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Part One: Do’s and Don’ts of Back-to-School this Fall 2021

Tips and resources to help faculty, teachers, and students prepare for this unusual back-to-school season.

Whether in a private school or the NYC DOE… Students, teachers, and parents are impacted by the first few months of a new academic year. Some are experiencing typical back-to-school nerves versus more anxious concerns related to COVID-19, the Delta variant, vaccinations, and the potential for reinstatement of remote learning.

Things faculty & teachers CANNOT expect going back to school this fall:

  1. A typical back-to-school season: The back-to-school season is traditionally characterized by a plethora of conflicting emotions. The beginning of the school year can evoke varying imagery and opinions. Some students view it as a blank slate, ripe with opportunities but for others it means resuming a time that is fraught with stress and difficulties: social, physical, and academic.

  2. Perfection: Faculty need to embrace flexibility. Educators cannot expect to have a flawless and seamless execution of their plans. There will be continued uncertainty as the pandemic transitions into different phases. Countless factors can negatively impact a student's ability to learn. Perfectionism needs to be preemptively snipped in the bud and replaced by challenging but realistic expectations. None of us are truly superhuman.

  3. Uniformity: Not all students will feel the same way about returning to in-person schooling. For some students, physically being back in the school building will be invigorating, as well as create a renewed joy of learning and engagement. While other students may feel insecure, apprehensive, fearful, or anxious.

Things faculty & teachers CAN expect going back to school this fall:

  1. Symptoms of trauma: Trauma is an emotional and physiological response to a frightening or distressing event that overwhelms an individual. This results in an impaired capacity for coping and could present as poor school behavior. The effects of the pandemic have cut across all areas of life and may likely be apparent in school performance. In a typical year, summer usually serves as the great rejuvenator, but summer 2021 was more complicated than past years. Students are arriving with a baseline level of exhaustion from the last 18-months. The new school year “honeymoon effect” may not last as long as in previous years. Even within these first few weeks of school, students have reported new and worsening anxiety, panic attacks and general discomfort.

  2. Patience and support will go a long way: Some students may not be ready to learn in the same way they would have been without these additional distractions. For decades, there have been long-standing beliefs about the different levels in the human hierarchy of needs. The first levels are based on physiological and safety needs which are integral for survival. The upper levels focus on belonging, esteem, and personal fulfillment. Basic needs are foundational and a prerequisite to higher-order learning and functioning. Students will not be able to focus on getting an education when their thoughts are simultaneously focused on basic physiological or safety needs. For example, the motivation for doing homework can be less when there are important concerns about family health or financial resources (e.g. food, housing, future income, etc.). Oftentimes students that need the most patience may show you with the most challenging behaviors.


  • Mental Health Screening tools for emotional issues:

  • Symptoms of trauma to look out for may include: Fatigue, irritability, attentional difficulties, panic attacks.

About the Author:

Dr. Noreen Stewart empowers young people to unlock their potential by overcoming their

unique challenges. She is the founder and CEO of Stewart Learning Inc., a Senior Psychologist at Bay Ridge Prep in Brooklyn, NY, and an Adjunct Professor in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. At BRP Dr. Stewart creates the academic mentoring course curriculum, counsels and teaches students daily with learning and attentional difficulties within a general education school. At NYU, she teaches graduate students earning advanced degrees in counseling. Dr. Stewart provides workshops for mentors, students, educators, and parents. She specializes in equipping learning and support environments (e.g. schools, mentoring programs, professional certification organizations, etc.) with the training needed to prepare students for life during and after high school.


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