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Fast Times at COVID High – The Changing Landscape of Education

These past three years, since the start of COVID-19, has drastically changed the landscape of education. From halting all in-person classes, to teaching online, to going back to in-person, it has really made everyone re-evaluate how we teach content (and also how well students retain information). The pandemic, and the subsequent fallout of it, has impacted and will continue to impact our future. Let’s see how it has changed education and how we as educators need to adapt to the new world we live in.

Student social and emotional development have been negatively affected.

Recent surveys by the Institute of Educational Sciences, conducted between January and May 2022, display some harrowing results and statistics.

A May 2022 survey found more than 80% of public schools reported “stunted behavioral and socioemotional development” in their students because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” a 56% increase in “classroom disruptions from student misconduct,” and a 49% increase in “rowdiness outside of the classroom.” All schools surveyed reported a 55% increase in “student tardiness.” The use of cell phones, computers, or other electronics when not permitted for all schools increased by 42%.

2022 IES Survey Source

Students’ social and emotional development has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, social distancing measures, and also the lack of support from institutions and parents. If you are familiar with the website, Reddit, the subreddit for teachers is full of stories and experiences educators face in the classroom. Not only has student behavior been negatively impacted, but their overall learning and information retention has dropped.

There has been a big drop in academic performance compared to pre-pandemic performance.

According to a study to track test scores pre and post pandemic, the performance in math and reading for US students in grades 3-8 are significantly lower than their peers in 2019.

As we outline in our new research study released in January, the cumulative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ academic achievement has been large. We tracked changes in math and reading test scores across the first two years of the pandemic using data from 5.4 million U.S. students in grades 3-8. We focused on test scores from immediately before the pandemic (fall 2019), following the initial onset (fall 2020), and more than one year into pandemic disruptions (fall 2021).

Average fall 2021 math test scores in grades 3-8 were 0.20-0.27 standard deviations (SDs) lower relative to same-grade peers in fall 2019, while reading test scores were 0.09-0.18 SDs lower. This is a sizable drop.


That article goes on to share how both high-poverty and low-poverty schools have been negative impacted by loss of classroom and instructional time since 2020. The pandemic has not only impacted students, but also teachers and school staff as well.

The pandemic, the ever-changing need to adapt to the new environment, has also impacted the mental health of everyone. The need for mental health services and counselling has become vital now more than ever.

70% of public schools reported that “the percentage of students who have sought mental health services increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic;” and that 34% of public school students seeking out mental health services more than others were “economically disadvantaged students.” The second highest percentage (25%) of public schools who sought out mental health services more than others were special needs students (25%).

“The teachers are having a rough time…too, is what these data are showing,” Carr said. 29% of public schools reported that the “degree to which staff have sought mental health services from the school since the start of COVID-19” has increased. “They are overworked, they don’t have the staff there to help them, teachers are quitting. They are having to teach courses they have not taught before. All of these things culminate into an unhealthy work environment for the teachers,” she said.


So, how can we better educate students in the classroom today?

While it might seem like a bleak time for students and their prospective educational futures, don’t lose hope. Here are six strategies to help reengage students and improve their learning and retention.

  1. Encourage more student collaboration – Now that many schools have gone back to in-person instruction and classroom learning, this is the perfect time to help students develop those social skills they may have been lacking during the time away from the classroom (during online instruction). Depending on the subject or content you teach, give your students an assignment or project for them to complete with clear (and achievable) learning objectives and outcomes.
  2. Encourage more student ownership – Since students have been coming back to school in-person, they need to redevelop that sense of ownership of their learning. From getting used to their schedules, physically taking books, notebooks, pens, pencils, etc., to having to sit through a 40-50 minute class in a classroom, it’s a lot for kids today to used to again. Remind them that they are in charge of their own education – in that they need to be responsible for their study habits, behaviors and such, so they can achieve their best outcome in (and out of) the classroom.
  3. Incorporate real-world impacts into your lessons – What’s the point of learning something if you can’t apply it to life, right? This doesn’t have to be a difficult task to do or plan. It can be as simple as having students talk about their family background and history in a social studies class, writing stories for children or elderly people in a literature class, or holding student elections in a civics class. If the students can see how what the do impacts their school life, hopefully they can also begin to understand how it impacts their lives outside of school, too.
  4. Try to blend traditional textbook learning with technology – If you haven’t been doing this already, there’s no better time than to start now. When I was in school, we didn’t have the technology kids have today. We had basic typing and word processing classes, and the Internet was still very new. Now, with the advent of smart technology, students can become more engaged in learning than before. Using smartboards in classrooms, allowing them to use touchscreen tech and making lessons more interactive will keep students engaged.
  5. Make sure parents stay involved – I know this may seem like a lot, since many teachers already send emails, have phone calls, and meetings with parents, but it’s so important to the learning process if parents are involved at home. As an ESL teacher myself, I can see whose parents are involved at home with practicing English and whose parents are less involved (or not at all) by how well their children do in class. Those whose parents are highly involved have better listening and reading comprehension, language production, and overall conversational fluency than those whose parents are not as involved. Those sort of outcomes should be easily visible across subject and content areas.
  6. Lastly, be compassionate but flexible – The most important thing we must remember, as educators, is to be compassionate and flexible. One thing I’ve always tried to remember in my 14 years of teaching so far, is that not all students have supportive and stable homes. I remember many of my teachers being quite rigid, not overly strict, but maybe not as compassionate as they could have been. Times have changed and we need to let students know that our classrooms should be safe spaces for them, and that we can be there to help and support them when they need it. That doesn’t mean to bend over backwards and personally pay their tuition fees or lunch fees, but to be kind and give a listening ear, to allow students a little more time to turn-in that assignment. This also doesn’t mean to not have standards or hold students accountable. We need to make sure students understand they will be held accountable for their work and/or behavior, and also experience consequences of their actions. Still, this should be done in a compassionate way. It’s difficult, but not impossible.

Hope for the future

As the times and methods change in the classroom, we must strive to help our students achieve the best possible outcome. We also need to remind them that learning is a two-way street. As teachers, we can only do so much and they need to do their part to make sure they do not fall behind or have poor achievement. Let us work hard to make sure we as teachers can grow and become better at delivering content and engaging students, and also help students become better at involving themselves and owning their learning.

For further reading, please check out these articles:

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