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Online classes make high school student her own best teacher

Angelica is one of two students who will be writing occasional columns for GothamSchools on their experiences attending a New York City public school.

I’m Angelica Modabber, a freshman at NYCiSchool. Unlike most schools, the iSchool is very technology-based, and students take many online courses. Visitors to the iSchool often question this initiative, since at many other schools, lessons are still taught with a chalkboard and a teacher at the front of the room. Here’s how I came to embrace this style of learning.

When first presented with the “moodle,” (the website on which the courses are found) I was asked to sign in to my personal account and enroll myself in all the classes I would be taking that quarter. Once enrolled, I had access to all the exams, information, questionnaire sheets, and overall assignments. I was bewildered by all the links, texts, and videos the site possessed. I shrugged off the confusion; after all, how difficult could it be to sit in a classroom and simply read all the passages and paste them to memory?

In reality, though, like the other students, I was blown away by all the music playlists, YouTube videos, and infinite other distractions. The possibilities were endless. Although the school had done its best to block these diversions, there was always a distracting website left unguarded.

In the beginning I was not fond of being both teacher and student simultaneously. It required more effort, patience, self-control and self-motivation. Not consistently having someone keep tabs on me was surprisingly unnerving; I had expected to thrive with this newfound freedom. After all, wasn’t this the independence I had always yearned for? However, I quickly discovered that my “freedom” was buried beneath layers and layer of responsibility – or in my case, procrastination.

Online courses were the most brutal confrontation with what was lacking in me as a good student. Being forced to teach myself, I became more aware of all my scholastic shortcomings. My faults were never as evident as when I first started out. I was always confused, had trouble following directions, could not focus on the task at hand, and expected to be hand-fed all the information. Crestfallen by these heart-breaking revelations, I desperately wanted to redeem myself.

I came to realize that, if used properly, the courses could help me achieve an unforeseen degree of control. Teaching myself was shockingly effective. I was finally being taught by someone who fully understood me. I gradually was picking up more skills as the year progressed: I learned to manage my time and pace myself, and my habit of constant postponement began to fade.

I had no one to blame for all my screw-ups other than myself. Rather than frightening me, this concept was actually thrilling. Having isolated all the variables leading to failure (i.e. lesson plans, teachers, etc.), I was left with only myself, and I had absolutely no intention other than to succeed.

While I was growing to love online learning, many of my peers were ready to break under the pressure, and blamed the courses for their own inadequacies. While I enjoy having to depend on no one but myself academically, others still had to come to terms with the idea. Perhaps when online courses are a more established way of learning, students won’t take so long to adjust. Individuals are always quick to judge what they are not used to; it’s human nature. Even I was in the same position at first.

I read a joke once that if we were to find someone who lived decades ago and place them in today’s world, they would be lost in the midst of all the new technology. Everything from transportation to entertainment has transformed. However, if they visited a school, they would have no trouble realizing where they were. Our schools have not kept up with the rest of society’s advancements. The iSchool hopes to change that, and in doing so, to create students who take learning into their own hands.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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