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4 Ways to Be Empathetic During Online Classes and Work

Quarantine has changed our lives in almost every daily aspect. With all the restrictions, according to each country's COVID-19 lockdowns and rules, virtual classes and work have become the new normal. This transformation tends to make us feel overwhelmed with anxiety and loneliness. There are lots of people that like this new lifestyle, maybe even needing it to have more time at home. However, there are also people that tend to be very social and don’t like how things are currently being done.  

I know it's hard! For each of us in different ways; parents of elementary school kids have had to stay at home to help them take online classes, some senior high school students never got their graduation and prom, college students can’t deal with stress, professors have had to learn a lot more about technology, and professionals have had to adapt to being away from the office. 

All these changes require us to have more empathy than ever with others and with ourselves. 

Here are at least four different actions you can take to practice empathy in classes and work during these tough times. ​

Teach both kids and parents

We have to teach the kids! But first of all, let's remember the parents. We must have empathy because parents are doing all that they can to keep their little ones going. As well as there are parents working from home, there are others that are not, and others that have to stay at home to help their kids take classes. It’s not easy for them, taking into consideration that the ones that didn't know a lot about technology had to learn, and that they have to be all day with their kids to set everything up and help them with school work while simultaneously working and doing chores. 

On the other hand, kids are missing the opportunity of social interaction. This includes meeting friends, going out and playing, learning from teachers, and having the motivation and drive to keep studying. Most of them don’t understand what’s going on, and it’s not the same for them to be at school than to learn the basics through a camera with their parents instead of teachers. We have to teach them motivation and the importance of developing consistent studying habits. Also, since this might be our new normal for a while, depending on the grade level of the kid, we can teach them to work with technology. We can help them make class friends and instead of going out, bring them together through a virtual meeting with different alternatives to play. Lastly, we can take advantage of the resources we have at home like movies, videos, music and toys that can entertain and educate the kids at the same time. 

Help teachers and professors

"OMG, I can’t deal with this professor," "Why are they taking so much time?", "I can’t see or hear anything," "Why are they so grouchy?", "This class is so boring."

Any one of these statements is a clear no-no. Teachers and professors are having a rough time trying to adapt their work to the new normal as well, so the least we can do as students is try to understand them and be polite given our current circumstances. 

Not all educators knew how to manage technology before the pandemic. Remember that a lot of them had to take a lot of workshops on how to use the different platformsーincluding some of them having to use their own money for different programs or equipment such as computers. Because not all classes could be adapted remotely, some teachers and professors had to make a completely new plan to see how they could offer classes that required practice sessions or laboratories and others. Lots of senior teachers and professors felt lonely and couldn't deal with the pressure of talking to a computer where they saw nobody, a factor that even caused some of them to give up teaching altogether.

We have to help them so they don’t feel like they're alone. Here are some more tips on this point. 

Participate and turn your camera on

Although it isn’t a requirement to turn the camera on in every class and work conference, you should. Turning the camera on avoids misunderstandings, it can help fight against the monotony, and help make other people feel like they are actually talking to somebody instead of to a screen. It’s the closest way to be physically and socially involved in this new normal. Most teachers, professors and professionals can get overwhelmed and stop the conference because they aren't receiving any feedback, and it’s not what we want because if it had been on-site it wouldn't have happened. 

You don’t need to be dressed up, with makeup on, or have a good background. It will make them happy to see your face for at least a few minutes no matter what. Be considerate and do it for them. Think about how you would feel in their position, talking to a computer screen with all the cameras off. Respond when they say something or take initiative to talk or ask them something too. Hear them, be there.

Give thanks

Now it’s time to show off the empathy. Give thanks to the teachers, professors and workmates, not only for being there, but for holding on. Give them thanks for making the classes or work possible, for giving you the resources to keep going on during the pandemic. Give them thanks for waking up everyday even if they are tired and stressed. Finally, feel free to express gratitude for not quitting on themselves and on you, and for all the work they had to go through to adapt everything to a virtual modality. Give them thanks after each class, conference, workshop, wish them a good morning, day, end of the week, anything! 

Finally and most importantly, before minimizing the opportunity of studying and working from home and underestimating what teachers and professors have gone through, be thankful that you still are there. Lots of professionals around the world lost their job after quarantine started and students lost the opportunity to study, graduate, have internships, participate in college exchange programs, among other types of academic opportunities. 

Be thankful for being alive, healthy, and able to learn. We will have to keep adapting to our new normal, but if we keep practicing empathy and doing anything that is in our hands to help, we will be okay! You got this!

Itzel Rivera is an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. She's studying Information & Journalism with the purpose of providing people the knowledge they need to educate themselves. Itzel aspires to execute her profession, values and principles in a way that it impacts society. Also, she loves lifting weights, studying and doing anything that will get her closer to her dreams!
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