Anxiety and Trauma Top Challenges Facing Students, Survey Finds

"This new survey echoes numerous national reports showing that toxic stress students experience as a result of repeated trauma outside of school is causing disruptive or dangerous behavior in the classroom," said Connecticut Education Association (CEA) President Jeff Leake. "Our teachers are in the classroom every day and witness firsthand the impact trauma is having on our students, especially among our youngest learners, but our schools don't have the resources or school counselors needed to help get to the root of the behavior and help our students."
 
Key findings include:
  • Half of all teachers responding to the survey say trauma experienced by their students is a significant cause of disruptive behaviors in their classroom, and 47 percent point to anxiety as a factor as well;  
  • Virtually every Connecticut teacher surveyed (99 percent) wants support to deal with the root causes of student misbehavior;
  • Nearly three out of four teachers (73 percent) maintain that not enough support is available at their school;
  • Roughly two-thirds (65 percent) assert that not enough is being done to promote trauma-informed instruction and social-emotional learning to help reduce stress among their students; &
  • Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of teachers overall say anxiety is the greatest challenge facing students. 
Leake stressed, "this survey should be a wakeup call to legislators, parents, and community members about what's really happening in our schools and why we need to take action now to help our children, before it's too late."
 
SBAC and other high-stakes testing, combined with the lack of focus on students' social growth, are also contributing to the pressures placed on students. In spite of teachers' overwhelming assertions that SBAC has a negative impact on classroom instruction, Connecticut continues to spend millions of dollars on the test, which is administered to students in grades three through eight.
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"The results affirm that students benefit more from authentic learning than drilling for tests," said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel (in photo, above). "More than 90 percent of our members surveyed reported that standardized assessments are negatively impacting instruction in their classrooms. Five years after Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it's well past time for local and state policymakers to recognize that students are more than test scores."
 
"Our members' survey responses are backed up by extensive research demonstrating how little standardized testing actually informs instruction or reflects student achievement," Hochadel continued. "They also fail to account for social, emotional and economic factors that may impact a young person's ability to reach their greatest potential."
 
Click here for WFSB-TV Channel 3 Eyewitness News' segment on the impact of standardized testing.
 
Teachers also reported that students' social growth is negatively impacted because students are entering the classroom as young as age four. Connecticut currently has the youngest established kindergarten start age (four years, eight months) in the United States. The vast majority (77 percent) of elementary school teachers surveyed say that should change to a minimum start age of five. 
 
The majority of teachers (97 percent) say kindergarten socialization skills are a key factor in student growth and development. The survey found that socialization skills, interaction with peers, and play are more important than pure academic skills (65 percent) or equally important (32 percent).
 
"Providing universal preschool and changing the minimum start age for kindergarten makes sense," said Leake. "It relieves much of the undue stress we put on our youngest learners, some of whom are only four years old and sharing classrooms with children who are six-and-a-half. We need to ensure that children entering kindergarten are developmentally ready."
 
Click here for a joint report between our national union and the Pew Charitable Trusts on school readiness.
 
Teachers responding to the survey described working in buildings that have fallen into disrepair, with classroom conditions that pose health and safety risks to them and their students. Among other chronic problems, they cited the presence of mold, mildew, dirty air vents, rodent droppings, and extreme temperatures. Just under half of teachers surveyed (47 percent) reported that poor air quality in their classrooms or deteriorating conditions in their school buildings interfered with teaching and learning and are making them and their students sick.  
 
Problems reported by at least one-third of teachers included:
  • extreme heat or cold in classrooms (85 percent);
  • mold/mildew (60 percent);
  • dirty air vents (49 percent);
  • damaged walls or ceiling tiles (47 percent);
  • leaking roofs (41 percent); &
  • rodent droppings (33 percent).
Click here for recent reporting on sick building conditions in Hartford Public Schools.
 
Leake concluded, "Connecticut's teachers are among the best in the country, but they are facing a host of issues that they alone cannot solve. The state needs to step in and take action to address changes in our culture that are negatively impacting our classrooms and severely hurting our students. The problems highlighted in this survey must be addressed so that Connecticut can continue to be a leader in education in our country and our children can receive the world-class education they all deserve in safe and trouble-free classrooms."
 
"We can only hope that policymakers will fixate on these latest survey results as much as they have on test scores," added Hochadel. "The difference here is that we've provided real, actionable data that should be used to help bring about change. Regardless, our members will demand those in power act to fund our future by investing in Connecticut's public schools and the resources their students need to succeed," she concluded.
 
Nearly 1,500 educators responded to the survey, which was administered in late January 2020 and followed an earlier poll the unions and WFSB last fall coordinated among Connecticut teachers.
 
Click here for our report-back on part one of the survey.
 
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The Connecticut Education Association is Connecticut’s largest teachers’ union, representing active and retired educators across the state.
 
AFT Connecticut represents approximately 30,000 professionals across the state, including PreK-12 teachers, paraeducators and education support personnel in 32 local and regional school districts.
 
Click here for the full release (this is an edited version).