At my school in Florida, we’re in our second year of being back in person. Things are very different this year—masks are not required for students and staff, we can hold more athletic events and school activities, and we don’t have to worry about students staying six feet apart; they can now work together in classrooms.
But one thing has been surprising, even if it probably shouldn’t have been. We are seeing some behaviors that we expected to see last year coming out of the isolation of the pandemic only begin to manifest themselves this year. Students seem to be a little less eager to be sociable, we see kids getting agitated more easily, and we see low motivation among students who are usually motivated. Our teachers are having to go back and reteach some problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills.
As far as my staff, they are amazing, but they are also very, very tired. They are teaching just as hard as they can so students continue to make academic progress, while implementing lessons that boost those skills that students didn’t get a chance to strengthen when everyone was home.
Our state has put a huge focus on students’ social and emotional wellness, but I’m not sure we’ve always paid enough attention to the same for teachers. They need the same focus on their own well-being. Our district is very forward thinking, so mental health services are available to our teachers, but there’s still a stigma around seeking help. Teachers by nature want to take care of other people, but they also need to take care of themselves. The same goes for administrators.
The resiliency of our educators and students has been remarkable. One thing that hasn’t changed is that students genuinely want to be in school, and they want to learn. And educators genuinely want to be teaching students in person.
When school buildings were closed, principals worried that it signaled the new way of teaching and learning. They wondered, “What if we never bring students back? What if we do school completely online?” But I think we found out by experience that online learning is just not nearly as effective as in-person instruction.
Everyone is happy to be back on campus and resume school activities. Relationships are once again being built in a more immediate fashion. Teachable moments still drive instruction. A majority of educators at our school would still rather be teaching in the classroom than be anywhere else or doing anything else. Despite the challenges, it is always worth it to come back to the students the next day.
I’m looking forward to when we can stop saying “the learning gaps from COVID.” The pandemic has dominated every education discussion for the past two years. Soon, I hope it’s no longer the main focus.