Have our students lost their voice?


I went into school on Tuesday to teach some year 12 students in person. Walking into my classroom was like walking into a time capsule. The date on the board still read Friday, March 20, 2020. In some ways, the reality of how long we’ve been away from school only really hit me then. And as the extended time of being away from traditional schooling continues, I am only starting to realise the long reaching effects of this trauma our students are facing.

I started doing live video lessons as soon as my school opened this up as a possibility, which was in May before half term. I met with my exam group classes (a year 10 triple chemistry class, a year 10 combined science class, and a year 12 chemistry class) as well as my year 7 form/tutor group.

From the beginning, my form group were mostly comfortable with chatting and having their cameras on. It was a great time to see each other, catch up, and check in on each other. My triple year 10 class, which have always been a very boisterous and animated group started out with some discussions, and my other two classes were pretty quiet.

Now a few months later and after doing several lessons with all groups, I’ve noticed a trend. The students are speaking less and less. They rarely turn on their cameras or microphones. Some will interact, but only in the chat box. It’s so erie teaching lessons when you can’t gauge the room. I thought perhaps this was just due to them being tired of online lessons. I know how draining my meetings can be, and I hoped with the return to school for years 10 and 12 it would be better.

On Tuesday, when I was working with the students I was teaching, it wasn’t any better. The students are so quiet. It’s like they have forgotten how to interact with each other, how to carry conversations. The silence is uncanny. Getting students to answer questions was difficult.

In speaking with my colleagues, I’ve found that my experiences are not unique. Some of our most talkative students aren’t speaking at all. Not to us, not to other students. Students have started communicating solely using text means via apps, phones, X-Box, etc. 

When we started closing everything down the message was all about social distancing. Staying home. Keeping away from others. It was absolutely necessary to keep people as healthy as possible, but the long reaching effect of these acts are going to take some time to address, to help us heal.

When we return to school in a much more normal fashion, hopefully in September, I think we’ll find that our biggest obstacles have nothing to do with teaching content. It won’t be about ‘catching up’. We will need to help our students process what has happened and how it has changed them. We need to help them feel comfortable being around other people again. We need to help them find their voices.

As school staff, we’re already having these conversations on how to best support our students. We know it’s going to take time and effort, but we also know it’s very important. I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I know I am going to have to work with my students to get them more comfortable being together, being in school, being in groups. Talking.

What have your experiences been? Have your students lost their voices, too? What ideas do you have to help them find their voice again?