What Educators Need to Know About Teaching in a Post-Covid 19 Classroom

In the first few weeks following the widespread school closures across the US and around the world, educators were gasping for resources and scrambling to move their coursework online. In what was an incredibly stressful and emotional time, teachers everywhere rose to meet the needs of the moment. Together, we shined. 

Having weathered that initial storm, we now find ourselves performing a type of curriculum triage [1] where learning is being pared down to its most basic essentials. This is by no means a substitute for the classroom. It’s not even online learning. It’s emergency learning online, and hopefully, this current reality will be brief.

Regardless, the impact of the present moment will create a much larger, long-term issue that we must look to address before we all go back to school. To understand this issue, let’s take a look at four factors we know to be true about our present circumstances; piecing each detail together will help to bring into view the challenge that lies ahead.

Four Present Factors Contributing to Our Future Problem

  • Reduced Instructional Time: Currently, most students in the US will miss at least an average of three months worth of at-school learning. 
  • Increased Learning Loss: Previous research has shown the following adverse effects of summer breaks. [1]
    • Student achievement scores typically drop by one month’s worth of school-year learning.
    • Declines are more significant in math than in reading.
    • The negative impact of this time off is more significant at higher grade levels.

Assuming that school starts on time in the fall, our learners will be returning after a duration of time equal to two summer breaks, and there is no data to help us understand the compounded impact on learning loss of stacking this much time together.

  • Inequity with Access and Support: Despite our very best efforts as educators, this moment is likely to be the most inequitable period of learning in decades. There is a severe opportunity gap due to the discrepancies with tech resources, internet access, and online learning opportunities. That disparity exists on a district to district, school to school, and even teacher to teacher basis. [2] This issue is only compounded by factors such as varying degrees of parental support, differing levels of at-home responsibilities, and notable differences in how conducive the home environment is for learning. In short, some learners will lack the access and/or the conditions necessary for them to consistently invest in their own education at this time.
  • Growing Gap in Levels of Learner Agency: To state it simply, some learners are diligently doing their remote learning assignments while others are not. A recent Common Sense Media poll found that 40% of U.S. teens haven’t done any distance learning since schools closed last month. [4] Consider the impact this will have both academically and on these students’ individual level of agency and conscientiousness. There are educators who will call it grit. Regardless, some students are currently developing the capacity to lead their own asynchronous learning while others, frankly, are not. When school resumes, we can expect some learners to be uncharacteristically adept at managing their own learning process while others will have spent half a year developing bad habits and/or regressing in these ways.

When you look at these truths collectively, the reality of the post-Covid 19 classroom becomes painfully clear.

Some students will enter your room up to seven months behind in their academic progress, and as such, expect the achievement gap to have significantly widened. 

The question then for practitioners becomes, “Well, what am I supposed to do about it?”

  1. Don’t get discouraged. Let this be a sobering message that activates your efforts to meet your learners’ needs and this challenge head on. 
  1. Use this time to learn. Educators currently have a surplus of the most elusive luxury for personal growth and development: time. Use it to scour the internet and social media for resources related to blended learning, differentiation, personalized learning, learner-centered learning, and so on. Learn about the strategies others have used to put students at the center.
  1. Use this time to brainstorm. Yes beg and borrow, but also build. Take what you learn and brainstorm how to transform your methodology to better meet your learner’s individual needs. Then, don’t hesitate to set to work creating the materials and resources that you will need to make your dreams a reality. Your future self this fall will thank you for it!
  1. Prepare to pre-test. Pre-assessments have long been recognized as an aspect of best practices, but after this time out of the classroom, they will be imperative. If you don’t typically pre-test, consider using this time to design those pieces. Then consider how the results might influence your instruction and activities thereafter. Expect a follow-up blog post on this topic with practical ideas.
  1. Find joy in the process. Acclaimed psychologist Jordan Peterson once said, “life has meaning in proportion to the amount of responsibility you take on,” and many educators are currently in a state of mourning; yes, over the lost of the school year, but also over losing the sense of meaning they derive from the work they do each day. So get back to that.

Teachers, consider this your call to action. I want to encourage you to give a little time each day to honing your craft as a way to better yourself

Teachers, consider this your call to action. I want to encourage you to give a little time each day to honing your craft as a way to maintain positive mental health and to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. 

Your future students are going to need you to be at your absolute best next year.

[1] Curriculum Triage: How Do We Manage the Instructional Challenge Right Now? 

[2] Learning Loss: What It Is and What We Can Do About It

[3] US Schools Trying to Teaching Online Highlight a Digital Divide

[4] 4 in 10 U.S. Teens Say They Haven’t Done Online Learning Since Schools Closed

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