Our previous blog post, Learning Loss Recovery Tops K-12 Priorities for 2021-2022 School Year, discussed the learning loss that educators are facing due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is difficult to determine the exact amount of learning loss and in what areas, but educators are confident it exists. In addition to learning loss recovery, the physical and well-being of students and staff remains a top priority for the 2021-2022 school year.
In our survey conducted in the fall of 2021, forty seven percent ranked physical and mental well-being of students and staff in the top two priorities, a direct reflection of the stress and trauma endured during the pandemic and ongoing. According to our interviews with educators, they note that students seem unable to regulate themselves – feeling very anxious.
How then do educators begin to address the learning loss when students have not returned to a learning mindset?
Marie Shimer Ed.D, Director of Educational Services, Morrow County School District (OR), emphasized the importance of recognizing the needs of students outside of the classroom so they can bring their best inside the classroom. “Our superintendent has worked tirelessly with county agencies and the community to create ‘wrap-around teams’ that include site-based mental health counselors and staff dedicated to supporting families and removing barriers for attendance. Making sure they have state insurance so they can get their teeth taken care of, or they need transportation to that dentist appointment, or eyeglasses. We believe very strongly, for students to learn, they must be in a safe and secure place.”
From Oregon to New Jersey, the stories are astoundingly familiar.
“Students have forgotten how to interact with one another as they reacclimate to school. They have forgotten how to socialize in the cafeteria or how to walk down the hallway, and they struggle with self-monitoring or self-reflection skills,” shared Genene Meli PhD, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Frankford Township School District (NJ).
“In grades Pre-K-2, parents have done everything for them (at no fault to the parents) … with immediacy, students have had their questions answered, juice boxes opened, and yogurt lids removed for them. When we returned to school, our second-grade students were not accustomed to doing these tasks autonomously. Although academically the students are ready, they do not possess the social or independence capabilities to move forward.”
“Kids usually learn independence in kindergarten and first grade; we have third-graders asking for someone to tie their shoes. Parents do not realize how much independence schools teach kids; it just happens as a natural cycle … it is a new parent-community disconnect, and two years of independence growth just disappeared. It naturally happened, and now we are trying to figure out how to put it (independence) back in place,” Dr. Meli added.
The emotional toll on our students is apparent; the toll on educators – and associated repercussions – we’ve yet to fully understand.
While putting everything “back in place” in schools, educators are saying they cannot sustain this heightened level of stress. According to a recent survey4 conducted by the Connecticut Education Association, more than one third of Connecticut educators are thinking of retiring or leaving the profession earlier than planned. Countless nationwide studies, including a report5 from Mission Square Research Institute, suggest K-12 employee job satisfaction has plummeted and the vast majority feel stressed with elevated levels of burnout/fatigue and substantial anxiety at work.
Unfortunately, a much-needed break for these educators is not on the horizon. Staff shortages range from the cafeterias to the bus routes, not just in the classrooms. Just as bus drivers are covering multiple routes, teachers are covering multiple classrooms as limited to no availability exists for planned or unplanned absences.
“We have a huge sub shortage. Traditionally, we would get half-day subs or rotating subs so teachers could be pulled out of the classroom for professional development, but we cannot do that this year. Teachers are ‘subbing,’ principals are ‘subbing,’ even our superintendent ‘subbed’ this week,” noted Sarah Ash, Curriculum Director, Ida Public School District (MI).
It is abundantly clear why our educators have arrived at this state of burnout. Learning loss, paired with delayed social-emotional development, has taken its toll on students and educators. Interview after interview reaffirmed why 77% of survey respondents ranked Learning Loss, Student Achievement and Outcomes or Physical and Mental Well-Being of Students and Staff as top priority.