The impact of Covid on our youngest learners
Updated: Jul 23, 2021
Recently I have been searching out articles on the effect Covid has had on our youngest students. I have been fortunate enough to be in person this entire year, (well until the snowpocolypse hit here in Texas this week!) There have been strains on the classroom routines and lots of restrictions but I do believe it has been more beneficial to my students than virtual learning. Still though I am seeing some alarming red flags in my kiddos from being torn from their classrooms with no notice last year. One day we as teachers were loving on them then the next day we were gone from their lives only to communicate with them via zoom. This has caused so much mistrust and anxiety in our youngest students. It is scary to see that our typical risk taking kindergartners are now dealing with major anxiety issues and an insecurity about life. The carefree, mischievous, impulsive child has been sadly replaced with withdrawn, unsure, questioning kiddos. It breaks my heart to see my kids struggle everyday and I worry even more about those that have not been fortunate enough to be back at school yet.
With desks spread apart, no gathering area and the inability to share items the classroom is not as warm and inviting as it normally would be. I believe these changes in the classroom have created a fear or anxiety about getting "the virus" at school. Several students wear masks or shields, staff wears masks and the classroom is just not as inviting as it normally is. I have always herd people say that kids are resilient but I am afraid Covid will have lasting mental effects on our children. All of these changes and the shutdown have come with a huge price and I wonder if we will ever see a true picture of the damage Covid has done to our kids.
Increased Anxiety and Mistrust: I have never in my 15 years of teaching Pre-k and Kindergarten seen the amount of separation anxiety that I see now. We are in February and I still have kiddos I have to peel off of their parents every morning. Children who are so afraid of not knowing what will happen that they can’t even enter the room without physical help. I assure you these kiddos love school they laugh, smile and participate but there is an uneasiness to them. A mistrust of the classroom that I have never seen before. It is like they are waiting for the other shoe to fall and are expecting me to drop out of their lives like their last teacher. One of my sweet little girls breaks out in hives when I take her from her mother in the morning and I am applying hydrocortisone to her (with permission from admin and parents) multiple times in the morning. I am so very heartbroken for her and no matter how much I bond with her and reassure her I can’t seem to break through this unparalleled anxiety.
Increased Need for One on One Attention: The lack of one on one attention is also a huge hurdle. Most of my kiddos have adjusted back to sharing me with others but several of my students need an abundance of one on one attention that I don't always have the time to give. Being home with their parents has created an insecurity in making decisions and trusting their own ability to do anything for themselves. Several of my students can’t seem to think through what they should do next even though we have had the same routine since the beginning of school. They have an innate need to ask one on one questions more than is necessary. I have spent a large amount of time teaching them how to think through a problem and how to use the tools in the room to help when I am not available. And still I have 4-5 students at my desk needing assistance for things they should easily know how to do. It is mind boggling to me that 6 months has set these kiddos back at least a year if not more in maturity, emotional independence and learning.
Reduced Attention Span: There is this need to rush through everything with no care for how or what we are trying to accomplish. They do not have even the typical 10 minute attention span I am used to. It is very much like I am teaching pre-k kiddos in a Kindergarten classroom. I have had to back way down on my expectations and work extensively on social/emotional learning. The 6 months they spent without interaction has had a major effect on how they interact and play.
Self contained classrooms: With the restrictions of being self contained my kiddos argue and act more like siblings than friends. I spend a much larger amount of my teaching time modeling proper behaviors and intentionally seeking out opportunities to teach social/emotional skills. I have to split my groups up differently than I am used to so I can avoid putting certain kiddos together. It is like they have somewhat forgotten how to interact without arguing.
Increase in technology dependence: With the amount of time these kiddos are spending on technical devices their brains are no longer adapting to the classroom. They are craving that immediate feedback and novelty that they get from online learning platforms. Their brains are moving so quickly that being forced to slow down and do their best is like torture to them. And don’t get me started on handwriting, I am pretty sure none of them used a pencil the entire time they were out of school.
Lower Academic Achievement: This year I have the lowest reading levels I have ever had. I do teach at a school that is college prep and the curriculum is higher than other schools however, my classes have always been able to rise to the curriculum challenges. Of course there are always those that need a bit of extra help but I am seeing these issues across the board. Even my students that are on the high side academically are having trouble with simple concepts.
Serious Behavior Issues: I am generally the teacher my admin sends the tough kids to. I have the tools the manage behaviors and work with kiddos that have impulse issues and oppositional behaviors. This year I can truly say that I have hit my limit. It is as if being home they have gotten used to doing as they please. There is an inability for self control or an allowance of behavior that is not o.k. in the classroom. Shouting out, wandering the room, interrupting, in others space, arguing, refusal to complete work, hitting, bothering others, back talking, rudeness, etc. I have had hard groups before but this goes so much further than just hard kids. The acting out and lack of self control I believe are a direct result of being out of school for an extended period of time. It feels like those beginning weeks of school when procedures are the key to a great year, except every week is the first week again.
So, back to the articles I have been searching out. I am not yet seeing true research on how much our younger learners have been affected by the Covid shutdown. I am hearing however the grumblings of teachers and administration trying to figure out how we are going to catch these kiddos up for the next grade. I have had my own peers crying on my shoulder concerned for how their students are going to be successful in the next grades and how their data will make them look to parents and administration. I have those same fears and anxiety about not being a good enough teacher in this moment. This year is HARD!
Do we adjust our expectations, bring everything to meet the kiddos where they are or try to push ahead?
Do we take time to grow the kiddos socially, emotionally and maturity wise or do we keep trudging along with the academics?
What will be the best for them going forward? Will they ever truly catch up?
How do we prepare them for the expectations of the next grade when they are not on level now?
What about those that don’t have the access to the classroom yet? How do we prepare them to enter the next grade in person?
And, most scary of all, how do we prepare as educators for those incoming students that did not do the virtual schooling or in person schooling at all? ( I read an article the other day about how 19% of students that were supposed to enter Kindergarten in the California public schools may not have had any access to learning since Covid began. I do not understand how with all of the technology and resources we have here in the U.S. how any child can not be accounted for by the districts.)
For now I am doing what my teacher gut tells me. I am pulling back where I can, allowing for more socialization, modeling proper behavior, intentionally teaching social emotional skills and meeting them where they are. I am hopeful that the longer we are in person the more they will begin to return to a somewhat normal development. Until then I believe education as a whole is going to have to adjust to teach the life skills necessary for success.
I would love to hear your experiences with teaching this year, in person, hybrid or virtually. Are you seeing the same issues? Are there issues you are seeing that are different than I have seen? How are you and your kiddos fairing through all of this? Are you seeing any positive attributes in your kiddos since Covid hit? What are your ideas for helping the kids get through all of this and "catch up?"
Til Next Time,