As the days of summer dwindle, many parents are looking at the fast-approaching new academic year with a sense of uncertainty and unease. A nationwide teacher shortage has left schools scrambling to fill critical vacancies in a matter of weeks. And tensions over mask-wearing may soon return to a fever pitch as a rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations is already leading some public school districts to announce a planned reinstatement of controversial mandates.
Last year, as educators across the country did their best to transition children back to in-person learning environments amid the ongoing COVID pandemic, school districts nationwide saw a startling uptick in reported student misbehavior, ranging from in-class tantrums to incidents of outright physical violence. An overwhelming majority of public schools also reported marked increases in disrespectful behavior towards teachers, as well as chronic absenteeism, during the 2021-22 year.
Much of this can be interpreted as the emotional fallout from the schedule disruptions and personal losses many children experienced due to the pandemic. Prolonged social isolation and family instability during important formative years has led to increased anxiety, depression, and even suicide ideation among kids of all ages. Late last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association, declared this decline in youth mental health a national emergency.
But these disciplinary challenges, regardless of the cause, do not simply affect the offending child. Rather, they can trigger a ripple effect that threatens to distract and demoralize otherwise well-behaved students, adding to an unwieldy workload for already-exhausted teachers.
There needs to be a focus on creating calmer, kinder interactions in the classroom that will help mitigate some of the psychological trauma kids have experienced. Teachers need a more productive alternative to punitive measures like detention and suspension when dealing with disruptive or disrespectful students. Placing a greater emphasis on children’s social-emotional learning may be the solution to creating a safer, happier educational climate for everyone.