How This Year Is Different For Teachers
Because of COVID-19, returning to school is far more complex than shopping for school supplies, setting up the classroom, and tweaking the year’s curriculum. Along with the commencement of the new school year is plenty of uncertainty, very real health risks, and abundant stress and anxiety.
While teachers always give their all to their students, now they are being asked to give even more. This puts school administrators in a challenging position. On the one hand, they have plenty to deal with without investing more in their teachers. On the other hand, teachers need their abiding support perhaps more now than ever.
Administrators can give their teachers the best chance of succeeding when they are fully aware of their teachers’ particular needs that have been borne from the pandemic. Understanding those needs and implementing effective solutions are crucial as these solutions can often spell the difference between success and failure for both the teachers and their students.
1. Create a Safe School Environment
The top priority for administrators should be the safety of their teachers, students, and staff. Healthy and safe conditions within the school building and its environs are a necessity not only as a prime value itself, but are requirements to promote effective learning and facilitating teachers in doing their best work. When teachers feel that you care about their safety and well-being, you motivate them to rise above expectations.
At the very least, you need to ensure that your school is following all local guidelines and standards, as well as the CDC’s protocol for operation. The CDC recommends that schools implement the “four D’s” — Distancing, Deterrence, Disinfection, and Detection.
Many schools will need to adopt either distance or hybrid learning to fulfill the recommended social distancing guidelines. Within schools, social distancing is challenging, so teachers will need your support and help, as well as resources such as room dividers and screens.
Aside from social distancing, there will need to be a firm program of deterrence as well. This will entail frequent hand washing, hand sanitizing, and requesting that parents keep their children at home when they are not feeling well.
Administrators will need to ensure that effective disinfecting protocols have been set in place. The CDC provides detailed guidance as to what are considered proper equipment and supplies.
Everyone in the building, including teachers, students, and staff will need to be tested regularly for symptoms. Schools from around the country have reported numerous problems as they opened up and needed to quarantine those with symptoms. This unfortunate reality only increases the obligation of administrators to bear down on detecting any problems.
2. Monitor the Situation and Solicit Teachers’ Input
Since the situation with the virus is dynamic, it will be necessary to continuously monitor, evaluate, and be ready to adapt on short notice. Schools will need to become creative in establishing frameworks for measuring their students’ progress. It is essential to engage teachers in both crafting these frameworks as well as their evaluations.
What’s more, teachers should be invited to participate in creating policies for educational standards. While it is always a good idea to give your teachers a voice in school policy and planning, this year their inclusion will be particularly crucial, due to the many new variables at play and their unique insights.
3. Support Teachers’ Emotional Well-being
While there has been a lot of focus on how the virus has impacted the emotional well-being of students, there hasn’t been as much attention paid to that of the teachers. It is critical to recognize the importance of teachers’ psychological, social, and emotional well-being.
Even without a pandemic, teachers have a highly stressful job which can be especially prone to anxiety and burnout. Now with COVID-19 thrown into the mix, it behooves administrators to realize that teachers need their vacation time, sick time, and mental health days to remain refreshed and effective.
In this vein, it is imperative that teachers and staff have easy access to mental health resources, and be provided a positive and psychologically healthy work environment. Administrators need to understand that effectively addressing stress and trauma will mitigate teacher burnout, absenteeism, and turnover.
This year more than ever, your teachers will need ongoing psychological support. While attending to the teachers’ needs would be sufficient to warrant this, it is important to remember that, if the teachers feel they are supported, this support will empower your teachers, in turn, to provide support to their students as well.
4. Accommodate Teachers Who are at High Risk
Nearly 1 in 4 teachers are at higher risk of serious illness from contracting coronavirus due to health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, or comprise an older age group (over 65). These teachers may be qualified to seek assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to minimize risk (such as additional PPE or cleaning of surfaces), certain accommodations that require changes in the classroom environment such as smaller class sizes, or temporary leave.
5. Help Teachers Adapt to the New Normal
As we all know, our current situation is not only new but, for many of us, it is the new normal. And all of these changes will surely take their toll on teachers and students alike. Administrators need to be imaginative and resourceful to help their teachers as much as possible to adapt.
It goes without saying that requesting teachers do more than they usually do this year is unavoidable. The “new” method of instruction is a perfect example. Some teachers may be required to engage in face-to-face teaching and online education simultaneously. Other teachers may be saddled with double shifts to limit class sizes and allow for appropriate social distancing.
Included within all of the herculean efforts of administrators needs to be the awareness of their teachers’ difficulties, and how well they are doing despite the difficulties. Teachers need to feel appreciated, safe, and cared for.
In many schools, efforts are being made to incorporate more social-emotional learning into the classrooms in an attempt to mitigate the negative emotional and social effects of the virus on students.
In this regard, teachers should be allowed to process their feelings and experiences related to the impact of the pandemic as a whole, and to the loss of direct contact with their students. Once the teachers do this, they will be in a healthier position to help their students with these social-emotional programs.
6. Maintain Working Conditions
A critical challenge facing administrators that may persist throughout the school year is the strain on human resources which may reveal gaps — not enough teachers and staff to deal with the current situation. A staggered approach during the first few months, or a hybrid model, may complicate schedules and routines as well. Administrators need to ensure that they have enough teachers working under the right conditions.
These additional needs combined with imploding school budgets could portend even greater pressure on teachers. When budgets and systems are under strain, school decision-makers mustn’t jeopardize the investment in their most crucial resource — the teachers and their working conditions.
Despite these exceptional circumstances, teachers and staff must be provided acceptable working standards, be paid on time, and be allowed to stay home if they are sick without suffering financial consequences.
7. Maintain or Increase Financial Resources
In fact, not only should teachers be paid their regular salaries on time, but strong consideration should be given to increasing their remuneration in light of their service. It must be understood that this is a critical school year for many of our nation’s students. It is dreadful to consider where some of these children will be if their lives don’t normalize sometime soon.
And, since attending school is at the core of that normalization, it can’t be overstated how important teachers are to our children’s present and future. To ensure learning continuity, education authorities need to consider even greater investment in teachers and education support staff.
Governments need to resist the temptation to reduce their investment in education, which could have the unintended consequence of harming the quality of our children’s education and the teaching profession by increasing teaching hours, cutting salaries, or recruiting untrained teachers.
8. The COVID Slide
As schools resume it will be found that, while students will have made varying degrees of progress academically over the past few months, many will have been afflicted by what has come to be known as the “COVID Slide”.
This term, which was debuted by Dr. Megan Kuhfeld and Dr. Beth Tarasawa in a recent Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) policy brief, connected the expected slip in progress due to COVID-19 with the established “summer slide” phenomenon. According to the brief, educators and administrators can draw from their understanding of how summer breaks impact learning in their efforts to gauge the pandemic’s effect.
Beyond building upon pre-existing knowledge of seasonal learning disruptions as a guide, the authors recommended keeping the following factors in mind as likely influencers on students and school communities in the coming months:
Trauma: For some students, sudden school closures occurred alongside other potentially traumatic events, including family income and job losses, health crises, and a high overall level of disruption.
Loss of enrichment opportunities: Students following stay-at-home directives are unable to access enrichment opportunities such as field trips and face-to-face tutoring sessions.
Reduced access to educational resources: For families focused on survival during the shutdown period, concerns about housing, food, healthcare, and jobs may take priority over student learning.
In essence, Kuhfeld and Tarasawa believe that “missing school for a prolonged period will likely have major impacts on student achievement come fall 2020.”
As recently noted in a New York Times editorial, history has shown that educational progress often takes a hit when schools are closed for extended periods. According to the editorial, the problems of remote learning experienced by many schools during the final months of the previous school year make it “even more important that educators sort out how to best catch students up when in-school instruction begins again” following COVID-19 shutdowns.
Consequently, when administrators and school systems draw up their post-COVID plans that get students back on track academically, they need to be fully aware of how the “COVID Slide” has impacted their students. while making space for social-emotional learning.
Administrators: This is a Top Priority
Since the onset of the pandemic in the spring, our appreciation for teachers and their irreplaceable impact on our children’s lives has grown by leaps and bounds.
At the same time, there is no denying that the plates of our dedicated administrators are overfilled with critical items.
Nonetheless, administrators across the country must make supporting their teachers and educational staff a top priority. To put it simply, since the success of our teachers is non-negotiable — our children are depending on them, the administrators’ abiding support of their teachers is non-negotiable as well. We are all counting on them!