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Teacher Survey Project

Teachers reflect on how students, teachers and the community are doing in the wake of Covid

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Introduction

Teachers — California’s leading teachers — are telling us that students, teachers, schools, districts, and communities are struggling as schools return to in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year. Their experiences and observations are alarming.

In 2021, The Inverness Institute’s Teacher Consultant Response Network members responded to two surveys about their experiences in the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Inverness Institute, in partnership with EdSource, published a series of spotlights portraying the different issues raised by accomplished teachers across California.

One year later, nearly 100 of these teachers have weighed in yet again and have shared their classroom experiences and perspectives on teaching in the current environment. This is the first of two spotlights highlighting their feedback. See the second spotlight here.

Our goal for this spotlight report is to elevate teachers’ voices. We begin each section with audio and video versions of a few teachers’ poignant and deeply honest commentaries, followed by samples of a wide range of teachers’ views. Next, we present the survey data on each of the topic areas. At the end of the spotlight, we present a brief analysis of the data and our interpretation of its significance.

This spotlight is divided into the following sections:

How are the students doing?

Leading teachers described their impressions of their students return to in-person instruction, and they have many and deep concerns about how their students are faring. Many teachers report that their students are not ready or able to participate constructively in or contribute to a positive classroom learning environment.

A teacher in a high school with 90% low-income students in the Central Valley (Kyra Orgill)

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

EdSource · Inverness Teacher Survey – Audio 96

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This year shows the biggest gap between the highest and lowest level students that I’ve seen in the last decade.

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

Student behavior is the worst I’ve seen in my career. We don’t have systems to deal with it.

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

Students are facing a lot of social-emotional challenges and struggling with academic skills such as organization, focus, resilience, etc.

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

 Students are very excited to be together and be back in school. However, they need a lot of practice in social skills for collaborative work and lack independence for testing and individual assignments.

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

Students have more and more significant challenges to learning that have resulted in fewer and fewer students earning credits toward graduation…. In the current scenario, nearly 50% of students in grades nine and 10 are not making adequate progress toward graduation…

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

Student absences impact the dynamics of the teaching and learning in my classroom. It becomes challenging when a large number of students are absent for an extended period of time.

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

I thought that the first year returning to in-person would be smoother. I am so wrong due to the demands of my having to meet the in-person students’ needs in addition to those who are chronically absent due to Covid.

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

Survey Data

Teachers’ ratings of student-focused survey items support the comments above and provide more detail about how students are doing this school year, as well as compared to a year ago and before the pandemic.

The following statement is drawn from recent media reports. Based on your experience, to what extent is the following happening in your school and/or district?

To note:


What is your current level of concern for your students’…

To note:

Longitudinal data comparison:

To note about longitudinal data:


The pandemic may have had some long-term effects on your students. Compared to before the pandemic, what are you now noticing about your students in regard to the following items?

To note:

Longitudinal Data:

To note about longitudinal data:


What do leading teachers report about their schools and districts?

In this section teachers report on the health of their education systems, and the ability of their school and district to provide needed supports to teachers and students. They also describe the consequences of the increasing polarization of their communities.

A teacher in a high school with 72% low-income students in the Sacramento Area (Angela Stegall)

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

EdSource · Inverness Teacher Survey – Audio 36

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Our school social worker is managing students with severe behavior issues, groups of students who need more social skills instruction and practice, as well as interventions for students with severe academic and attendance needs. She does so much but cannot manage her caseload.

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

Everyone is spread too thin. Admin needs more resources so that they can support students. Otherwise, they just run from thing to thing- trying to make a positive impact but not able to achieve the change they would like to see.

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

Our principal worked through vacations and summer and is there every evening and on the weekends. I worry about him. He cares for everyone, but the district dumps every problem back to him.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 41% low-income students in the North Coast

This year, principals got either an AP or TSA to support them, and it is still not enough. … I feel principals are more stressed and less appreciated than teachers. … I see a principal shortage and higher principal turnover in the future.

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

My district has extra money to hire more teachers, but some positions received no applicants, for others have seen midyear resignations. So my day-to-day life is not improved by the extra funding, although it could be if we could actually find people to take on these jobs!

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

Survey Data

The comments above largely reflect the views of all the consulting teachers. When asked about the student supports, the teachers acknowledged both the efforts of their school and district and the inadequacy of supports, particularly supports for the students most in need.

Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements about supports for students provided by your school and/or district:

To note:
As the survey responses reveal, teachers credit their school and/or district with concerted efforts to address chronic absenteeism. But they are split over school and district efforts to support students academically and maximize the safety of teachers and students.


To what extent do each of the statements below reflect the current circumstances in your school?

To note:


What do leading teachers report about their communities?

The leading teachers’ reports about their communities appear to be consistent with the various media reports of schools and districts being caught in the broader trends of polarization and politicization.

A teacher in a high school with 72% low-income students in the Sacramento Area (Angela Stegall)

A teacher in a high school with 30% low-income students in the Inland Empire (July Hill-Wilkinson)

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In our community, families are polarized by their beliefs about masks/vaccines, equitable grading policies, critical race theory, culturally responsive teaching (the “other” CRT), and the sex ed curriculum, among others.

— A teacher in a middle school with 39% low-income students in the Central Coast

I’ve never fought so hard for my students and teachers all while being completely vilified and trampled on and disrespected. The fact that I’m actually battling for an equity policy… [that] should really say it all, unfortunately.

— A teacher in a high school with 72% low-income students in the Sacramento Area

My district had parents wreak havoc on school board meetings, screaming and taking over the mic because they didn’t like mask mandates. The loudest parents spoke anti-vaccine rhetoric as well as anti-mask and yelled that their children’s social-emotional well-being was at risk because of masks. When educators expressed concern for the health of themselves, their students, and their loved ones if masks were made optional with such high community Covid numbers, they were called sheep by these parents. While our school district serves a large and diverse population, the angry voices over masks mandates were overwhelmingly from upper-class white parents.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 28% low-income students in the Sacramento Area

…Polarization is a real phenomenon right now. I have been a teacher for 23 years in my school. I love my families. I have never had so many conversations so hostile. … It’s as if some folks are just already assuming bad intentions from teachers, whereas before this was totally rare. It is now frequent.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 93% low-income students in the San Diego Area

Our community is more polarized than ever before, and we are seeing the trickle-down effect onto our own campuses. Students are watching the way that adults in the community are acting, and they are bringing these behaviors onto our campuses.

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

Our school and teachers have been getting bombarded with negative messages on social media… I feel like it had a tremendously negative effect on parents’ and school personnel’s relationship. There was a clear lack of trust.

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

The division in the country is prevalent in every board meeting, some staff meetings, and even some all-staff emails. Conflict, sadly, seems to be the current state of education.

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

A teacher at our school displayed a “Black Lives Matter” sign in her fourth-grade classroom. A white parent complained, so our principal pushed her to take the poster down.

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

Survey Data

The disturbing comments from some of the state’s leading teachers about the loss of civil discourse at schools and districts is consistent with the survey data.

To what extent does the statement below reflect your current teaching experience?


To what extent is the following factor of concern to you in the current teaching environment?

To note:


As a result of the pandemic and its effects on society, conflicts have increased. What are you now noticing in your own community, district, and school?

To note:
Overall, the teachers report a significant increase in conflicts overall. They say there is either “more” or “a lot more” conflict now between:


The following statements are drawn from recent media reports. Based on your experience, to what extent are the following happening in your school and/or district?

To note:
Respondents reported that the following were happening in their schools/and or districts “a good or great deal”:


What has this school year been like for teachers?

In the earlier sections, we have reported on how teachers see their students struggling and how district and school leaders are also struggling. We have noted the disparity between the supports that are needed and those that are actually available. We also have noted the sharp rise in conflict and polarization in the community.

All of this presents very challenging conditions for teachers. In this section, these leading teachers report on the impacts of these conditions on themselves and their colleagues.

A teacher in an elementary school with 28% low-income students in the Sacramento Area (Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez)

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

EdSource · Inverness Teacher Survey – Audio 93

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Teachers are having to fill so many roles right now – substitute teachers, counselors, attendance clerks – it’s completely overwhelming.

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

Not only do we not have the mental health professionals necessary to address students’ social-emotional health, but we are also short on the teachers, subs and support staff that are minimally required to ensure students are supervised and learning.

— A teacher in a middle school with 39% low-income students in the Central Coast

There is a serious shortage of adults at school. … The number of times I’ve called to get assistance and there’s been no answer is alarming. I’m lucky there hasn’t been a serious crisis because I would be alone in addressing it.

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

OMG!!!!!!! I am barely surviving. So are many of my colleagues. We help each other as best we can. We cry together. We work till all hours of the night trying to make lessons that will engage these children.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 74% low-income students in the Inland Empire

When there are no subs, the class without a teacher is dispersed to other classrooms. This interrupts both classes. We have intervention teachers, when there are no subs they cannot meet with the students they provide services for, instead they are used as substitutes.

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

In the past month, I subbed 16 times during my conference period.

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

Our district has committed to hiring additional staff, but so many positions are going unfilled. … There are staffing concerns across the board — my site has had four speech teachers this year alone. … With each new speech teacher comes a learning curve and disruption for our students.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 28% low-income students in the Sacramento Area

We do not have the issues with staffing that many districts have currently, but I have never been more stressed and exhausted in my teaching career (12 years). We are just being asked to do SO MUCH ALL THE TIME that it’s unsustainable.

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

Survey Data

The survey data supports and complements the teachers’ quotes and describes current teaching conditions and the concerns teachers have about their teaching environment.

To what extent do each of the statements below reflect your current teaching experience?

To note:


To what extent are the following factors of concern to you in the current teaching environment?


To note:

To note:


Summary of teacher reports on their experience in the 2021-22 school year

Our leading teachers report that the demands on teachers have never been greater. At the same time, supports for teachers have never been weaker. Serious shortages of teachers, staff and substitutes mean more duties and responsibilities, and that can vary depending on the day. Teachers are working relentlessly to meet students’ academic needs, deal with behavioral issues, and address social-emotional learning concerns. These conditions are pushing teachers — committed, experienced, leading teachers — to the limit. Only 40% are committed to staying in the profession until retirement.

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