Can you imagine stealing toilets from school restrooms when you were growing up? Can you even fathom any scenario during your adolescence that would have made it permissible for you or your peers to slap a teacher? These scenarios are among the treacherous TikTok dares to create even more trepidation for consideration of the teaching profession, a profession where there were already enough concerns before the pandemic.
There is a crisis in the classrooms of America that commands our immediate attention.
Every teacher I know says teaching has been much more challenging since students returned to classrooms after pandemic restrictions. It’s normal to experience at least a temporary academic brain freeze after students have been out of school for a while. It happens after every summer break, but this feels different.
It’s not just that teachers are struggling to make up for lost time academically; it’s the atmosphere that accompanies students’ return. Fights are becoming a part of the routine day, in and between classes. Teachers taught to de-escalate are worried for their safety. Overzealous policing of schools is a separate, equally serious concern.
Where is all of this hostility, anger, venom and vitriol coming from? And more importantly, where are we going as a society in terms of addressing this phenomena? Ignoring it won’t make it go away, as some students afraid of fighting consider arming up for protection, and educators are increasingly wary of dangers they face. This all comes at a time when the anticipation was educators would be pressed to maintain a COVID safe environment with so much politicizing of the vaccines, masks and the very science of coronavirus. Suspi- cion of the vaccine kept too many from getting protected before becoming seriously ill or dying. Still, resistance persists.
Part of the confusion and frustration students suffer is directly caused by the anger and confrontational attitudes of their parents and those old enough to know better.
Children are only following the lead of pathetic examples being set by outrageous adult behavior. News media almost daily reveals one disruptive board or governing body after another – unable to peaceably deal with incendiary rhetoric, death threats and acts of violence perpetrated by ardent opponents of restrictions and guidelines.
Children were already facing enough without being forced to witness the stupidity of their elders. To begin with, many of them lost older relatives, close neighbors, friends of the family and people around their school and neighborhood as a result of COVID-19. School districts nationwide, already dealing with inordinately high youth homicides in urban areas, had to add the fuel of COVID-19 to an already raging fire of youthful misbehavior.
And just how were these students prepared for re-entry into the classroom setting after a year and a half of virtual learning? Teachers I spoke with insist that they weren’t. Educators could have held off a portion of the violence and disruptions with which they were confronted had they taken the time to devise a strategy to better guide the emotional navigation of student journeys back to “normal.”
There were perfunctory efforts to smooth the transition. But such efforts were too little, too late and obviously too narrow. Student pandemic trauma just wasn’t assessed in proportion to the real-world conditions schools faced.
I won’t say it was because no one tried. A global pandemic was new to everyone on the planet and many genuinely tried to counteract the threat of disorder, distraction, disorientation and disinterest. This process clearly would have benefitted from stronger collaboration much more beyond the classroom, beyond the building in which the school is housed, beyond the neighborhood – incorporating government, medical and mental health professional input.
Along with direct hits from coronavirus, we have to understand that many urban children are from households dealing with economic disruption, food deprivation, homelessness, parental/guardian depression, anxiety and subsequent abuse and myriad issues already creating havoc but exacerbated by coronavirus.
These stress factors are taking a toll on young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that children going to the emergency room for mental health-related visits increased by 32 percent in 2020, compared to the same period only a year earlier. Schools are ill-equipped to deal with behavioral health needs. Punishment alone will never solve
the problem. Overuse of measures like out-of-school suspensions and expulsions do more harm than good. They may rid the building of a “problem” for the moment, but they do nothing for the greater societal good if these children quit school and turn to the streets. And these knee-jerk surface reactions disproportionately target Black and Latino students.
We need more permanent solutions. And we can’t afford to sit on the sideline while schools suffer in a vacuum. Even if you don’t have school-age children, it is your concern because you will confront them in a world from which you can’t escape; either as total dependents, incompetent workers, or criminals. We owe it to the children to be the adults in the room and help them work through this quandary.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].