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Student misbehavior spikes since return of in-person classes

  • Educators reported student misbehavior is up from December 2021
  • Psychologists: Culture shock and whiplash from remote learning are factors
  • Experts: Teachers’ perceptions of behavior could be skewed by mental burnout

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (NewsNation) — From Florida school buses to Missouri middle school classrooms, the number of students misbehaving nationwide continues to rise.

According to a survey by the EdWeek Research Center, 70% of teachers, principals and district leaders have said students are misbehaving more now than in 2019, up from 66% in December 2021. It’s not new, but they said the degree of disrespect and violence is more aggressive and reaching new highs.

One-third of educators said students have been misbehaving “a lot more” compared to before the pandemic, according to EdWeek survey data.

Earlier this school year, Bridget Ward’s daughter was beaten up during gym class at an Oklahoma City school.

“I am absolutely infuriated, and at the same time, I still feel like my heart is crushed,” Ward said. “Enough is enough; this has gone too far.”

Psychologists suggest culture shock, whiplash and mental health from remote learning are factors.

“Ever since students came back from the pandemic, they seem to be having a hard time socializing with one another, expressing how they feel, they were at home for so long, isolated from everybody that now that they’re back, they are so quick to just become aggressive and want to fight with one another,” said Rebekah Morris, a Florida Region 4 director of school resource officers.

However, it’s not just students, but teachers, too.

In February, a teacher’s assistant was knocked unconscious by a 17-year-old male student. The Flagler County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office said this incident started when the teacher’s aide took the student’s Nintendo Switch away from him during class.

“They’re becoming a lot more physically combative toward other students, toward staff,” Morris said.

In EdWeek’s survey, 68% of educators said student morale is lower than during the pandemic. However, in a December EdWeek poll, 86% of students said they were motivated and 82% were feeling hopeful about the future, which was up from 69% in 2020.

“We can’t make the teachers the ones responsible for correcting the behavior. but we can support them in getting back to what used to work for us,” said Angie Wisdom, a master-certified life and business coach. “The structure, the guidelines, accountability, that’s what kids need to thrive.”

Meanwhile, at least 200,000 students lost a parent due to COVID-19 and several states have reported spikes in youth suicide amid the pandemic. The Nation’s Report Card 2022 found that, scholastically, students had lost decades of learning.

Experts said it’s also important to acknowledge that teachers’ perceptions of student behavior could be skewed by their own mental burnout. Amid the pandemic, teacher stress soared as educators struggled to switch instruction to online learning and manage all the changes thrown at them. 

Fifty-two percent of teachers felt burned out while they were in the classrooms, according to a 2022 Gallup poll.

Meanwhile, research shows in the 2021 to 2022 school year, 28% of districts made changes to their calendars to help students and faculty address mental health concerns. 

Schools have continuously pushed for more resources to ensure all students have what they need to work on their academic and mental health.

The Hill contributed to this report.


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