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What to Expect from Students after a Pandemic School Year

A joyful child runs down the street toward a group of children.

In every corner of America, teachers are wondering what the 2021-22 school year will bring. For some students, this fall will be the first time they set foot in a classroom in 18 months.

Knowing what to anticipate from these students—and their families—can help teachers gather resources and mentally prepare themselves for the road ahead.

Here's what you should expect after a year of teaching in a pandemic school year.

(Potentially) Lower Rates of Enrollment

According to EdWeek, at least four states (Colorado, Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia) saw early education enrollment percentages drop off between 20 percent and 41 percent in 2021. Across America, though, especially in the younger grades, enrollment has declined—2.6 percent across 41 different states, according to Chalkbeat—as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Further Reading: A Back-to-School Checklist for Busy Teachers

This could mean you'll face a staggered start this fall. New school years often involve a shuffling of sorts in the first eight weeks of school, especially in districts where school choice is available. But this year could be especially challenging.

Prepare yourself for the possibility of temporarily smaller class sizes, students moving to remote learning or changing schools, and even students starting their school year late.

The COVID Slide

Those familiar with the "summer slide" phenomenon should mentally prepare themselves for the COVID slide. Estimates curated by NWEA in 2020 suggested that students might retain only 50 percent to 70 percent of the information they normally would after a standard summer break.

Since some students have spent the last 12 months in a remote learning setting, similar (or even steeper) drop-offs of knowledge are possible.

Teachers can hit the COVID slide head-on by:

  • Administering more detailed assessments early on to gauge knowledge
  • Planning culturally responsive lessons that meet all learners' needs
  • Building extra extensions (up and down) into lesson plans

When collaborating with your department or grade level, discuss how you'll attack the COVID slide. There is strength in numbers in this situation, and creating a unified front can help catch students up faster.

(Another) New Normal

Seasoned teachers know that routine is a key component of good classroom management, so a major source of frustration in 2020 was the struggle to remain consistent. Constantly shifting expectations and novel learning formats made it incredibly difficult for teachers to build and maintain a culture of learning and discipline in their classrooms.

Educators can gain control by reinstating "new normal" management techniques from the jump, such as:

  • Drilling the basic management skills (class lines, lesson transitions, etc.)
  • Setting (or re-establishing) clear technology guidelines
  • Establishing expectations for in-person group work or independent work time

Be prepared also to let go of some tactics that were deployed while teaching during the pandemic.

There may be bumps in the road, (especially with the possibility of new mask mandates and health guidelines being announced due to the COVID-19 delta variant on the horizon). Focus on the big movers for your classroom, and don't let the uncertain nature of a new school year be more stressful than it has to be!

An Emphasis on Mental Health

Children, especially young ones, faced many difficulties during the pandemic. Whether home life was boring, void of routine, or even dangerous, teachers should prepare themselves for students who start off the school year showing signs of struggle from acute or lingering traumas.

Excessive screen time could also pose a threat to your students' mental health. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children aged eight to 12 spent four to six hours of screen time per day on average prior to the pandemic, while teenagers spent six and a half. In many cases, student screen time has increased while physical activity has decreased, according to data collected by 245 families in Frontiers in Public Health. Another study, published in Preventive Medicine Reports, has linked excessive screen time to higher rates of depression.

As a teacher, you can be proactive by asking what systems are in place to treat the potential mental health crisis your school could face. You might also consider adding a social-emotional component to your lesson plans. Discussing topics like school-life balance, coping skills, and how being adaptable is a lifelong skill that students must develop to succeed could actually be a breath of fresh air for many students.

More Involved Parents

The Education Trust found that while most parents were satisfied with how their schools implemented strategies to teach during the pandemic, nine out of 10 parents across the U.S. were worried about their children falling behind academically. As a result, teachers should expect parents to be more heavily involved in their education this school year, or at the very least more anxious.

You can prepare yourself by:

  • Involving parents in back-to-school procedures via email or online classrooms
  • Communicating proactively with parents
  • Setting aside a chunk of time each day or week to answer parent emails

Many parents also felt they did not have the resources or supplies at home to help their child succeed. Questions about what parents can do at home to get their child caught up are likely, so putting together a list of resources could be helpful.

Quiet Optimism

The vast majority of teachers, parents, students, and administrators have one thing in common—they're ready for the world to return to normal. Working through a pandemic school year has posed a unique set of challenges these last 18 months, and you might be overwhelmed at the prospect of more change.

Further Reading: You May Be a Different Teacher When You Return in the Fall

Slowly but surely, though, school should start to feel more normal—even if some of your classroom tools and practices are completely different from what they were two years ago. And as students are reminded that school is a safe, nurturing environment—and parents see noticeable changes in their children—we could all be pleasantly surprised at how quickly things fall back into place.