The Truth About Breakout Rooms

(Jordan Cushner)

(Jordan Cushner)

By Paige Anderson

“Breakout rooms should be ready in 3 … 2 … 1,” the teacher says as he points finger guns at the camera. The warm, fuzzy feeling of finally being able to speak with my peers in a private room fills me. This is what I’ve been waiting for all morning and as the excitement builds, I press on “Join breakout room 3”. The joy I’m feeling is reflected on my classmates’ faces, they’re all grinning and anxiously awaiting the opportunity to work together on a project. We all feel safe, comfortable, and happy in the breakout rooms.

Just kidding. 

Although this is how teachers wish breakout rooms would go down, breakout rooms are hell. The uncomfortable silence and awkward exchange of formalities makes us all cringe. Most of the time, no one speaks. There is no group work. Everyone does their own stuff in silence terrified to ask a question and would rather get a bad grade than speak up.

 There are usually four types of students in a breakout room: the one student who has their camera and mic off the whole time and you’re not sure if they’re even in the class, the student who has their camera on and is obviously looking at their phone, the student who is doing their own work diligently, and finally, the one who didn’t pay attention during the instructions and is too confused to be working. The rooms are often with people you’d never work with and although teachers want students to get to know each other, it doesn’t work like that. We don’t try to get to know each other in breakout rooms. We all would rather just turn off our cameras and fall back asleep. When finally someone does talk, either it’s met with silence and gets super awkward OR, the rare case is, someone answers it and a painful conversation begins. 

In school, you sit by people you like and it’s likely that if you’re in groups, it’ll be with the people nearby. In a perfect world, we would like everyone and all to be friends but the reality is there are loads of other students we don’t know or don’t like. The panic I feel each time my teachers say we’re going into breakout rooms is pretty intense, especially when there is someone I don’t like in the class. I cross my fingers every time hoping I won’t be placed with that one particular person. It may seem harsh, but it feels vulnerable for someone you don’t like to see you in your home, tired, and annoyed from spending hours upon hours on Zoom. Breakout room anxiety is real.