom or Google Classroom are nothing compared to getting taught in person. Without the interactivity of being in a school environment, lessons feel cold and empty. I’m not stimulated enough at home to be interested and fall into easy distractions and procrastination.

With just a few months left until our final exams, I’m worried that online learning will have devastating effects on our final grades.

Tuesday

Yesterday, I found out my exams are cancelled as we go into another national lockdown. I’m relieved and ecstatic because trying to revise for exams to get the grades I wanted felt impossible with the six months we missed last year. Now, I can prioritise and focus on my coursework, but the situation is far from perfect – I’m still not at school and working from home. 

Since there isn’t as much structure, I find remote learning really hard. I get easily lost in my phone or drift into a daydream – I’m stuck in cycles of procrastination and anxiety. Sometimes the days are so bad, I feel like I’m falling into a dark hole which is contributing to my anxiety around everything. Usually, I escape from feeling like this by being in a classroom and burying my head into books, while my classmates natter around me – but right now, the online education goes into one ear and out the other. 

My anxiety is stemming from not knowing what’s going to happen in the near future. I was really looking forward to getting out of London and having the full university experience, but with the way things are looking in regards to the pandemic, I’m not sure that’s even possible. But if I wanted to take a gap year, it’s not like there are exactly any jobs around.

“Usually, I escape from feeling like this by being in a classroom and burying my head into books, while my classmates natter around me – but right now, the online education goes into one ear and out the other”

One positive that’s come out of this lockdown is the newfound time to do things I was too busy to do before. I’m a very athletic person and playing basketball and football used to be my passion before I had to drop them both for school. But recently I’ve been running a lot – I was inspired to start again out of necessity for my mental health. 

Despite the mess and muck of the muddy paths, it’s calming to be running through the park amongst the greenery and the harmonious sounds of the birds chirping. It’s a peaceful and effective way to clear my head from everything, even if temporarily. 

Another pleasant surprise has been finding time to write. Whether that would be poetry or adding onto my novels, it’s another way for me to escape reality. Instead of staring at the same four walls each day, I imagine myself in alternative lives, perspectives and cultures. Currently, I’m working on a novel based around the power of a child’s imagination. 

But most days, I still get bored easily and my mind wanders. All I hope is that this lockdown doesn’t go on forever like last time, because I can’t keep living my life being restrained in one place. Honestly, if I could do anything and be anywhere right now – it will be on a holiday with the palm trees, the beach, the warm sun, the sea and no worries.

Wednesday

I’m officially back to school today with my favourite lesson (English) starting in the morning, followed by double History and more English. All my lessons are now scheduled in accordance with our timetable through Google Meets. Though I’m not in a classroom, where I feel like I can actually learn and focus better, some form of regime has been very helpful.

I’m also trying to create a study space in the living room and work from there because working from my bed might lead to even worse mental health.

“Our lessons are pretty much like lectures with the occasional comments from classmates who are awake enough to answer questions”

Our lessons are pretty much like lectures with the occasional comments from classmates who are awake enough to answer questions. The biggest class I have is Politics – consisting of ten students (including me), while English and History just have the four of us. The lessons seem to go quicker than usual but it’s mostly us just checking in and doing the work on our own time within a set deadline. This time around, I do feel like I’m actually learning, but the information is only staying in my head until the lesson is over. 

I also found out that our final grades will be given to us by our teachers, judging on work effort, mock results and coursework. I’m glad we aren’t doing exams, I feel like I have a fairer chance to get a decent grade and some stranger won’t be marking my work. I’ve also never believed exams measure intelligence or reflect the reality of people’s full potentials. You can be the smartest person in the room with bad exam technique.

Fingers-crossed I get my dream results. I will get my dream results. 

Thursday

It’s another similar day of waking up, doing coursework and tuning into my online lessons. Things are starting to feel repetitive and my boredom is kicking in. This is why I hate remote learning – everything is done on a computer and all the words eventually start looking the same, despite the fact I really enjoy my subjects. 

In English lessons we’re studying Frankenstein, A Streetcar Named Desire, A Death of a Salesman and a bunch of poetry. My teacher also allowed me to choose my own text so I went with The Colour Purple. 

Politics lessons are very lively and it’s important that we keep up with current events. I’ve been listening to politics podcasts in the evenings to vary up the way I’m taking in information. 

“This is why I hate remote learning – everything is done on a computer and all the words eventually start looking the same”

It’s frustrating knowing I have to do this until half term break in February because I really want to be physically back in school (and I never thought I’d say that). At school, my blood would be flowing when I’d go from lesson to lesson, yet at home my body and brain feel stagnant. I miss the chaotic atmosphere; the weird yet entertaining conversations that I would have with my friends and the encouragement from my teachers when things seem unbearable.

Right now, the only contact I have with my closest friends at school is through Instagram and it’s only to talk about school and the depressing news. I’m trying to spend less time on social media, especially since the Black Lives Matter protests, I find it to be very triggering. I’m not really on TikTok, I’m more of a YouTube person.

Friday

It’s finally the end of the week! I’ve only been back to school for three days but it felt like an eternity. I had a full day of lessons but I got to finish early, so I can finally relax by taking a brisk walk outside with my music before it gets dark. Music has helped me process a lot of the upheaval in my life, especially old fashioned stuff that was released in the late 90s and early 2000s. I also have Frank Ocean on repeat.

“Being at home has made me realise how a simple thing, like going to school, can be taken away from me”

This weekend, I’m going to try and relax by watching some TV. Lately I’ve been binging TV shows and old classics like Boyz In The Hood and Kill Bill, that my parents have lying around.

Being at home has made me realise how a simple thing, like going to school, can be taken away from me. My mum always says that when I’m older I’ll miss school. I haven’t officially finished school yet, but I’m already starting to understand what she means by that. Before, I’d take days off or wish for the holidays to come sooner but now I want to go back to the times things were normal and appreciate how easy everything was. For me, school isn’t just a place of learning, it’s a refuge for the mind.