EDITORIAL: Treatment of teachers, school staff underlines need for broader educational reform

The pandemic has been traumatic for everyone. When the coronavirus disease (COVD-19) pandemic first began, no one imagined we would still be grappling with it two years later. No one imagined schools closing. No one imagined virtual learning. No one imagined social distancing. These things were unexpected, and they were thrust upon us with no warning.

We are all still contending with the aftermath, and we are still learning how to live in this new quasi-state of normal. Yet some industries and some professions have been so disrupted by the pandemic that more than simply returning to a pre-pandemic normal is required.

Education is a field that has long been representative of the many social problems our country is facing – whether economic disparities, racial disparities or any other societal issues, education has dealt with it. Education, for better or worse, is at the center of so many peoples’ lives and of so much of society.

The impacts of the pandemic continue to reverberate in education and in students. A key facet of education is that a solid foundation of understanding must be laid in order to progress to higher levels of learning. You learn basic arithmetic before algebra, just like you learn letters and words before you read Shakespeare.

When those experiences are interrupted, the effects are long-lasting. So much of early education is about social skills: how to play with others, how to be a kind person and how to show teachers respect. The pandemic has disrupted this process, and it is affecting young students by stunting their social and academic development.

When students are confined to Zoom boxes, those skills are never learned. A recent American Psychological Association reportco-authored by professors at Rutgers, showed that teachers and other school staff members faced increased violence – both physical and verbal – during the pandemic. It is clear that some students are taking out their frustration with the current times upon their teachers.

The impact on the social-emotional learning of students – especially younger ones – has been so profound and underscores the need for further studies like the one that just came out. While it might feel bleak, especially if you are a teacher, there is actually an opportunity here to make education better for everyone involved in education.

It is important to first point out that any threat or act of violence against teachers is never acceptable, whether from a student or a parent. Teachers have been through the stress of these past few years, just like everyone else.

They are trying their best to teach and get students through. Perhaps there should be better support for teachers from administrators or even policymakers to not only protect them but also to show that they are valued and respected members of the community.

Indeed, we must always remember to treat teachers and school staff with patience and sympathy. Especially in issues relating to virtual learning, we must pay teachers respect and understand that they too are learning how to use technology like Zoom in new ways along with the rest of us.

But this moment also gives us the unique chance to think about education in a different way. For so long, education has been about the transmission of knowledge: “This is how to read” or “this is how to do algebra.” But that falls short in as extraordinary of a time as right now.

Schools need to be places that educate students on a range of issues and help prepare them for whatever happens in life. That can include investing in more mental health resources for schools, counselors and social workers or more wellness programs that help students understand themselves and their emotions better and how to handle stress as a whole.

Schools of education, such as the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, should take these issues into consideration when designing curricula. They should lead more research into how schools can better respond to the crisis of socialization among students in the aftermath of the pandemic.

This should also go for college students: We, too, have suffered gravely. It’s not enough for Rutgers to tell us to come back and carry on as if we are all okay. There should be better resources directed to students and more wide-reaching programming or better student services within individual departments and the University as a whole.

We need to continue stressing the importance of educators – without good, dedicated educators, our entire education system falters. Showing our respect for these individuals attracts and retains the best people to work in the field of education.

The pandemic is not even over, and we are only beginning to understand the long-term consequences of it. We should not shy away from what we have lived through. Rather, we should embrace it and try to build a better culture in education and beyond for ourselves and future generations.

The Daily Targum’s editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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