A catch phrase that’s being bantered around a lot in teaching circles is “learning loss.” This refers to the perceived “loss” of learning over the 6-12 months that kids were completing school online.
Before anyone comes at me, I want to be clear. I think online school absolutely can be effective, but being effective at online school comes with a huge amount of privilege. To be effective, a student had to have: access to stable internet, access to a computer, access to a private work space, a structured schedule, support at home – both to maintain the schedule and to help with work. IF a student had all this, then online school worked. IF a student didn’t (and most didn’t) then online school was difficult. They did miss important concepts AND social opportunities.
However, online school kept the students, and their communities safe. It was (and should still be) the absolute right thing to do. Fuck your standardized 7th grade math concepts – keeping students home was right, whether they learned or not.
Except, now they’re back in school.
I have no scientific data to back this up, but I believe that as years pass, I will be proved right on the anecdotal data I’m about to present.
Our current expectations on students are stressing kids out.
I’m not talking about a little stressed out. I mean full fledged panic attacks. I’ve already had a number of children who have had attacks at school, and a few more whose parents have contacted me regarding anxiety. Stress is caused by a number of factors – but that buzz word of “learning loss” is absolutely a factor, and a large one.
Schools are trying to “catch kids” up to where they should be with no understanding of where they are. There’s an expectation that students who haven’t been in school since 5th grade can and should do 7th grade math. There’s no restructuring of concepts, and no discussion of how to help rather than hinder our students.
Pile on top of that the fact that teachers are even more overworked this year than they were during the pandemic. Administration has placed the onus on the teachers to “close the learning gap” in these students, rather than acknowledge that we need to meet them where they are.
We are expecting too much out of our students and our teachers. Not only are we not meeting the actual needs of our students, we are not acknowledging their experience. Students, like the nation, have experienced grief and trauma from the pandemic. Moreover, students are on the front line of a pandemic everyone has forgotten about. No one has given them the tools to manage the staggering trauma from the past eighteen months. Of course they are having panic attacks.
So, how do we help?
The first, and best, thing we can do for them is to meet them where they are. Instead of “set the bar and they will rise to it”, we need to acknowledge that the kids don’t have the tools or strength to get there. We need to give them grace.
Second, we need to teach them to set healthy boundaries. We do this by example. Are you a teacher? Are you being expected to work outside of contract hours? Don’t. Don’t do it. Set a boundary, and stick to it. Teach students to set boundaries as well. You do this through structure, consistency, and example.
There are other strategies, but the bottom line is that our students are not robots. They are panicked, they are scared, they have anxiety, and they don’t know how to manifest or handle those feelings. As teachers, admin, and as a nation we need to stop assuming that kids aren’t affected by what’s going on the world. That probably will mean changing the expectations in your classroom or in your home.
And you know what? That’s ok. The world is different than it was 18 months ago. It’s changed, and we have too.