COVID-19's Impact on Student-Teacher Bonds
Updated: Mar 24
One Wednesday in March 2020, students in the Greenwich Public School district left school and did not return for the rest of the school year. All learning was quickly shifted to virtual and students were forced to quickly adapt to the new methods of learning. The lack of planning and abrupt transition took a toll on students because many rely on in-school support.
Students look to teachers for both academic guidance and instruction as well as emotional assistance. Their academic and social growth can be aided by positive relationships between them and their teachers. For example, a student who has a strong connection to a teacher will receive more guidance and feel comfortable asking for help. Many students also find that they appreciate a subject more and perform better academically. Therefore, when you remove the relationship between a student and teacher, there are many negative outcomes.
“School closing so quickly was the biggest problem. Teachers did not get the chance to prepare their students for the situation so neither teacher nor student was ready for what was to come next,” said Sarah Wick, a freshman at GHS. From Wick’s point of view, the most difficult change was the contrast between everyday face-to-face interaction and occasional online communication. Wick stated, “I was so used to seeing my teachers every day in the classroom, and to suddenly only communicate with them through email every once in a while was a challenge.”
She also recalls feeling uncomfortable writing emails to teachers about simple questions: “I always felt that my questions were not important enough to be writing a whole email over. In-person, I would have just raised my hand so writing an email seemed like too formal of a process, so I lost touch with many of my teachers.”
A few months into online learning, many students had more or less adjusted to the new system; however, for others, it continued to cause more problems. One GHS junior, in particular, felt that she had never fully adjusted to the modified learning setup. To her, online learning removed the most important aspects of going to school: “When I go to school, I go to see friends, teachers and just to be in the environment. Online learning felt like I was teaching myself using online resources like Khan Academy. I felt very detached from everyone, especially teachers because I did not contact them very often.”
In addition to students feeling separated from their teachers during remote learning, many teachers observed difficulties in maintaining relationships with their students. According to GHS English teacher Laura Burdick, school life during the pandemic was incomparable to school life during normal times. Throughout full remote learning, she felt that she became separated from many students. “When you don’t have the opportunity to talk and interact with people in person for a long period like it was in the spring of 2020, they can really go off the radar.” However, during the 2020-2021 school year when students were required to attend class, Ms. Burdick felt that things were significantly better. “We met every day of the week, sometimes in person, and sometimes virtual...so I definitely felt like we got a lot closer, and I got to know my students really well. They got to interact with each other.”
GHS history teacher Kenneth Alcorn agreed that school during the pandemic was very different from normal times. According to Mr. Alcorn, it was very isolating for teachers as well as students. He recalls that many students missed being in person and craved human interaction. “Kids came to office hours because they were hungry to connect. They were never particularly focused on academics, they tended to want an opportunity to chat.” Furthermore, Mr. Alcorn found that the difficulties of the pandemic overall, not just those that are school related and academic, had an impact on how students and teachers interacted.
Although there were many ways that students and teachers tried to connect during the Covid-19 pandemic, no remote connection could ever be as strong as those that are in-person. Whether it is a quick exchange before the bell rings or in-class discussions, in-person interaction is essential to form a good relationship. While there was no way to avoid the inevitable difficulties associated with remote learning and relationships, it is important for students and teachers to work on rebuilding connections now that we are back in person.