Impossible to Plan For: How America’s Teachers Are Coping With Their New Normal

January 12, 2022

I find it difficult to imagine a profession that requires a person to adapt, think on their feet, and embrace constant change as much as an educator, and that statement was true before we layered on the nuances and complexities of pandemic teaching. It is no secret that the teachers of the world have pivoted in ways previously unseen this year. At best, teachers have provided their students structure in an unstructured world. The familiarity and friendship of a classroom can’t be duplicated online, but that didn’t stop teachers from delivering lessons, stories, connections, and love to their classes. Day after day, we saw our educators show up for our children as only teachers can, but what are the lasting effects of spending more than a year in hybrid or online learning?

Catching Up vs Laying the Foundation

Today, most students are back in school full time with Covid-19 precautions in place. They wear masks and stay at least 3 feet apart and try to find their rhythm and semblance of normalcy in their day to day. Many students are struggling socially and emotionally to try to reintegrate into the dynamics of daily school life. Some districts have implemented co-curricular programs like “Leader in Me” to help facilitate the reconnecting that students and teachers need to do. Others have worked hard to empower educators to go one step further and act as counselors in their individual classrooms, extending homeroom times to ease back in and give students a chance to voice their struggles and concerns.

Teachers though are concerned that their students are falling behind state assessment guidelines. There is a balance of “catching up” versus “laying a foundation” for today’s students. The missing pieces are complex and not always apparent. Each individual skill can be taught but the big picture might take years to come into view. What is the solution?

Complex Assessments

The context of education today will require complex assessment tools to move our students forward. We won’t be able to rely on the tools of the past to inform the teaching of the future. Teachers and students are both forever changed by the circumstances that the pandemic has presented. We will need to evaluate holistically and in multiple directions. Teachers need to continue to inform their teaching based on student needs in addition to state guidelines. Individual needs must be met before learning can take place. Students need flexibility as they return to school to fill in the gaps as they go.

Less Is More

One of the major lessons that pandemic education has taught us is that less is more. This isn’t just a trite cliché, but actually the reality of how our brains work. When our brains are overwhelmed with uncertainty, especially over the long term, parts of the brain do not function at full capacity. Streamlining education to the basics that need to be fully processed is favorable to overwhelming students with information and classes that aren’t absolutely necessary. Paradoxically, focusing on extracurriculars where many soft skills are learned is more important than ever. Students are looking to express themselves in the arts and to build skill, mental dexterity, and to feel a part of something larger than themselves by participating in team sports.

Community Is More Important Than Ever

More than ever, community is an integral part of our collective healing. Teachers need other teachers that understand the challenges that they face each day. The pandemic stalled many educators plans for the next step in their teacher certification. This is the perfect time to prepare to respond to this new classroom environment with a degree that understands the challenges that teachers face every day. A fully online master’s degree in education can provide the community of practice and support that teachers need now more than ever. Hand-in-hand we can take small steps forward. Educators should be celebrated for what they have accomplished and supported in their work ahead. They are pillars in our community who are everyday heroes to our students, and in turn, our world.

About the Author

With 20 years of experience in education, Heather Arnold has taken her classroom experience into higher education serving as a private consultant for college admissions and more recently, a fulltime enrollment specialist at her alma mater, Houghton University.  She lives in Western New York with her husband, 5 children, and 2 dogs. 

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