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Teacher Survey Project

Teachers speak out on returning to the classroom

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Introduction

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 focus on we focus on how teachers feel about reopening schools.

The Data: Survey Results About the Teachers’ Experiences

Question: Given everything that is happening right now in your school and taking into account all the considerations of teacher/student safety, mental/physical health and optimizing learning, what is your preference for how your school should operate right now??

Of the 120 teachers who responded to this question:

    1. 74% of teachers responding to the survey prefer to close school (in-person) and rely entirely on distance learning or greatly reduce time at school and rely mostly on distance learning and other methods.
    2. 15% would like to open school but limit the number of students attending at one time or use a hybrid model.
    3. A few teachers prefer one extreme or the other: 3% say open school completely and operate as normal and 3% say close school entirely and wait until the pandemic is over.

Illuminative comments in response to this question:

Teachers’ comments about distance learning
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It would be so lovely for all [of] us to see each other. Unfortunately, unless serious money is spent to get the PPE and other resources (more teachers), I think this is a pipe dream right now. At the high school level, classes are 36 kids. It would be very, very hard, logistically, to have different shifts. But, it sure would be lovely to see the students…
— A high school teacher with 66% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

400,000 people have died, and I’m a public servant, but not a martyr. Until we are vaccinated and community transmission is low, we should stay closed.
— A middle school teacher with 71% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

As much as the ideal setting for students is in-person teaching, doing so would greatly jeopardize not only teacher safety, but also students. There is not enough evidence to dictate what the outcome would be in bringing all students together. We know that many students would have a hard time following safety protocols. For the time being, and until this pandemic greater decreases, the better option is to keep students at a distance. We understand that parents want students back in school, but we also have to think about the safety of teachers and that of students.
— A middle school teacher with 62% low-income students in the Sacramento Area

Our district should stay with the distance learning module and some small, in person cohorts for the neediest students until our county is out of the “Purple zone.” Otherwise, we risk a lot more disruption with possible multiple openings and closures if students or faculty become infected. This has already happened with one of the small cohorts.
— An elementary school teacher with 30% low-income students in the North Coast

I understand that our students need social interaction and the one-on-one help of their teachers. But I don’t think those things are worth the lives of teachers and students and staff. I’m exhausted and demoralized by the almost total lack of focus on teacher safety by administrators, policymakers, politicians and even our county and state health departments.
— A high school teacher with 58% low-income students in Northeast California

As awful as it is, I prefer full distance learning until it is safe to be together. Otherwise, the risk to children and families as well as school personnel is too great.
— A high school teacher with 79% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

My community has a very high rate of positive and hospitalizations. Students have expressed that many of their family members are ill with the disease and reopening it would send all of my students home with exposure.
— An elementary/middle school teacher with 89% low-income students in the Inland Empire

Provide distance learning until our county is in the orange tear and then give enough lead time for us to prepare to bring back students whose families indicated a preference for in person instruction.
— A middle school teacher with 56% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey Area

Distance learning is clearly the safest option, however, I wish we had more support for smaller class sizes and acceleration groups to reach students at their level.
— A middle school teacher with 94% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

I finally feel like I am somewhat proficient at distance learning, and I have settled into some working routines. I would be depressed to now switch to a hybrid model, which would once again up-end how I teach and force me to recreate a lot of material. Obviously I really, really want to go back to normal, but it isn’t safe yet to do that, and I would rather not go back until it is safe to be “normal” school.
— A high school teacher with 22% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

The hybrid model adopted by the district would have students in my class watching me teach live on Zoom to the students at home and to the students who chose distance learning only. I would not be able to help my students in the classroom because of safety protocols. This model does not help my high school students, In fact, I think it would cause more problems. Mostly discipline issues.
— A high school teacher with 67% low-income students in the Los Angeles Area

Distance learning is working well for the vast majority of students. If we move to hybrid learning I will only be able to provide synchronous instruction to each group of students on two days each week, vs. the current five days each week in distance learning. Also, Covid is widespread in my community and I do not want schools to become virus spreaders.
— An elementary school teacher with 30% low-income students in the North Coast

Teachers’ comments about hybrid instruction
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Students are suffering right now not only due to learning loss but also this pandemic has taken a toll on their social emotional health. Most of my students are sick of being isolated from their friends. They miss the social component of the school. A lot of them report feeling down, sad, or depressed. But at the same time I do not feel comfortable having a classroom full of students where there is a higher risk of people coming down sick. I think a hybrid model with strict regulations is a fair compromise.
— A middle school teacher in the Northern Delta-Sierra Foothills

I struggle so much with this because I am scared to come back. I have my own family to think of, but I hear my students’ requests and their desires to learn, and I know really the only way that can happen is if we do come back in the classroom, and we do provide them with something normal, something they are craving to have which is their school life. I want to do right by my students but also by my family, so for me that would be a hybrid model where we can bring students on campus in small cohorts, provide them the school culture and academics that many of them are craving, but still teaching online for the families who are struggling to return their students to campus.
— A high school teacher with 51% low-income students in the Los Angeles Area

As soon as teachers can be vaccinated, then move to a hybrid schedule for the remainder of the school year.
— A high school teacher with 35% low-income students in Southern California

Teachers who would like to return to the classroom
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I know this is not a popular belief but with vaccines nearly available students need to be back at school. The vaccine will help the adults to remain healthy while we address the social-emotional and academic needs of our students. The longer students stay out of school the farther behind they will fall. Additionally, students are not growing as communicators; they rarely speak and interact online despite the best attempts and use of tech by adults. Students will suffer in the long run if we don’t get them back to school.
— A high school teacher with 90% low-income students in the Central Valley

The data shows that children are not at a significant risk of contracting COVID. I think that education is one of the most essential services that operates in our country, so we need to open up and get kids back in the classroom.
— A middle school teacher with 91% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

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  1. Karen Koenig 5 months ago5 months ago

    As a community college instructor at a college that is still closed, I have to say that one thing that schools must do is invest in some serious air filtration systems with HEPA filters that change the air 5-6 times per hour in the classroom and any other indoor spaces that people share with others. Scientists and engineers have been trying to get us to understand that aerosols, tiny particles that can carry the COVID … Read More

    As a community college instructor at a college that is still closed, I have to say that one thing that schools must do is invest in some serious air filtration systems with HEPA filters that change the air 5-6 times per hour in the classroom and any other indoor spaces that people share with others. Scientists and engineers have been trying to get us to understand that aerosols, tiny particles that can carry the COVID virus, are so light that they can remain in the air for hours or even days. If those particles exhaled by someone who is sick are in the air in a room, other people can catch the virus even hours after that person has left.

    We need mask mandates, 100% vaccination, and these heavy-duty air filters for every class before we can safely meet our students in person.

  2. Stephanie Gulcher 6 months ago6 months ago

    Tell me how do you propose keeping a mask on 5 and 6 year olds or even 7 yr olds? Their parents say they have a hard time while grocery shopping for an hour, we will be required to be with them for 3 hours? It sounds great but it isn’t being thought through. Sure, send them back to the teachers to figure it all out.

  3. Stephanie Gulcher 6 months ago6 months ago

    If Congress and the President want us back for in person teaching and risk our health for their political gains, how about paying us the same that congressional leaders earn, and give us back our social security pensions we earned prior to starting careers in teaching? We all work about the same amount of hours, and we are better educated than most congressional leaders, then we could afford to repay our educational loans. … Read More

    If Congress and the President want us back for in person teaching and risk our health for their political gains, how about paying us the same that congressional leaders earn, and give us back our social security pensions we earned prior to starting careers in teaching? We all work about the same amount of hours, and we are better educated than most congressional leaders, then we could afford to repay our educational loans. And we would be happy to teach with the risks of Covid.

  4. Amy Barker 6 months ago6 months ago

    Our schools in northern California have been back in-person since August and September. Were any of the teachers in the far northern part of the state considered in this survey?

  5. dw 6 months ago6 months ago

    These comments just seem so out of touch from reality. We have a ton of data around the country showing that spread is not a problem in schools where masks are worn. Masks alone can do it - social distance is nice but we know that masks are the number one thing. These comments about PPE not being available are just ignorant - there is zero truth to that. Maybe last September … Read More

    These comments just seem so out of touch from reality. We have a ton of data around the country showing that spread is not a problem in schools where masks are worn. Masks alone can do it – social distance is nice but we know that masks are the number one thing. These comments about PPE not being available are just ignorant – there is zero truth to that.

    Maybe last September but now? What PPE is not available? These teachers care primarily for themselves and that’s it – comments like “it would be lovely to see children” display a certain naïveté that is problematic and causing great damage to a generation. By mid March every teacher will have had an opportunity to get the first dose which provides 85% protection against serious disease. For those that didn’t sign up for the vaccine for whatever reason and refuse to work in person they need to find another job.

    The truth of the matter is that this pandemic has already caused quite a few people to lose jobs and change professions – teachers need to realize this. If you still believe, after having the vaccine, that you can’t teach in a classroom of 36 students in normal distance then this isn’t a job for you. Please look elsewhere – undoubtedly there will be some great losses but it’s time to move on.