Illustration by J. Schweikert

Mill Stream Staff

“Unprecedented” may be an overused word at this point, but Gen Z Americans are really taking it to the fullest. After being born in a post-9/11 U.S., we’ve lived through two recessions before adulthood, known the threat of terrorism abroad and in school, grew up with the rise of social media, and are now living through a pandemic. We’re tired of living through historic events every other day. And we haven’t even graduated high school yet.

Last March, the world flipped completely upside downーnot an unfamiliar feeling for our generation. What everyone thought would be a break from school for a couple weeks has now turned into a 10-month ordeal with us trying to learn algebra, chemistry, and grammar we’ll never remember on Zoom calls. “Unprecedented” doesn’t even begin to describe it. 

School feels so much more impossible than it ever has before. Where we used to see our friends’ and teachers’ faces each day, school has been replaced by masked interactions in empty classrooms and hallways or unfocused virtual calls from your bedroom or kitchen. Life sucks right now, so we joke about it instead. It’s a Gen Z trait. By now, nearly everyone has seen some sort of prank or casual joke about teachers on TikTok or Snapchat. It can lighten the raw exhaustion of the situation, but where do we draw the line? Some of these jokes are heartless. At some point, it begins to be cruel. Our teachers are doing their best, much like us. Even before COVID-19 rocked the world, our teachers, nurses, and other staff were undervalued and underappreciated. 

For teachers, the struggle of class online is indescribable. The humanity of the classroom is gone, replaced by a cold and indifferent screen. Trying to teach online students with their cameras off is like teaching to a void. Even the students with their cameras on are detached and distant, their thoughts in a far-off world where maybe everything is back to “normal”. We’ve all had our fair share of Zoom burnout—the exhausting dread of joining a call, knowing you’ll probably pay no attention for the next 90 minutes and then feel even worse when you realize you have no idea what’s being taught. 

For many schools, including NHS, teachers also have to keep up with teaching in-person students. While online classes have their own unique challenges, in-person class brings a whole new set of hardships to the table. Masks make it nearly impossible to understand someone, much less hear their tone of voice or see any facial expressions. Teachers and students alike have become advanced in the art of body language: the familiar glazed look in the eyes of a day dreaming student, the all-too-focused gaze of the straight-A’s athlete, the slouch in the shoulders of the kid who’s failing. 

The world is hurting, that much is obvious. It may be trite and cliche at this point, but we should come together for each other. It’s an unprecedented time for everyone, not just teenagers. We should all do what we can to make this incredibly difficult period in our lives easier for others as well as ourselves. Something as small as a smile or a wave could make a gloomy day a little brighter for everyone. Especially in times like these, it’s easier to shut down and push others away. However, try not to be too harsh when things aren’t going your way—when it comes down to it, aren’t we all just doing our best?