As the novelty of once again gathering in classrooms is waning, both students and teachers are waking to the not-quite-normal reality of what was previously predictable. For starters, only the Class of 2022 seniors experienced a full, non-COVID colored high school year, while Class of 2025 freshmen were seventh graders when last in full time, in person school.
Teachers are adjusting to mask enforcement duties, while never sure who will be quarantined from one day to the next, thus managing the learning process of those in the classroom and at home. Plus, many school districts officials report substitute teacher shortages, thus teachers often “cover” classes on their prep periods, lowering morale.
Many students worry, attending school not knowing if they’ll be sent home the next day, if a peer unwittingly exposes them to COVID or by public health order as they were in March 2020. Additionally, restricted attendance at football games, weekly COVID testing, and all day mask wearing, can be mentally draining.
Furthermore, students can’t “read” each others’ expressions behind a mask, thus participating in classes is more complicated. Teenagers already worry about seeming “stupid” amongst peers and are sensitized to not making controversial statements, thus, wrangling with ideas in a robust discussion, as many lamented losing during 2020-21 remote learning, may not be materializing.
Additionally, given current protocols for quarantine and ordinary illness, students are often banned from campus for multiple days. Since some teachers do not use online tools like they did during remote learning, like recording lectures or posting assignments online, quarantined students are again learning on their own with emailed guidance from the teacher. Thus, students fear becoming ill for any reason, adding stress.
As many teachers are finishing an extended review period at the halfway mark of the Fall semester, trying to remediate a lack of conceptual learning over the eighteen month remote learning experiment of the 2020-21 school year. Students are recognizing gaps in their learning, while trying to simultaneously learn previously unlearned concepts while trying to complete current work, inducing further stress.
In addition, many students report being tired, trying to concentrate or at least look like they’re paying attention during class, after a year or more of schooling wearing pajamas from bed, with cameras off and bedroom doors closed, unsupervised by adults.
Lastly, students’ angst and concerns built up over the last year and a half are manifesting in out of the norm tensions, adding complexity to the school environment. One student shared that physical fights are almost a daily occurrence at her school, where pre-COVID fights had been infrequent at best.
COVID fatigue combined with euphoria of being somewhat back to normal, which for teenagers is a daily struggle to adapt, conform all while trying to emerge from the innocence of childhood, should be met with compassion and patience on the part of adults who should want more than anything to guide our future leaders through what has been a difficult time for all.
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