When schools shut down across the country, we were in uncharted waters. Kids stayed at home while parents worked. Some thrived and learned more self-discipline. Others learned to slough off. Many delt with fear, anxiety and depression. Some lost people they loved to COVID. Others dealt with loneliness. Many lost their jobs and domestic violence soared. We’ve all been through a huge collective trauma. Here are 3 observations from teaching during and after the pandemic.
- Kids are desperate for physical touch. We told kids they had to stay 6 feet apart. We told them they couldn’t see their friends. And now, after the pandemic kids can’t seem to stop putting their hands on each other. They are in need of hugs and physical activity. One thing educators can do to increase community and unity is play circle games. Here’s a great one called “Clapping.” Have students stand in a circle. Start by turning to the person on your right, looking them in the eye and clap at the same time. Then they turn and do the same with the next person. As the students get better at it the speed will increase. After a successful two times around the circle, they may then pass the clap in any direction. The key is to always make eye contact with the person you’re clapping with. This game brings a sense of closeness and play- without the physicality that can lead to problems.
- Kids are so worried about socializing. Since they were forced to stay home, kids have an underlying fear of not having any social time. Schools can teach soft skills like staying calm and coping if the now isn’t the time to socialize. Schools can also create opportunities to socialize at some point in the school day. They can offer a “third space” for kids to hang out with their friends. This is a time when kids are not being strictly academic (the first space) and not being completely carefree like at home (the second space). The third space is a structured play time they can sign up for with their friends. Having a variety of choices of activities and allowing students to sign up for them with their friends will create a fun environment. Activities could include LGBTQ clubs, outdoor team games, karaoke, cookie decoration, knitting, board games, Pokemon Fan Club, Dungeons and Dragons, art innovation and more. The end goal is to help kids look forward to going to school and also help them practice their socializing skills.
- Kids really have priorities- and not in a good way. When schools went virtual, many kids realized they didn’t care about school on a computer. They logged onto their classes, turned the cameras off and checked out. They figured out that what mattered were the things in front of them and the things they cared about. Often parents supported that viewpoint as well. It’s understandable since we were in crisis as a nation, afraid of of spreading COVID. However, the apathy to school persists. Kids aren’t used to coping with boredom. They refer to school as “jail”. As a teacher it is hard to capture attention 100% of the time. And schools lost the trust of parents and kids. Being back in school means we have to prove to students why they should care. They need to know why what they’re learning is important and what it can do for them in the future. So what can teachers do? Teachers should build in time for discussing the why. They should make it a habit to explain the reason behind it. If the reason is simply to perform better on a test, then maybe that’s not good enough. Educators could research real life applications and insert plenty of hand-based learning. A math teacher working with students on algebraic expressions could bring in cell phone plans, for example. An ELA teacher could have their students write letters to the school board or principal when teaching persuasive writing. A language teacher could strive to do zoom calls with people who use other languages in their professions. Field trips and community speakers would also bridge the gap between the classroom and real life.