The 2020-2021 academic year was unprecedented. Nationwide school closures took place in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then reopened in the fall using combinations of in-person, hybrid, and remote learning conditions. Many teachers and students had to adapt to a new learning environment, one that was less hands-on and more self-guided. Additionally, parents had to become a part of the education system as well, helping their children at home where their teachers could not be.
As a result of massive changes in an otherwise continual system, teachers began to feel levels of stress and burnout at a higher frequency than normal. Now, as we reach the two-year mark of the end of the pandemic year, academic normalcy remains out of touch for most. Schools have seen higher turnover from staff, higher rates of absentees, and overall struggle within the education system.
How the Pandemic Affected Teachers
The COVID-19 pandemic changed teachers' commitment to education drastically. The return to class has not meant a return to normal for many teachers and staff still within the community. Due to students' lack of learning in 2020, they are now set back two years, forcing the teaching staff to play catch up. Students needed more time and help to recover both academically and emotionally from the disruptions of the pandemic. Additionally, turnovers and staff shortages have caused more teachers to feel overworked and overwhelmed.
All of these stressors take a toll on teachers’ mental health. Whether they taught in person or online, a recent study by the American Educational Research Association has shown that teachers experienced significantly higher rates of anxiety during the pandemic, even more so than some healthcare workers. The study showed that teachers experienced trouble sleeping or panic attacks more than the average American worker in the year 2020. Now, the emotional and mental turmoil of the pandemic has bled into the education system, making teachers less committed and burnt out.
How the Pandemic Affected Students
Not only have teachers and staff suffered the consequences of COVID-19, but the students as well. During the pandemic, students faced multiple schedule changes, were assigned new teachers midyear, and struggled with glitzy internet connections to try and keep up. Not only was their learning environment different, but they were cut off from any extracurriculars and social environments that they needed to succeed.
Many refer to the cost of the pandemic as “unfinished learning” to capture the reality that students were not given the opportunity to complete all the learning they would have completed within a typical year. Now, research shows that student’s tests are ten points behind in math and nine points behind in reading comprehension compared to previous years. Students are facing one of the steepest declines in educational history due to the aftermath of the pandemic.
It’s obvious the mental health of teachers and students has significantly worsened since the onset of the pandemic. Even now, it is uncertain how we can turn around the effects of COVID-19 within the educational system. It is our role to help support the teachers of our children to keep them from becoming overwhelmed. We must be attentive to the loss of resources that teachers face, listen when they say they need help, and express gratitude always.
Source: Megan Kuhfeld, Jim Soland (2022) The Pandemic Has Had Devastating Impacts on Learning
Source: Harvard (2023) Data Show How the Pandemic Affected Learning Across Whole Communities
Source: Christopher J. McCarthy, Madison Blaydes (2022) Teacher Stress and Covid-19: Where Do We Go From Here?