Stop making me turn my camera on

Mia Heyward

Every morning I wake up at 9:25 am, leaving just enough time to use the bathroom and brush my teeth before my early morning Forensics class. After I’m done, I lay in bed under my comfy sheets and open my laptop to log into Teams. But the message on the screen, “Cameras on Please :)” haunts me as I look up into my mirror and see myself. Bonnet on, face unwashed, and in my night jammies. I really don’t feel like turning on my camera.  

The issue with turning cameras on has nothing to do with my focus in class. After months of online school, I have mastered the art of simultaneously being on the verge of falling asleep while being fully awake ready to learn new material. The issue with cameras is simply the fact that I am not a morning person. Even when my mother comes into my room announcing she will be leaving for work, I respond with a muffled “goodbye” and turn in my bed. Turning on my camera opens another realm of conversation, engagement, and preparedness that I am just not ready for at 9 a.m. 

I do understand why most teachers prefer students to have cameras on. It is an expectation for teachers to have cameras on in every class, and I acknowledge that if I saw my teacher without their camera, I would be a little confused. My forensics teacher, who continually asks us to turn on cameras, is not trying to stop us from relaxing in bed, but instead wants to ensure that we are engaged and learning a lesson she worked hard to plan. However, forcing us to turn our cameras on will not prove that we are engaged but instead force us to focus on the minor inconveniences. 

Before I turn my camera on, I make sure I look the least bit presentable, usually how I would present myself during in-person classes. If I have my camera on, I worry about my angle shifting to display my unmade bed, or even one of my little sisters jumping onto the screen at any moment. I’m not embarrassed by this, but I also don’t want to showcase my life for the whole class to see. It diverts my attention to how I look through the camera rather than focusing on learning and participation. But with my camera off, these anxieties escape my mind. 

As life in quarantine becomes more familiar, society has created new expectations for both teachers’ and students’ online school etiquette. But remember, we are still in a pandemic. Nobody should be forced to turn on their camera because it is not necessary. It’s a made-up rule that camera presence equates to attentiveness. Since March, both students and teachers have been cooped up in their homes, which has been detrimental for those who struggle with their mental health. Turning on cameras might not seem like a big deal, but having the ability to relax in bed while still completing loads of work helps to distress and maintain engagement. 

Forcing students, or even taking off points, for not turning on their camera accomplishes nothing. If students are not engaged without their cameras on, turning on cameras won’t help; students will pay attention at their own discretion. As we live through world history, focusing on who has their cameras on during third period doesn’t seem like the most significant issue.