Back To School: Navigating social anxiety for return of in-person learning

A doctor says with more students returning to the classroom, teachers know there will be excitement but also nerves.

Katherine Scott Image
Thursday, August 12, 2021
Navigating social anxiety for return of in-person learning
It may not be the students who have anxiety over returning to school, officials say.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- School tablets and supplies are stacked up at Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School in Philadelphia as teachers prepare for the upcoming year.

The school is planning for 100% in-person instruction, after a hybrid and remote model last spring.

"We did come back in April. There were some students who came in so they're kind of used to what's going on, but then you have those students who didn't come," said school psychologist Dr. Kathleen Walls.

Dr. Walls says with more students returning to the classroom, teachers know there will be excitement but also nerves.

Teacher Chyrell Waters added that with her kindergarten class last spring, the nerves were not necessarily from the children.

"They did not show any fear of coming back. I think it was more the families, a little fearful of the unknown or the what if," Waters said.

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Waters, who will teach second grade this fall, said she will have daily morning check-ins.

"I'm going to have all the students just write down how you feel, and it's between them and me - you know it's nothing I have to tell the whole class, but at least it gives me an idea going into this day," Waters said.

Dr. Walls says they learned a lot from their April return about possible social anxieties that could come up surrounding protocols.

"We have those who follow the rules to a 'T'. The mask is supposed to be over the nose, under the chin. Then you have students who are wearing it below the nose or pulling it down, and that can cause a conflict in the classroom that teachers need to be aware of," Dr. Walls said.

Some students will want to ensure their classmates are also following the rules.

"We're talking children K-8 here. There's always a question of did they wash their hands, and did they wash it with soap, and so there's always going to be a lot of tattling. They already do it anyway- it will be heightened," Dr. Walls said.

Don't forget the adjustment to group rules, which could especially be a challenge for children coming off remote learning.

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"They also have to share the space because there's some students who haven't had to share the attention with other students and other student needs," Dr. Walls pointed out.

Bottom line: communication is key, for students and for families.

"If you need to take a break, just say you need to take a break," Dr. Walls emphasized.

She added, "To bring Simone Biles into play, of course as a mental health person, I love that she took this break. I think it's perfectly suited that she then went back on the balance beam because this is a year of trying to get balance."

Many schools have mental health resources - don't be afraid to use them.