At the end of January 2021, we surveyed our California Teacher Consultant Response Network members to ask them about their experiences as they adapt to serve their students during the pandemic. One hundred twenty-one teachers completed the initial survey of 25 questions, providing a rich data set of survey responses and thoughtful comments.
We selected the members from lists of teachers who have participated in education leadership programs and school improvement and curriculum networks. Those chosen closely match the diversity of the state’s teaching force by ethnicity, gender and geography. Two-thirds teach at the middle and high school levels. Most have more than 10 years of classroom experience.
In this Spotlight we shine the light on those questions, ratings and comments that illuminate how the teachers are seeing the social and emotional well-being of their students since the start of the pandemic. As much as possible, we present the teachers’ ratings and select their comments so that they speak for themselves. We add our own reflections at the end of this Spotlight.
Summary: What the survey results say
- Almost half (46%) of teachers report that distance learning is not effective in meeting students’ social and emotional needs.
- A large majority of the teachers (65%) report that a substantial number of their students are in significant danger of suffering long-term mental health issues.
- The teachers also report that their colleagues are even more worried and believe that nearly all of their students are in danger of suffering long-term mental health issues.
- Nearly all of these teachers reported that barriers to effective teaching and learning included the social isolation of students, the emotional trauma of students and families and the upheaval caused by economic and social distress.
The Data: Survey Results About the Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Students
Question 1: On a scale from 1 to 5, how effective do you feel distance learning has been in terms of meeting your students’ social-emotional needs? (N= 121)
Of the 121 teachers who responded to this question:
- 82% of teachers report that distance learning has not been effective or only somewhat effective in meeting the social-emotional needs of their students.
- 46% of teachers reported that distance learning has been less than somewhat effective.
- Only 1 in 5 teachers in the state say that distance learning has been effective.
Question 2: To what extent do you agree with the following statement: “A substantial number of my students are in danger of suffering long-term mental health issues.”
Question 2a: What proportion of your colleagues do you think would agree with the statement: “A substantial number of my students are in danger of suffering long-term mental health issues.”
Of the 120 teachers responding:
- About two-thirds of the teachers (69%) report that a substantial number of their students are in danger of suffering long-term mental health issues. They also believe that about two-thirds of their colleagues share their view.
Question 3: On a scale from 1 to 5, please rate the degree to which you think the following are barriers to effective teaching and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of the 121 teachers responding:
- Over 90% report that economic and social distress, social isolation, emotional trauma and upheaval are barriers to effective teaching and learning.
Question 4: To what extent does the following statement reflect your own teaching experience during the pandemic: “My district has enough counselors, social workers and nurses to meet the social/emotional and health needs of students.”
Question 4a: What proportion of your colleagues do you think would agree with the statement: “My district has enough counselors, social workers and nurses to meet the social/emotional and health needs of students.”
Of the 121 teachers responding:
- About two-thirds (67%) report that their district lacks adequate counselors, social workers and nurses to meet the social/emotional and health needs of students.
- The teachers we surveyed surmised that 76% of their colleagues agree that their district lacks adequate support personnel to meet the social/emotional and health needs of students.
The following comments are illustrative of the feedback about current working arrangements and student learning: (Click arrow on right to advance to next quote)
This is the area where students are really struggling. While some are actually much happier in an online school environment when it comes to classes, they are missing any social aspects in their lives. It has been a real struggle to get students to connect with each other in this setting. They have noted feeling isolated, bored and depressed due to lack of interaction with peers.
— A teacher in a high school with 30% low-income students in the Inland Empire
I try to make contact with kids during zoom BUT I would say I have only gotten to know maybe 10 out of 160 in terms of hearing about their lives and their needs. I do not know how outside of zoom they are connecting with one another but from the school I do not think we are meeting their needs. They say they are OK.
— A teacher in a high school with 35% low-income students in the North Coast
I know my advisees are doing poorly from a mental health perspective. This is also backed up by the fact that our school mental health counselor has a completely full load this year and can’t take on any new students.
— A teacher in a high school with 86% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey region
We only have 2 mental health counselors in the whole school and I truly believe that all students should be having 1-1 check ins with counselors during this pandemic. I’ve had students who were strong academic learners during in person schooling who are really struggling during distance learning. However, because they are still passing their classes, they have not received support from the mental health counselors since they are too busy, and they are focusing on students who are not passing.
— A teacher in a high school with 91% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area
They miss groups, they miss classes, they miss the other half of the student body. They miss rallies and sports and clubs. They seem awkward and traumatized, but I can’t be sure if all of that is because of the knowledge of, and fear of, the global pandemic, or because their social circles have become so much smaller. It seems overly simplistic to say all of these symptoms are due to hybrid or distance learning, and not some of it to the state of the world.
— A teacher in a high school with 58% low-income students in Northeast California
On the Friday before our recent 3-day weekend to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., many students said, “Oh – I don’t want to have a long weekend. I want to come to school on Monday.” One student said, “I don’t know what I would do without distance learning. I would be even more lonely.” These sentiments tell how much my students need to be in contact with their peers and with their teacher.
— A teacher in an elementary school with 40% low-income students in the San Diego area
I am unaware of any ongoing studies that are measuring this issue, however we constantly hear in the news that students are suffering socially and emotionally. I know lots of students who are flourishing and prefer to do school in distance learning. These are the introverts. No one is talking about how this group of introverts prefers to learn from home rather than being subjected to the peer pressure and bullying that takes place in person.
— A teacher in an elementary school with 38% low-income students in the Northern Delta – Sierra Foothills
It is not in person, but we do have chances each day to be together and build important relationships. Students are regularly in small break out groups which give them a chance to be together in a different way. We laugh about things and have inside jokes — similar to in-person learning. We have office hours four days a week when students can drop in and work together. Also, each student gets a 10-minute personal check-in with me that gives them a chance to connect. Outside of not being physically present, we are all getting opportunities to emotionally support and connect.
— A teacher in an elementary school with 37% low-income students in the North Coast region
My team, personally, puts students social-emotional needs first ALWAYS. Our content comes second to student’s needs, and we truly care about the well-being of our students more than trying to make sure they know parts of speech (or whatever). I think the rest of my school isn’t as equally focused on this, though, and it’s taken a huge toll on students.
— A teacher in a high school with 81% low-income students in the Northern Delta – Sierra Foothills
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