Six months ago, COVID-19 shuttered schools overnight and led to unprecedented challenges and opportunities in both the classroom and the field of education. Now, faced with the expectation to reopen schools in alignment with the traditional school calendar, we must consider whether we are on the right path to provide an excellent and equitable education for our students.
Last March I was tasked with providing guidance to my Manhattan-based school during the initial transition to online learning. In searching for answers that would inform me and benefit colleagues in a similar position, I created a survey with items that reflected the questions that appeared most frequently on various educator forums. Next, in collaboration with my co-worker, Daniel Cruz, I distributed the survey to multiple groups, including a Teaching During COVID-19 Facebook group with over 139,000 members.
Over a one week period, 1145 educators completed the survey, with 90% located in the United States and reporting an average of 11.5 years of experience. Seventy-seven percent of educators were employed in public schools, 15% worked in private schools, 6% were employed at charter schools and the remaining educators were employed in other settings. School district size within the United States sample ranged from a few hundred to 271,000.
A majority (81%) of respondents reported that they were expected to teach online during school closures, with 97% working from home. Equity concerns were the primary reason cited for the 19% of educators who indicated that they would not provide online instruction. Just over half (55%) of teachers indicated that they were responsible for caring for family members while also leading online instruction.
Most educators (88%) reported that they did not have any experience teaching online. Prior to initiating online instruction, 63% received an average of 4.5 hours of training. Around half of educators (48%) rated this training as moderately effective, 25% rated their training as slightly effective, and 15% reported training that was highly effective. Close to half (45%) of the teachers surveyed indicated that they felt somewhat prepared to teach online, and an additional 16% reported feeling very well prepared. The remaining educators reported feeling somewhat unprepared (21%), not at all prepared (16%) or unable to determine.
Ultimately, the focus of the survey was to understand how to best support educators and continue learning for students during the school closures. Over 900 teachers responded to an open-ended prompt asking them to share their greatest concerns as educators during the current situation. Equity overwhelmingly emerged as the leading theme, with concerns raised about access to devices and the internet as well as online instruction for students with disabilities. Comments indicated that many students were sharing devices with other family members and had not received adequate instruction on how to utilize online platforms. Repeated concerns were raised about students who did not have an adult available to support learning at home, with one teacher stating, “I am so worried about my students whose parents work all day and can’t help with schoolwork, and those whose parents do not speak English or are illiterate. Who is going to help them? How are they going to learn at home?”.
Another major area highlighted in responses related to the emotional and physical well-being of students, including mental health supports, availability of food, and students’ physical safety. Many school nutrition programs were continuing, and most of the surveyed counselors indicated that counseling services would transition online. However, it remained unclear whether those supports would reach the students with the greatest need, especially if it required families to provide the technology or transportation necessary for access.
Many educators reported a lack of clarity related to virtual teaching expectations along with limited support from administrators for implementation. Responses further reflected concerns regarding student engagement and the quality and rigor of online instruction. Personal concerns also emerged, with educators citing fatigue and the burdens associated with the additional time and preparation required to deliver online instruction, trying to care for family members while working, and apprehension about their job security. One teacher remarked, “This is the most overwhelming thing I have ever experienced in either my personal or professional life. I don’t know how I am going to do this!”
Responses to this survey back in March highlighted critical areas that warrant immediate attention from school leaders, as well as important considerations for the long-term sustainability of online instruction. However, an examination of current school reopenings suggests that national, local, and school leaders missed critical opportunities to address these areas of concern, further exacerbating the crisis.
Return for Part 2 of this article on October 16th, which will feature a reflection of these survey results in the context of the urgent and ongoing issues facing educators.
Megan Storey Hallam is a school psychologist employed as the Director of Student Support Services at Leman Manhattan. She completed her Ed.S in School Psychology at William & Mary and is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership program.