Omicron is far from being the first disruption to learning this school year

Other teachers say this year has been the most chaotic yet in the pandemic—and Omicron has only worsened the situation.

Jim Bentley, a 5th grade teacher in Elk Grove, Calif., said he’s had more students out this week for COVID-related reasons than earlier this semester. But the Delta variant hit his community hard, too. This school year, he’s tried to find ways to keep students learning with higher-than-average absence rates.

Following district guidelines, Bentley prepares paper packets of work for students who are out on quarantine, and has tried to supplement those with activities in online platforms. Even so, he said, I’m fearful that we’ve got a lot of kids’ time being wasted.

Staffing shortages throughout the semester have added to the academic disruption in some districts.

We had teachers out with COVID first semester, said Amanda Feltner, a Spanish teacher in Michigan Center, Mich. They were out for a week, or two weeks. Sometimes we could get a sub that would cover that whole time, but sometimes it was a different sub every day.

Even before the Omicron variant started to spread, it was hard to maintain continuity of instruction, Feltner said. It’s just a constant, who’s supposed to be here and who’s not supposed to be here? Did I get the work sent to the kids who needed it? It’s just a lot to keep track of.

Bentley, the California teacher, predicted this uncertainty will lead to uneven progress for students.

I feel like we have potentially more opportunity for learning gains and more opportunity for learning loss than we did last year, he said, when his district was fully virtual. In the 2020-21 school year, all of his students had access to the same material online, but engagement could be low. This year, engagement is higher with students in person. But because of the varied absences, not every student is experiencing the same lessons.

Some students have had huge breakthroughs, especially in math, which Bentley attributes to them being able to discuss and work through problems together, in person, with peers and a teacher. But other subjects are harder to manage when kids have unpredictable absences. If a student misses a peer revision day in writing, for example, it’s hard to make that up, he said.

I’m hoping we can make it through January, make it through three-day weekends in February, and sail through March, April, June,” he said. “I’m hoping spring means greener days ahead, literally and metaphorically.

Omicron Disrupts Teaching, Even When Schools Open, Here’s a Movie

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Nearly all schools returned from winter break with in-person learning this week, amid record-breaking COVID-19 case counts. But the virus is still causing widespread disruptions to learning.

The surge has pushed thousands of schools to close temporarily, garnering praise from some families who feel it’s the best option for keeping children safe, and rebuke from others who say even a short-term closure is detrimental to students’ mental health—and their academic progress. But despite the controversy, the vast majority of schools remain open. And even without the frustrations of remote learning, teachers say that students’ absences and staff shortages have thrown a wrench in their plans for the beginning of this semester, making it impossible to continue with their curriculum.

Omicron has been a logistical nightmare and taken an emotional toll on schools and the families they serve. It’s also complicated educators’ plans for making headway with academic recovery. Teachers are worried that the effects of this relatively short disruption will reverberate through the school year.

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