Teacher Survey Project

What California teachers want to share with other educators

By

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.

In this Spotlight we shine the light on the messages that teachers have for their colleagues. We asked them what they would like to share with other educators about what they have learned, and we present their ideas in what follows. 

Teacher responses when asked what they would like to share

We have organized this spotlight around several large “messages” or “themes” that came through to us as we studied comments from more than 100 teachers. The messages to other educators include the following:

Don’t treat this as a normal year — be flexible and make adjustments

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Do not try to fit every activity and lesson from the traditional year in the online environment. Make sure to chunk lessons and give students breaks. Give students and yourself TONS of grace (this is a once in a hundred-year pandemic after all).

– A teacher in a high school with 16% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey area

We should not be expected to teach the same standards as typical times. Young students should not be expected to use the same learning management systems (LMS) and assessment platforms as older students. Students are resilient and community can be built as a class during distance learning. There is this expectation of business as usual that is unrealistic and insulting during a pandemic.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 75% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Chill on the academics, these kids are surviving a pandemic. Have fun with it and them. Focus more on thinking about things, what do they notice what do they wonder.

– A teacher in a middle school with 83% low-income students in the Inland Empire

It’s OK to give afternoons off for work, but everyone needs a consistent schedule.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 38% low-income students in the Northern Delta-Sierra Foothills

Mental health and well-being is far more important than learning loss (real or perceived) right now. The inequities that exist within our schools have always been there, it’s just on blast right now, and more than academic rigor, our kids need us to be gatekeepers in how to process and navigate their world with a sense of inner calm and tenacity.

– A teacher in an elementary/middle school with 100% low-income students on the North Coast

Setting strict working hours for myself has helped me fend off burn out. Using platforms such as Nearpod to get kids to participate has been really helpful as most students hesitate to participate verbally or on camera. Accepting we will not get through all standards has also helped me with realistic expectations.

– A teacher in a high school with 29% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Expectations must be set early on by district leadership so parents and students know the level they will be held accountable. It is challenging for teachers to set expectations for virtual learning without the support from admin at the site and district level. Boundaries must be set for everyone’s well-being.

– A teacher in an elementary/middle school with 50% low-income students in Southern California

Teachers must be at the table and creating the menu when decisions are being made that directly impact them. Decisions by legislators, who have never taught, or district admin, that have been out of the classroom for years (maybe even decades) is ineffective. I’ve learned that school district leadership really has no idea what teachers do on a daily basis in our classrooms. Parents learned quickly what we do each and every day.

– A teacher in an elementary/middle school with 50% low-income students in Southern California

I’ve learned that educators are the most giving people I know. As difficult as this time period has been, the teachers I know have stepped in to help their colleagues (more so than district leadership). Developing lessons together, sharing lessons and ideas, supporting each other when dealing with difficult situations in and outside of the classroom. Teachers [also] spent a lot of their own money to be able to teach from home and/or virtually from their classrooms.

– A teacher in an elementary/middle school with 50% low-income students in Southern California

[I have found] that it can really work (and be the better environment) for some students, but that it is not a good environment for students with high social or academic needs.

– A teacher in a high school with 22% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

Being reasonable about what students can do in this environment, even with all the digital tools, will provide the best possible result.

– A teacher in a middle school with 86% low-income students in the Inland Empire

It is hard for everyone, including parents, teachers and students.

– A teacher in a high school with 54% low-income students in the Sacramento area

Chunk the work as parts or 1 larger assignment. For grading purposes. … It saves you time and energy! It also allows for better student feedback and responses.

– A teacher in a high school with 65% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

I think the most important thing is to just keep on teaching. Of course, we want all students to be present and engaged. Unfortunately, we aren’t getting that right now. A few months ago I would let that drag me down, and it would end up hurting the students who did come to class ready to learn. I’ve learned to make sure I show up as my best self for those students who are in attendance and ready.

– A teacher in a middle school with 91% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

The same rules apply to distance learning as in-person learning in that you must be constantly reflective and willing to adjust and learn. We are teaching children, not curriculum.

– A teacher in an elementary/middle school with 89% low-income students in the Inland Empire

Take things one day at a time! Decide what technology tool will best benefit your content. Don’t throw all the tools at students at once.

– A teacher in a middle school with 4% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey area

Online isn’t the same as in person; new approaches and different ways of thinking are required

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The one thing that I have learned is that you cannot cover everything that you would normally get in the classroom in distance learning. Distance Learning is an opportunity to rejuvenate lessons for students and be more open to project-based learning.

– A teacher in a middle school with 96% low-income students in the Inland Empire

Less is more. I have seen colleagues try to simply re-create what they did in the classroom as an online course, and it did not translate well. We have to rethink what we teach, and how we assess what we teach, it cannot be business as usual just on a screen.

– A teacher in a high school with 30% low-income students in the Inland Empire

There are several things I have learned. 1. Digital teaching has to be well-planned with thought-out resources and intentional learning. Gone are the days of “winging it,” and to be fair; they should be gone! 2. Digital teaching doesn’t have to be flashy or include all the latest “bells and whistles” and, most importantly, 3. The kids know more than we do. They are an asset and we have to bring them into the learning and provide them the content focus but let them show us how they can make it come to life.

– A teacher in a high school with 90% low-income students in the Central Valley

I think for me, this has been the equivalent of a second first-year in education, but this time I at least knew what questions to ask and where to look for answers. Good pedagogy is still good pedagogy, and one of your colleagues has probably figured out how to adapt all those great practices we used in person to distance learning.

– A teacher in a middle school with 71% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

I think others need to know that whatever was done in the physical classroom does not transfer easily to online teaching. Presenting lessons and information needs to be delivered in multiple ways and modes, as well as students’ responses or task completion products. Students need to have multiple modes, or ways of sharing their thinking with their teacher and their peers.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 40% low-income students in the San Diego area

It is a very different learning modality. There are some wonderfully effective aspects to online instruction, but it is more involved and complex than trying to recreate the same face-to-face classroom experience/lesson/curriculum through a screen. It is a complete paradigm shift (expectations, objective, outcomes, expression, and so forth) for both instructor and student.

– A teacher in a high school with 57% low-income students on the Central Coast

I have learned that it is hard but manageable. I needed to become more flexible and remember that it’s okay to learn by trying. As teachers we tell our students this but when we follow this it can make us feel guilty. I’ve also learned this is a great opportunity to connect with students by always getting feedback. The students have been pretty honest about how they feel about this situation and it’s allowed for me to have really raw and powerful conversations with them. The biggest piece I would pass onto others is that students are resilient, and I can get them caught up on the things they missed. I can fill in the gaps. What I can’t do is fix their health.

– A teacher in a high school with 90% low-income students in the San Diego area

Patience. Focus on what is working. Model the adaptation you wish from others.

– A teacher in a high school with 9% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

You have to be creative in finding different ways to engage your kids socially. Giving them many opportunities to participate helps keep them engaged. Consistent communication with parents is also key. I encourage the kids to turn in selfies of their weekends and do a lot of art with them as well.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 83% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Remember that you already KNOW how to teach. You just need to choose HOW you want to engage your students. You don’t need to do it all in one day; add a little bit over time and you will quickly feel a huge sense of accomplishment and confidence about all that you are doing. Most parents are very supportive if you reach out and explain that you want to offer extra time/support during the week — they will have their student come back on zoom to get the help.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 37% low-income students on the North Coast

If you are an elementary school teacher, be sure to teach science. There is no reason to leave it out; it can be combined easily with other areas of the curriculum such as reading, writing, and math. I have done a ton of science with my 5th graders — it CAN be done. Maximize your time with break out groups so that you can give small groups of students opportunities to interact, and you can meet with a small group who needs support. Trust your instincts; none of us ever saw this pandemic coming. Keep working with your students and they WILL LEARN — and CONTINUE to learn. You can do it!!

– A teacher in an elementary school with 37% low-income students on the North Coast

Zoom security issues and student privacy on the internet. Teach students how to use the tech before diving into the teaching. Also, using Common Sense Media for helpful free digital citizenship guidance for parents and students.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 33% low-income students in the Sacramento area

This is all new, no matter how long you’ve been a teacher. Give yourself grace. There is so much out there for distance learning; it can become overwhelming. Look at what this year’s class needs and find professional development to meet those needs. YouTube has wonderful videos to help you. Google it. Ask for help. It’s better to ask for help than to do nothing.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 82% low-income students in the Inland Empire

I think a lot of students like the rhythm we have established of starting work together in class and then being allowed to leave the Zoom call to work on assignments individually. I feel like a lot of teachers want to keep students in zoom classes, but that gets very draining for the students. They seem to do their best work in my class if we spend shorter amounts of time together on a Zoom call and then they have more time to work asynchronously and can come back to the Zoom call to ask questions.

– A teacher in a high school with 15% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey area

I’ve learned that students greatly benefit from seeing/hearing the ideas of others during the learning process. It helps them clarify, revise, refine and deepen their original thinking. They need these opportunities to interact with the ideas of others even more in this on-line learning context. Teaching online requires an artful balance of multiple considerations because it can easily slide into teacher-led, independent work. I’ve learned to balance independent student thinking with purposeful small group interactions; more highly engaging moments with more serious assessments; and student SEL with content driven expectations. You hit the wrong balance and you lose them quickly.

– A teacher in a high school with 36% low-income students in the San Diego area

There is no one way to do this, no magic playbook, just different things to try and use student feedback to figure out what is working and what is not working. Don’t try to do too much and overwhelm yourself and your students.

– A teacher in an elementary/middle school with 67% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

Less is more. I’ve learned to drill down to the most essential skills/standards that I feel need to be taught/learned. I’ve learned to not give up on collaboration time for students to work together even if some do not participate. I’ve learned to stay positive, play lively music as they sign on, smile, laugh, wear silly hats, bright clothes, compliment students, thank students for being there, for having cameras on, for talking to me, to each other. I’ve learned to be patient and kind and offer extra help sessions even if nobody shows up. I’ve learned that having a small group of colleagues in a texting group is a HUGE help.

– A teacher in a middle school with 79% low-income students on the Central Coast

It is okay to slow down the pacing. Find different ways to connect with the students.

– A teacher in a high school with 79% low-income students in Southern California

Figure out what is most important for your students to learn and teach them that. You don’t have time for all the extras. Also, take the time to form connections and allow your students to get to know each other.

– A teacher in a middle school with 85% low-income students in the Central Valley

I have learned that I have to make the information I share as accessible to students as possible and that I cannot be afraid to make a change that will make the process more streamlined. I have changed how I have students track assignments at least four times, but each time, the system gets better!

– A teacher in a middle school with 24% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

Simplification is the best solution to any problem.

– A teacher in a middle school with 62% low-income students in the Sacramento area

Online teaching requires extra work

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Everything I did in person takes 10x as long to prep for and not all of it can be replicated. … I will spend 2-3 hours trying to prep something I did in person and somewhere in the 2nd or third hour I will have to give up and admit that it’s not doable, but I still need to teach that thing that it taught. So now I spend another 2-3 hours making something totally new. …

– A teacher in an elementary school with 88% low-income students in the Inland Empire

I learned that it took an incredible amount to work to adapt my in-class lessons, which already accommodated for multiple learning styles and various needs for processing, to online versions that required me to anticipate any and all questions that might arise from students that might discourage them from engaging or completing work.

– A teacher in a middle school with 50% low-income students on the North Coast

Distance learning takes a lot more time, so you will not teach everything you used to in a school year — but that is OK! As long as students are progressing and growing!

– A teacher in a high school with 74% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey area

It isn’t easy.

– A teacher in a middle school with 84% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Teachers had to basically recreate curriculum from the ground up. While most publishers have online components for their curriculum not all do, specifically social studies. This lack of effective online resources at teachers’ disposal meant they were now curriculum writers. This took countless hours of planning all at the drop of a hat starting on March 13th.

– A teacher in an elementary/middle school with 50% low-income students in Southern California

As in person, it would be easier with less kids per group! But we also needed software to do lab simulations and videos of demonstrations that were not available when we started last March. Some subjects lend themselves better to student discussion which can help with social emotional support, but math and science tend to be rather hard to cover content AND have discussions because things like balancing equations are not really very social!

– A teacher in a high school with 35% low-income students on the North Coast

Wow … I’ve learned that this should NOT be the wave of the future and that we’ve completely underestimated the importance of children getting together and learning together. Furthermore, I’ve learned that the relationships we build with our students are the foundation from which they safely explore and trust our teachings and objectives and they learn about themselves. Of course, I knew that but being in this distance learning situation has been an extraordinary reminder of that. I learned how hard it is to teach without moving around, modeling, using manipulatives, acting in exaggerated forms, joking, and playing games that teach great lessons. All the Kahoots in the world will never replace that kind of stuff.

– A teacher in a high school with 66% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

On-line teaching requires the teachers to have certain skill sets that may not be required during in-person learning. There is a certain amount of engagement that is difficult for me as a working mom with a son that is also online learning. The students often struggle with engagement due to distractions in the home or they receive Special Education services for disabilities that impede learning. Our school system already struggled with meeting the needs of marginalized youth and distance learning has failed with providing the wrap around needs of these students. Most of my students have basic needs that can’t be met by just giving them a Chromebook.

– A teacher in an elementary/middle school with 97% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

If a student wants to be a distance learner they should enroll in a school that specializes in online learning. It is so difficult for a teacher to have to switch online to in-person and all of their skills that they haven’t been trained in to feel successful.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 41% low-income students in the Central Valley

Everything takes twice as long, but there are many opportunities to connect with students.

– A teacher in a middle school with 86% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

The students need time to work in class. I administered a survey and my students wanted to work with a partner. This semester I have scheduled time for them to work with a partner on assignments so that they can talk about the math.

– A teacher in a high school with 35% low-income students in Southern California

Less is more…an assignment that may seem like a moderately challenging assignment in person feels more like a giant stressful project in the context of distance learning.

– A teacher in a high school with 85% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Just because some students don’t do it, doesn’t mean asynchronous work should be abandoned. My students who don’t do asynchronous work don’t do synchronous work either. Providing time off-screen to do things like read and work independently has made it easier to assess what individual students know and can do and also feels a lot better for mental health. Zoom is more draining than any other form of human interaction I’ve encountered thus far!

– A teacher in a high school with 41% low-income students on the Central Coast

This is crisis teaching, not online teaching and it needs to be treated as such. The most important thing is that the students feel welcomed, valued, and supported.

– A teacher in a high school with 48% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

Technology pros & cons

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1) Do not assume that because our students are social media savvy (TikTok, Instagram, etc.) or play video games, they will know how to use online learning platforms. A lot of my time has been spent teaching my students how to navigate our learning management system (LMS) and the learning tools or platforms I use (Google Suite apps, etc.). 2) Teachers need to make a conscious effort to walk away from work and not answer emails or text messages at all times.

– A teacher in a middle school with 95% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Everything doesn’t need to be computer generated. The use of notebooks was great. I taught math in it. We researched frogs and wrote in it. We sketched and did art in it. I read aloud each day. We predicted and discussed our book. We did live art and science. … I think it was important to make it feel like true classroom time for my young students. Be sure the district has expectations for families. It was hard in the beginning trying to get work from students. And make sure the technology sent home works, especially the sound!

– A teacher in an elementary school with 66% low-income students in Northeast California

It can NEVER replace face-to-face in-person instruction. Those who did online learning prior to all this opted for it voluntarily. You cannot compare the success rates from that data pool to data now. We have essentially forced a large portion of our student population to involuntarily take online courses. Those who tell you otherwise have a financial motive to sell you online courses and programs.

– A teacher in a high school with 20% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey area

The only way to meet everyone’s needs specifically in elementary is to have pickups of hands-on materials so that students are not solely relying on online methods for access to information.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 67% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

I’ve learned that some of the tech will continue to be useful when we return to the classroom. For example using Google Classroom is extremely useful for students to access assignment directions, quizzes and other assignments if they miss class.

– A teacher in a middle school with 62% low-income students in the Northern Delta-Sierra Foothills

There are so many good tools and ways to engage kids with effort. You have to still keep objectives in mind and learn to be resourceful and open.

– A teacher in a high school with 35% low-income students in the San Diego area

It is essential that you do not keep them on the computer for long amounts of time. Ask how they are each and every day. Give them movement breaks. Use new tools, but not all at once. Connect to your colleagues even though you are not seeing them on campus daily. Remember what it is like to sit in a zoom professional development. Don’t repeat the bad but do repeat the good.

– A teacher in a middle school with 68% low-income students on the North Coast

Use of a variety of tools to engage students, pique their interest, continuous use of low-floor/high-ceiling engaging experiences with everyday materials. Resiliency and perseverance are key.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 31% low-income students on the North Coast

It’s important to find a way to have back-and-forth communication with students, and it’s important to try to take into account that everyone’s home situation is different.

– A teacher in a high school with 38% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

I’m not sure we’re doing this right. Six classes seems like too many to take online at once, especially for 13-18 year-olds. I wish we’d consulted with successful, experienced, distance learning professors, and had studied the research about it, before we made snap judgements that set us up to be less effective. I think using online platforms is absolutely the right decision in the middle of a global pandemic, but I think some of the ways we implemented it were so outdated and archaic, that we looked silly and didn’t end up serving our students as well as we could have.

– A teacher in a high school with 58% low-income students in Northeast California

I think that we are putting too much emphasis on video conferencing. When I was completing my undergraduate work remotely, I never video conferenced. Instead, the professor would assign reading tasks that were supplemented by informational and creative texts, videos, music, and other engaging activities. In addition, we need to teach students that it is okay to fail as long as they try. Sometimes, it is difficult to find connections while engaging with these diverse mediums, but challenging students to do so can be fun, educational, and challenging.

– A teacher in a high school with 21% low-income students on the Central Coast

Students must be motivated to learn through distance learning. Research should be done to learn how to motivate students in distance learning. The results should be distributed to teachers.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 76% low-income students in Northeast California

You cannot expect students to use too many platforms. Concentrate on a few platforms to excel in.

– A teacher in a high school with 96% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Good tools to use in distance learning

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It is beneficial to set-up for success prior to the beginning of the school year. My grade-level team created videos for families in English and in Spanish that described Distance Learning expectations. Students should have technology, school materials, and textbooks before the beginning of the school year. The school supplies should include art supplies and math manipulatives. Families should have easy access to contact the school for help with anything school related.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 88% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Ensure engagement. I do that using Pear Deck slides. Encourage communication. I use breakout rooms and class discussions where I turn off the chat and encourage actual speaking. Try to have accountability. Even if it’s a few points in the grade book, my students will not participate unless it “counts.” I wish it weren’t that way, but…it’s difficult to motivate them otherwise since we’re not in person. We use actual paper notebooks, and they create drawings and models. I have them snap photos and share so I can see them and so they are accountable for doing them. They love making videos and actually explaining their work, so use that too. I do a lot of discussion posts on Canvas to encourage others to share their work and learn from each other.
– A teacher in a middle school with 33% low-income students in the Central Coast region

Initially, I was afraid of using the chat feature because I thought students might abuse it, but it has turned out to be invaluable. It is a really easy, quick way to gauge how students are doing with the material, and to see who is present and listening.

– A teacher in a high school with 22% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

I recommend beginning the year teaching about Digital Citizenship. I also recommend refreshers of digital citizenship skills throughout the year. Have a positive recognition system in place (attendance, effort, outstanding work). Provide feedback on the work they submit. Embed social-emotional learning practices. Spend lots of time teaching students how to use their device, the video conferencing platform, and any app or platform you plan to use. Model. Model. Model.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 88% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

My top two platforms for engagement and formative assessment are Seesaw and Flipgrid. Another favorite platform is Epic; students have access to a virtual library. It is valuable to know how to screencast lessons. Students enjoy interacting with their peers in breakout rooms for small group discussion time. It is helpful that my district has Clever for single-sign-on to district purchased apps. Include plenty of stretch breaks.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 88% low-income students in the Los Angeles Area

Do not have all assignments be online. Give assignments where they use a pencil to write, create, or do math. Have school spirit weeks, Invite guest speakers, have virtual field trips, bring two classes together to work on a similar project. Have a system in place for communicating with students and families. I use ClassDojo for teacher-to-parent communication. Join virtual professional learning networks to get ideas and find support. Learn about the TPACK framework and the SAMR model.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 88% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

There are so many great tools on the internet … Nearpod, Pear Deck, Edpuzzle, GoFormative, CoSpaces Edu, SlidesCarnival — these are all super useful tools that I use to help myself during distance learning. I have also learned that a flip classroom seems to work really well. For independent work, students learn main concepts or vocabulary that we will use to have a discussion in class the next day or hold an activity. This allows us to work together during class time instead of me just talking at a zoom screen.

– A teacher in a middle school with 79% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

Desmos and Nearpod have been helpful tools for giving students feedback. Giving kids a brain-break with quick activities like Google’s puzzle party have been helpful. Also giving my students surveys about what’s working and not working has helped me adapt to their needs as best I can.

– A teacher in a high school with 66% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

There are so many technological tools out there to enhance our teaching beyond the books and paper. At the same time, some students find it overwhelming with the various tools. Find balance and purpose in teaching tools for yourself and students to meet everyone’s needs. Additionally, give your students and yourself grace during this time.

– A teacher in a high school with 62% low-income students in the Northern Delta-Sierra Foothills

Synchronous lessons seem to be much more effective for my students. Platforms like Nearpod simulate the classroom experience and help me give live feedback to kids.

– A teacher in a middle school with 94% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

I have learned a lot about different ways to engage students online and use different tech tools (Nearpod, Kahoot, Seesaw). I have seen that students are very adaptable and are able to learn new apps and programs pretty smoothly. However, some of the best distance learning techniques are the same techniques that make a successful in-person classroom (meeting with students and families for socializing, checking in with students’ feelings, letting them share about their lives, wait time, students talking through their thought process).

– A teacher in an elementary school with 72% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

Focus on building community and relationships

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Community and connection are more important than ever. We must be even more compassionate, understanding, and flexible. Focus on the most important content, skills, and life lessons. Provide opportunities for students to learn through their interests and with what they have at home.

– A teacher in a high school with 90% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

When you are working with high school students it is important that you give them a voice and use content that will connect students.

– A teacher in a high school with 89% low-income students in the San Diego area

It is hard and nothing is perfect. Building relationships is the only thing that is helping right now — it is even more important than it is during in person teaching! Not everything will be covered, I am learning to be ok with teaching important content and skipping a lot of the math that I know we don’t have time for.

– A teacher in a high school with 91% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

Show care, love and patience every single moment of every single day with our children. Grace is what will resound in everyone’s memory after this period of time passes. There is no app, program, activity or even book that can replace the love of a teacher.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 40% low-income students in the San Diego area

Communication with parents/guardian is so important during the distance learning time.

– A teacher in a high school with 65% low-income students in the San Diego area

We are all in this together, and we should communicate so that we don’t feel so isolated and defeated. The messaging that teachers have received throughout the pandemic is negative, angry, and selfish — with a few sprinkles of hope from families that are empathetic and supportive.

– A teacher in a middle/high school in Southern California

There is no one way to do distance learning. Develop relationships with and between students that foster a safe and open learning environment; this can be achieved through distance learning. Teacher clarity and reciprocal feedback are key to success. Focus on depth vs. breadth, focusing on key learning outcomes and success criteria. It is not all about the Tech.

– A teacher in a middle/high school with 80% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey area

I think there are still creative ways you can build relationships with your students. I also think that choosing your battles is important too— don’t force students to turn on their cameras due to equity issues. Just work with them on what they are able to produce.

– A teacher in a high school with 98% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

I have found that there are many ways it can benefit students, in some ways better than distanced and masked in a classroom. Breakout rooms allow for collaboration and engagement and also for privacy when a student needs one-on-one support academically or physically. This is very hard to provide in a classroom during the hybrid time.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 28% low-income students in the Sacramento area

Contact with students. Calling them important.

– A teacher in a high school with 57% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

I’ve learned that kids are sometimes willing to open up online if you give them the right forum/prompt. If I’m able to make some space during a class period where I can check in with kids over a private chat, they really seemed to appreciate it. Also, [it’s important to plan] lessons that 1) get kids out of their seats and away from the computer and 2) that are planned in a way that there is some anticipation building over weeks. One example of this was our recent cheese-making lab in chemistry, where students were prompted for weeks to get the supplies while we learned about the chemistry of cheese-making, culminating in them doing it at home. I saw a lot of engagement and joy when doing this.

– A teacher in a high school with 86% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey area

You need to be organized and quick-thinking to catch the many teachable moments that kids bring into the lesson. When tech issues arise be honest with the kids and they are all willing to help you. Assure them everything will be OK if we believe in ourselves to get our jobs done. Laugh with your students and celebrate each other’s strengths and weakness. They live it when you recognize them with positive praise just like in the classroom.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 25% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Keep best instructional practices in mind even with online teaching. Keep on trying to connect with your students and connect students with students by doing different engagement strategies.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 49% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Your content isn’t more important than your student’s life. Teachers need to let go of the notion that students *must* learn XYZ during this time. No. Students need to know that someone is in their corner. Someone is thinking of them. Someone cares how they are and how their day is going. We need to stop cramming curriculum down students’ throats right now and really BE THERE for our students. They will eventually return to the classroom after this is all over and we will have to redesign our curriculum to meet their needs when they get there, NO MATTER WHAT. So instead of trying to get them back to school with the same knowledge in fall 2021, let’s try to get them back to school with the same mental health level in fall 2021.

– A teacher in a high school with 81% low-income students in the Northern Delta-Sierra Foothills

It is possible to build relationships and community online, but it is different. It is also possible to teach and have students learn well. However, just as some kids are not well suited to classroom learning, not all students are well suited to online learning. Some students are doing better at home without peer pressure and bullying. I personally don’t think this is a disaster for all kids — it is certainly hard, and not for everyone, but it is OK.

– A teacher in a middle school with 90% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

I found it incredibly challenging to maintain the sense of community I had built in the classroom that makes so many activities and learning moments possible. More reflection needs to be devoted to the ways in which the nature of teaching and learning itself are altered in a virtual setting. My objectives of creating conditions for transformative moments, moments in which students reach new levels of understanding, or experience some new revelation in their thinking are so dependent on the synergy in the classroom environment, on the multiple layers of connection that have been built amongst students and myself, and this proved very difficult to replicate in an online setting.
– A teacher in a middle school with 50% low-income students on the North Coast

Relationships are just as important virtually as they were face to face. Focus on mastery, rather than “points” in grading or number of assignments to help avoid grading privilege or access to resources.

– A teacher in an elementary/middle school with 71% low-income students in the Northern Delta-Sierra Foothills

While it is not my preferred platform for teaching, I feel like I have been able to connect personally with more students. Office Hours are a big help. When we return to in-person teaching, it would be great to be able to continue Office Hours somehow and to use Zoom to connect with families and students after school. I also like the heightened collaboration between classroom teachers and specialists. Finally, though less time to teach the students is difficult, I feel that having more non-student contact time is VERY good for evaluating student work and preparing lessons. I can adjust better to student needs when I have had the time to review their progress on a more regular basis.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 30% low-income students on the North Coast

Developing relationships with kids is key! There is little to no motivation for them to do the work and kids at this age require heart-to-heart conversations about being intrinsically motivated to get the job done. Be silly, be vulnerable, show them that if you can do it, they can too! Also, keep your expectations high! In any situation, students will at least try to meet your standards.

– A teacher in an elementary school in the Inland Empire

I don’t think this is necessarily something others don’t know, but as teachers we need to be even more aware of individual student’s needs and their family’s needs before we judge and assume the student doesn’t care. Also, students’ mental health is more important than academics at times. We need to make sure our students are well mentally before we can expect them to learn academics. Spending time with students just talking about what they and we are all facing has been immensely useful.

– A teacher in a high school with 70% low-income students in the Inland Empire

It is very stressful in terms of not being able to make connections with your students, which research shows makes them better students.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 58% low-income students in the Inland Empire

Worry about relationships and always assume the best about the students. So if they aren’t showing up, or they suddenly leave class, or they ask a question you just answered 5 times, assume it was a technical issue.

– A teacher in a high school with 85% low-income students in the Sacramento area

I have learned that although you may deliver a whole class lesson, individual check ins with students are still invaluable just like they are when students are here with us in person. I’ve learned the value of building classroom community even though our class looks a little different this year than others. If I want my students to be successful I have to take the time to build relationships with them and have fun with them. That is what will keep them coming back and engaged in lessons. And although it may be difficult to build relationships with students through a digital learning platform it is not impossible. There are a lot of digital tools and apps that make delivering the content easy and engaging for students.

– A teacher in a middle school in the Northern Delta-Sierra Foothills

Connect with kids. Connect with kids. Connect with kids. If we taught no content this year, but kept students feeling connected to school and to each other, it would still be a win.

– A teacher in a middle school in the Central Valley

I have learned to focus much more energy on the social and emotional aspect of teaching. I have also learned to scale back the amount of outside “work” that I give and focus more on our “together time.” I do not believe it is fair to grade my students on assignments that I am not there to help them with.

– A teacher in a middle school with 94% low-income students in the Inland Empire

There’s more than one way to learn. We can always work on our relationships with students. Taking the long view and considering the whole child, their needs, their talents, and involving them in real-world activities, discussions. … We can always do those things, whether we’re in person or not.

– A teacher in a middle school with 56% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey area

Distance learning has been positive for some teachers and some students — there are things to learn for when we go back in person

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It can be successful and gratifying. While most of my students and colleagues would prefer to be in person (as in, post-COVID), my students are getting through, making progress, even learning some new skills and habits that will serve them well in person.

– A teacher in a high school with 8% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey area

There are many limitations of distance learning but also opportunities. When I introduce an assignment, I allow students to choose a breakout room. They can stay in the main room if they want … step-by-step with guidance from me. They can join an “open group” room where they work together with mics and cameras on. They can join a “quiet group” room where they work together through typing in the chat. Or they can choose a solo room to work independently. As long as students are completing the work, they have the freedom to choose. This is much more difficult in person in a single classroom.
– A teacher in a middle school with 39% low-income students on the Central Coast

In many ways, it is remarkably similar to a regular classroom and the kids are still a gas.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 96% low-income students on the North Coast

I learned that there were some advantages to having students complete work online: the ability to respond more instantaneously with more comments, to engage with them more regularly on a personal level without the demands of classroom management.

– A teacher in a middle school with 50% low-income students on the North Coast

I feel that it saves a lot of downtime.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 94% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

I think it can be beneficial for all students. In the classroom at times there are time constraints. Through distance learning while doing independent work students can have as much time as they want to complete work. Also, for some students that have social and emotional issues distance learning works best. We don’t have to spend instructional time addressing problems that happened during recess. I think education needs to stop operating from “one size fits all,” and we also need to start making usage of more technology.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 95% low-income students in the San Diego area

Less extroverted students have flourished in this setting (using the chat function to respond to classmates). As much as they can, school leaders should reduce the number of assessments expected. In the effort to record measurable data (as if it were a normal school year), teachers are put in the situation where they are quickly assigning parts of a performance task, rather than giving students ample time for skill practice.

– A teacher in a high school with 93% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

The individual district and temperament/beliefs of administrators have a huge impact on our experiences. Many teacher friends are feeling differently toward distance learning than I am because of the chaos, lack of communication, and lack of support they are feeling from their school and district leaders. Though this is not an ideal situation — and despite the broad negativity in the media — some of us are feeling relatively successful and are still feeling hopeful for the future of the students impacted by this historic situation. My students, and my own children in secondary schools who are learning exclusively online … are going to be OK in the long-term. They are learning and growing in ways they would not have had the opportunity for in other circumstances, and that is valuable.
– A teacher in an elementary school with 17% low-income students on the North Coast

The majority of students are learning, and we are maybe surprised about their overall growth and development in academic areas. Let’s develop a plan to provide summer and afterschool learning for students who did not do well during distant learning. Parents and teachers did their best teaching children during this pandemic and it should be acknowledged.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 41% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

On the positive side, it can be rewarding—there are still those “teachable moments” and it is possible to connect with students and have connections/student-teacher relationships much like our pre-pandemic classrooms. I am both happy and relieved to report that there is laughter in distance learning — thank goodness. Positive feedback and reinforcement appears to be even more critical in distance learning than in our traditional classrooms. Teacher collaboration has been and continues to be the saving grace of this entire “switch” to distance learning. If it wasn’t for teachers collaborating and sharing, distance learning would have never made it off the ground.

– A teacher in a high school with 72% low-income students in the Sacramento area

Take as many brain-breaks as needed to keep the students focused and engaged. GoNoodle is an excellent resource. Incentives such [as] lunch with the teacher and friends keeps students motivated. The resource ClassDojo is very helpful for parent communication and classroom management.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 47% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey area

Making lessons visual and engaging is the key to getting the kids involved. Also, it is a different environment and there is no need to pretend that it is business as usual. The kids are moving through a pandemic that is changing the world and are doing their best to survive intact. Teachers are as well.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 88% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

It works well for some kids and families, and not at all well for others. It would be good to keep it as an option in the future for those that want it.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 9% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

It is getting easier. I feel that my students AND I have learned a lot about ourselves. We can do hard things. We have learned SO much about technology. I feel my students, parents, and me are extremely close because parent support is so important.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 70% low-income students in the Inland Empire

In some ways, online teaching is similar to in-person teaching. Students are not 100% engaged throughout the school day. It is normal for students’ participation and attention to fluctuate throughout the day. I think for some parents observing instruction, this has been a surprise. I think in many ways, teachers have felt guarded about their instruction because we have a wider audience that now includes parents. This can be both positive in holding teachers accountable but also negative because teachers can feel stifled from having hard conversations.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 20% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Distance learning will not replace brick and mortar schools. Some students excel in this environment, but not all students. Distance learning has the potential to be a great tool in the future of teaching.

– A teacher in a high school with 67% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

I have learned how to use many things that are beneficial in the classroom, that I would have otherwise never used if I wasn’t forced to by the pandemic.

– A teacher in a high school with 89% low-income students in Southern California

Be kind to yourself and others

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Sometimes as teachers we blame ourselves, we criticize ourselves, we can be our own worst enemy because we always feel and think there has to be something else, that I can do better, and even in this survey I expressed those sentiments. But what I have learned through distance learning is teachers really are doing everything and anything to ensure their students are safe and are learning. There has always been a lot of self-doubts that have plagued our educators but many of us have shown to be resilient and capable even in the most extreme moments of our educational careers.

– A teacher in a high school with 51% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

What I would want others to know is that although we are not doctors or nurses saving lives we have also been an important element during this pandemic. It takes a special someone to teach you via a screen and more importantly to connect. We have our own suffering, losses, and moments of depression, and we put them aside and put our best foot forward because we love what we do. We were placed in a position that none of us could have imagined and yet with frustrations, doubts, and or fears we have made it happen.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 90% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

I truly admire my colleagues because I feel as if though I am walking into their classrooms. The essence and feel of their classrooms is still found via a screen. I want others to know that there is truly one thing that transcends any barriers: LOVE. I think that teaching is an art that not many can accomplish and to reach students this way truly demonstrates the qualities that we are able to accomplish. All I would want is a sign in the sky that says THANK YOU TEACHERS … WE LOVE YOU and with that I would feel satisfied.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 90% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

It takes time. Don’t expect perfection at first. Especially if you don’t feel very tech savvy. Do what works for you. If you aren’t comfortable, you won’t be very effective. And always seek support!

– A teacher in an elementary school with 64% low-income students in the San Diego area

It is impossible to do everything on your own. You have to work with your colleagues, and ask them for support, or you will be overwhelmed. Also, find a way to have fun! Our staff celebrates each other’s birthdays with little surprises and brings in baked goods to share. I highly recommend visiting other classrooms when you can, just for a break from the computer screen and your own four walls. Distance teaching can be super isolating, and we need to find ways to connect with other teachers.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 30% low-income students on the North Coast

For anyone not trying to do it, please ask questions before forming theories or suggestions.

– A teacher in a high school with 79% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

It is emotionally and physically taxing. Most educators did not come into this field to teach behind a screen for months on end. We miss being around students and being part of a physical community. I’ve also noticed that my students’ mental health is not great. After winter break ended, I could tell that it wasn’t long enough. My students and my colleagues complained of being exhausted and lacked rest. I am also going to advocate for a different schedule at my school. It doesn’t seem healthy for students to be taking 6-7 classes right now and I’m thinking it would be best to go on a 4 by 4 block schedule in order to decrease stress in some ways.

– A teacher in a high school with 38% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

I also wish that educators were surveyed by the state to figure out what we would like to do and how we are doing. I know that the students will be taking the CA Healthy Kids survey tomorrow at my school, but what about checking in on the adults and what our needs are? I would also appreciate all standardized tests being canceled. This is not the year to stress students out with testing. I have found that it is somewhat easier to meet with colleagues though, and I’m wondering how often we may use Zoom for events like Back to School night in the future. Trying to see some positives. 🙂

– A teacher in a high school with 38% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

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