The 2022-2023 school year is in session and many teachers are witnessing the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on learning. With students returning to in-person learning, teachers are noticing a large learning gap.

According to the Horace Mann Educators Corporation, teachers are reporting significant learning loss for many students, both academically, socially, and emotionally. Data from the CDC is also showing that virtual learning presents more risks than in-person learning related to parent and child mental and emotional health. Teachers have estimated their students are behind by more than three months.

A separate study by McKinsey & Company found similar results that revealed virtual learning was a poor substitute for in-person learning. Some teachers reported the overall effectiveness of virtual learning only slightly better than skipping school completely. Educators in schools with higher percentages of low-income families found that virtual learning was ineffective, and students struggled more. This is particularly true among black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities.

One of the biggest obstacles teachers faced when they returned to teaching in-person was the gap between high-performing students and those who struggle academically. So, where do we go from here? As teachers, what can we do to help our students succeed?

1. Listen to your students’ concerns. It is essential as educators to demonstrate understanding as well as empathy. Offer one-on-one conversations with your students to show you care, want to listen, and help.

2. Check in with your students often. Some may need more time to complete a task or to understand an assignment. When working in the classroom, provide students with opportunities to take breaks, move around, and talk with their peers.

3. Watch for changes in behaviors. If you notice changes, check in with that student and seek additional support from your school counselor or social worker. For example, if a student is coming to class each day crying, have a conversation about why they are upset. Providing extra support and watching for these signs can help bridge the gap.

4. Offer after school support for students. Offering an afterschool program or meeting time can be beneficial for students who are falling behind. This will allow one-on-one time with your student and time to ask questions, catch up on work, and work at their own pace.

5. Stay connected with your students and families. If you notice a student is struggling, reach out to the student and their family. More than likely, if they are showing signs of stress at school, they are showing signs at home as well.

6. Take care of yourself. Working in education has its own challenges, but more so post-pandemic. Be sure to know your limits, maintain healthy eating and sleeping habits, rest, exercise, connect with friends and family, and seek support when you need it.

Kelsey Weber, LCSW, is a Youth First Social Worker at McGary Middle School in Vanderburgh County. Youth First, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, provides 83 Master’s level social workers to 110 schools in 12 Indiana counties.