Emotions run high in AP English Literature,

Challenges regarding teaching and learning with a high stakes exam during distance learning


Wikimedia Commons

STRESSED OUT – Students taking challenging classes struggle, and being online only amplifies these struggles. Teachers are also trying to adapt and help students despite distance learning. “Students were incredibly resilient and I am so proud of them. Taking any course online is tough- let alone a college level class,” Ms. Navarro, a physiology and AP biology teacher, said.

Entering Zoom class May 10, students could tell Ms. Flores wasn’t in the most cheerful of moods. There was no music, no joy, nor the excitement there usually is at the start of class. However, the environment wasn’t very surprising as there had been rumours of students complaining. 


“It wasn’t something that started out of the blue. It was like a snowball effect. Small things like locked assignments and due dates apparently didn’t sit well with some students,” Diego Toscano, a senior, said. Toscano had no problem with it because to him, everything was to keep him on track and on pace. Other students began to grow annoyed, and it wasn’t until The Landlady poem assignments that things began to turn into a bigger predicament.


“After that, you could say it went downhill for the students [who] felt it was not fair,” Toscano said. Students weren’t happy about the grades they had been receiving for writing assignments. The complaints seemed to have been exaggerated and—to put simply—fueled by emotion rather than reason. 


Regardless of opinions, feelings about grades are not the same as the fairness of grades. There was no favoritism, errors, nor changes to grades not based on directions or the rubric. A rubric that students agreed to at the beginning of the school year.


This is why the letters criticizing Ms. Flores seemed impulsive. These letters were letters of frustration sent directly to the principal. Rather than constructive criticism, the content of the letter was mainly composed of complaints about grading policies and assignments.


“I’m not completely sure what was in the email, but I know some of it was that people didn’t feel as prepared, which I agree [with] because I felt like maybe we could have worked on timing more, but other than that, I don’t really have an opinion,” a student who asked to remain anonymous, said. “We didn’t do much hard work in the [introductory] semester, which is probably why people were caught off guard,” another student who asked to remain anonymous, said.


Sometimes it’s helpful to tell someone that there’s a problem and the sooner it’s pointed out, the sooner it will be fixed. When they get overwhelmed, students seem to forget that teachers are humans too. It’s an AP class, and teachers, similarly to students, have had to adapt to this new style of Zoom teaching. Students need to calm down. They need to talk to teachers, let teachers know how they feel. Of course, this is more difficult this year due to classes being done through Zoom.


Time was probably the biggest factor this year- every single class was a rush to get through the most important material. I had to make some hard choices on what was crucial we went over together, and what students would have to review on their own,” Ms. Navarro, an AP Biology and Physio teacher, said. With classes shortened teachers didn’t have the time they once had pre-quarantine, and this affected the way they taught. 


“Sometimes when looking at an FRQ, it takes the whole 50 minutes- between having time to brainstorm- breaking down the process, giving students time to try it, and then reviewing,” Navarro said. Class used to be 90 minutes long, so there would have been an additional 40 minutes of instructional time that teachers would use. 


Time wasn’t the only important factor teachers lost. “Specifically for science- the lack of labs was a major downside, due to district guidelines we couldn’t send lab kits out, so we had to make do with materials [that were] easily accessible,” Navarro said. Teachers had to adapt their lessons based on the materials they had available to them. Unless they had prior experience with distance teaching, teachers would not know exactly how effective their methods would be. It would be based on theory unless students were to talk to them about how they feel they’re learning.


Giving someone positive feedback is not rude. If anything, it’s the complete opposite. This goes both ways. As much as students get help from teachers, they can also give help.


“I have no shame in saying I received low scores for some assignments, but I got feedback from them,” Toscano said. People need to be more open-minded. Failure isn’t the end. If students were expected to understand everything, there would be no point in paying attention. There wouldn’t be a point in going to class. 


This is a really impactful message that recalls a previous teacher quote. “Students need to have more grit,” Ms. Galvan, an English and Humanities teacher, said. When adversity hits, people must push back instead of shying away. Life is unfair and if students believe their biggest challenge is a teacher trying to do what’s best for them, they have another thing coming.

“Thank you for putting up with us and being a great teacher,”

— Toscano

We are teens. We are not meant to know everything. “I get it, we are in quarantine and this school year was like no other, but the students still have to keep in mind that this was an AP Class. What else did they expect?” Toscano said.