“This is Not Teaching”: The Effects of COVID-19 on Teachers

By Joel Judd; Betty Ann Rember; Tony Pellegrini; Brian Ludlow; John Meisner

    “This is Not Teaching”: The Effects of COVID-19 on Teachers

    About the Practitioner-Researcher

    Joel Judd; Betty Ann Rember; Tony Pellegrini; Brian Ludlow; John Meisner
    Graduate Teacher Education Faculty, Southern Utah University
    Cedar City, UT, US
    Joel Judd; Betty Ann Rember; Tony Pellegrini; Brian Ludlow; John Meisner

    The authors are part of a Professional Learning Community formed by graduate teacher education faculty to address program needs, foment collaboration among both higher education and K-12 faculty, and model collaborative Action Research for our peers and degree candidates. They are: Dr. Joel Judd, Director of Graduate Teacher Education; Ms. Betty Ann Rember, K-12 Field Services Director; Dr. Tony Pellegrini, Teacher Education Chair; Dr. Brian Ludlow, Associate Professor of Literacy and Graduate Studies; and Dr. John Meisner, Director of Accreditation. We advocate for including teachers’ voices in school decision-making, especially at this critical time in public education.

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    Project Summary

    This Project was initiated to shed light on teachers’ experiences as a result of this Spring’s school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020. Its primary goal was to understand teachers’ experiences with mandated online schooling. Related goals included gathering information about teacher preparedness, significant challenges faced, and to what extent prior teacher preparation experiences helped them to teach effectively online. This is an on-going project. What we have found so far is that while maintaining an online school presence was well-intended, teachers and students had widely varying experiences with the quality and consistency of online instruction. Internet access varied from excellent to none depending on the student’s location, and 25% of teachers responding to our survey had little or no ongoing mentoring and support to teach online. Regardless of years teaching, the majority of teachers recognized that online instruction requires significant adaptations requiring time and support. Finally, teachers overwhelmingly identified parental support and home situations as the two most challenging aspects of online teaching.

    Project Context

    The project evolved from a faculty Professional Learning Community (PLC) of graduate teacher education faculty. The PLC started in February as a grassroots forum for faculty to critically examine our work. Almost immediately, the pandemic began affecting schooling. As we conferred with inservice teachers, we saw a need for their voices to be heard as districts and the state made decisions about finishing the school year. With the flexibility offered by a PLC, we turned our attention to gauging the impact of the sudden school changes on teachers.

    Research Goal, Method, and Outcome

    Background

    Over the course of a few days in March, 2020, an unprecedented change swept across America’s public schools. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, Utah teachers were told by Governor Gary R. Herbert (2020), with virtually no advance notice, to move all schooling online. This move was made regardless of teacher preparedness or student readiness. As a result, teachers and students had widely differing online schooling experiences. Many of the existing inequities in schooling were exacerbated (Tanner, 2020). Policymakers appeared to realize that there is more to school than curriculum and content. The significance of parental involvement (or lack thereof) was exposed (Seale, 2020). In short, the sudden changes in schooling resurrected fundamental questions about what exactly “school” means. This paper shares preliminary findings from the Utah respondents of a multi-state survey of school teachers conducted from April 22 to June 1, 2020. Subsequently, on June 29th, the Utah State Board of Education (USBE; June, 2020c) revealed requirements for schools to reopen in the Fall (USBE, 2020c). This included outlining three “Phases to Recovery” and a 7-page Template for a Plan each district must submit to the Board by August 1. 

    Questions and Goal

    Our guiding question was “What are teachers’ experiences with mandated online schooling?” Related questions were “How prepared were teachers to teach entirely online?” and “What significant challenges did they face?” Our goal was to illuminate teachers’ experiences with online schooling in order to include their voices in changes to school policy and practice this next academic year. We designed and distributed a survey questionnaire to pursue these questions.

    Method

    Participants 

    We received 699 responses to the Survey, of which 624 were validated by Qualtrics. Responses came from California (n = 13), Colorado (n = 17), Missouri (n = 19), Kansas (n = 40), with the majority (n = 535) from Utah, all from the US. Teachers and schools from all socio-economic contexts and with varying levels of student diversity were represented. Districts represented ranged from large, metropolitan to small, rural county education agencies. The only personal information requested was gender (M, F, Other, or Prefer Not To Say), where the respondents work, grades taught, number of years teaching, and path to licensure. Teacher experience ranged from second-year teachers to educators with 24+ years experience.  Grades taught ranged from preK to 12, including a few teachers from alternative school settings.

    Instrument and Procedure

    The authors, together with teacher input, created an online Survey using Qualtrics. Items were grouped in three “blocks”: 1) Personal and School information; 2) Likert-type choices and a ranking; and 3) Open-ended questions. Respondents could take the Survey on computer or phone.  Items were designed to elicit responses relevant to the three research questions. Responses were anonymous, unless the respondent was willing to receive a follow-up, in which case contact information (phone or email) was collected. The study was approved by Southern Utah University’s Internal Review Board, and all Survey information was password-protected on Qualtrics. The Survey opened on April 22 and closed on June 1. The Survey URL was sent to teachers via direct email invitation and also via some parents and colleagues known to the researchers. No attempt was made to send the Survey only to a random sample of teachers; we wanted to obtain the greatest number of respondents in a relatively short time frame. The variety of schools, community socio economic status, student diversity, and grades taught suggest a broad range of school settings were surveyed. The online questionnaire items related to the current research are listed below.

    Teaching Online Questionnaire

    First, please tell us a little about yourself and your school:

    Q26 In what state or country do you teach?

    Q26 How would you characterize your school’s community? (Impoverished / High Need, Mostly low-income, Mix of low- and middle-income, Mostly middle income)

    Q28 How would you classify your school? (Urban (inner city), Suburban – Upper/Middle Class, Suburban – Middle/Lower Class, Rural – Small Town)

    Q30 How diverse is your student body? (0 – 10% Non-white, 11 – 20% Non-white, 21 – 30% Non-white, > 30% Non-white, Prefer not to say)

    Q34 What grades do you teach? (Pre-K, K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, OTHER (e.g., alternative school))

    Q36 How many years have you been teaching? (1-3, 4-7, 8-15, 16-23, 24+)

    Q38 What is your gender? (Male, Female, Prefer not to say, Other)

    Q42 How did you get into teaching? (Traditional teacher prep program, Alternative licensure route, Teach for America or similar, Post…)

    Q40 What subject(s) do you teach?

    Select the response that corresponds to your level of agreement.

    Please respond to the following statements with this question in mind: How have my online teaching experiences been so far?

    Q27 Students in my school’s boundaries have reliable connectivity/internet connections. (Strongly Agree, Agree, I don’t know, Somewhat disagree, Disagree)

    Q1 I know how to provide academically rigorous instruction online.(Strongly Agree, Agree, Not Sure, Disagree, Strongly disagree)

    Q2 My students have sufficient personal resources to benefit from online scho… (Strongly Agree, Agree, Not Sure, Disagree, Strongly disagree)

    Q3 I have sufficient instructional (curricular) resources to teach online. (Strongly Agree, Agree, Not Sure, Disagree, Strongly disagree)

    Q4 I feel my preservice teacher education experiences prepared me to teach in… (Strongly Agree, Agree, Not Sure, Disagree, Strongly disagree)

    Q5 I feel prior professional development (PD) has adequately prepared me to t… (Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree, No Online Teaching PD)

    Q6 I am confident in my online teaching abilities. (Strongly Agree, Agree, Not Sure, Disagree, Strongly disagree)

    Q7 Where have you obtained online teaching training? [Select all that apply] … (LIttle or none, Preservice TED program, District or School PD, Personal, Other: (specify)

    Q9 [RANKING TASK] Following are some commonly mentioned challenges to teaching online. Please rank them in order from 1 (most challenging) to 8 (least challenging) Little or no parental support; Not enough planning time; Limited real-time student feedback; My students’ age/developmental level; Limited home resources; Not enough instructional time; Limited school/district resources, Other)

    Q10 I am receiving ongoing mentoring from the following as I teach online: [Se… ] District; School; Colleague; Friend/Other; I receive no mentoring

    Q8 Traditional school practices (e.g., standards-based lessons; small group w… ) Yes, but I don’t know how; I could make the adaptations with time and support; No, they work the same online

    Open-Ended Questions

    Please provide as much detail as you wish for the following questions.

    Q14 How do you feel about the way your school year will end? Why?

    Q15 What insights into teaching have you gleaned from teaching online?

    Q16 Do you believe this experience will change schooling when you return? Why or why not?

    Findings

    The remainder of this Report focuses on the Utah teacher responses, since they provided the greatest number of responses (n = 535). Utah also is where our institution is located, and Utah teachers constitute the vast majority of school teachers with whom we work. Data from the other states we surveyed is available on request. 

     Response to Statements 

    Across the variety of school contexts and teacher backgrounds surveyed, teacher responses highlighted the following: 

    • The majority of teachers (2/3) agreed that students do not have either the personal resources (Q2) or Internet connectivity (Q27) to benefit from online instruction, and there is a strong statistical relationship between those two issues (Chi-Squared p < .00001; Cramer’s V Effect .405).
    • Teachers were split about their ability to provide academically rigorous online instruction (48% agree/strongly agree and 52% not sure/disagree), but they were consistent in responding to related statements about self-efficacy and having sufficient online resources. That is, if a teacher agreed she was able to provide rigorous instruction, she also likely agreed that she had sufficient resources, and felt confident in doing so (Q6).
    • There was no consistent relationship between the number of years teaching (Q36) and teachers’ preparation to teach online (Q5) or their confidence in doing so (Q6).
    • Not surprisingly, the highest percentages of teachers who agreed/strongly agreed that students do not have reliable Internet access (Q27) teach in Urban or Rural-County schools. Three-fourths (74%) of the teachers in each setting agreed/strongly agreed.
    • 25% of teachers reported receiving no ongoing mentoring as they taught online (Q10).
    • Two-thirds of teachers recognized that online instruction requires significant adaptations (Q8), but they either didn’t know how (6%) or would need time and support (56%). All responses to this statement were the same regardless of number of years teaching (Q36).
    • Only one-third of teachers (34%) agreed/strongly agreed that prior professional development prepared them to teach online (Q5). About 1 in 6 teachers (16%) indicated they had no prior professional development for online teaching.

    Question 9 was a ranking task with seven commonly mentioned challenges to teaching online and an “Other” option. The top two items were Little or No Parental Support and Limited Home Resources. At first glance this might seem like a typical teacher complaint about parental support. But taken in the context of teachers’ other responses about their willingness and ability to teach online, the resources to do so, and open answers about the numbers of students who participated minimally or not at all, the role of the home in successful online instruction cannot be overstated.            

    These responses and relationships, along with others not reported here, suggest that there is much work to do if the state’s digital goals for Recovery Phases 2 and 3 (USBE, 2020a, 2020b) are to be realized: 

    • Phase 2: Develop and implement digital opportunities for review and catch up.
    • Phase 3: Apply lessons learned from remote instruction to inform methods for personalizing instruction and validating learning that occurs outside the classroom

    Recognition and utilization of the kinds of teacher knowledge we (and others) have gathered will be crucial if such goals are to be effectively met. Ironically, such knowledge has not usually been viewed as “evidence-based” in the US because the knowledge is not produced within randomized controlled trial designs, which Hong and Rowell (2019) viewed as inappropriate or improper in social sciences for most educational research situations. The recent state initiatives and preliminary teacher responses reported on in this Report suggest that Utah is moving ahead with next year’s school plans without widespread input from teachers.

    Open-Ended Responses            

    There were three open-ended questions included as part of the Survey. Salient responses and the frequency of keywords from each question are summarized below. 

    How Do You Feel About the Way the School Year Will End? 

    The most frequent sentiment was “sad” (n = 130). More than one in five teachers (23%) used the word to describe the sudden disconnection with students and the abrupt end to the school year. Teachers also lamented the fact that anywhere from 20-30% of students simply “disappeared”; they didn’t respond to any online instruction or contact. “Disappointed” (n = 36) was used primarily to describe the lack of formal “closure” (n = 64). As alluded to in the title, many teachers felt they really didn’t teach effectively the last few weeks: “My students did not get the depth of instruction…”; “The relationship between myself and the students has decreased…”; “I was not my best teacher self”. Many judged the experience optimistically: “Best it could be under the circumstance”; “Good under the circumstances”; “…we are making the best of a bad situation”. However, none of those statements were elaborated on. In contrast, comments that expressed frustration and disappointment almost always specified why: “…lack of response from students and parents”; “I cut back and cut out a lot of material”; “…a lot of my students [will get] a passing grade because of the do no harm instructions…”. 

    What Insights Into Teaching Have You Gleaned from Teaching Online? 

    The vast majority of comments were student-centered (n = 300) and recognized the roles of interaction, feedback, and relationships in meaningful learning: “It’s not so much about content (they can internet search for content) but it’s about safety and relationships for these kids”; “I learned [the importance of] student relationships and creating connections”; “It is all about human connection. There is no point to education if we are not going to build relationships with our students.” Although we expected teachers to mention some pedagogical insights, it is not surprising that responses overwhelmingly referred to the socio-emotional aspects of school, especially at this time of widespread societal unrest and uncertainty (Imad, 2020). 

    Do You Believe This Online Experience Will Change Schooling When You Return? 

    Here, responses generally fell into two categories: 1) a belief that educators will do more with online learning tools; and 2) and a hope that schools will focus on important aspects of learning. Regarding the second, two comments in particular stood out: “I hope that it will change school. I hope that we will all throw out all of the nonsense activities that we do as a time filler and just teach valuable strategies.”; “We have had to ask the hard questions about WHY we are teaching what we teach, identify what is truly critical for students to know and do, and determine effective means for students to do this work and demonstrate learning. For me, this experience has forced me to be a more focused educator and to be more adaptive to individual student needs.” 

    Recent Developments

    Since the conclusion of the Survey and as mentioned at the outset, on June 29th the State Board of Education announced conditions for all schools to reopen in the Fall (USBE, 2020c). Districts are required to submit a plan by August 1, 2020 following a Template provided by the state (USBE, 2020c). This 7-page document contains more than two dozen areas for compliance, such as Communication, Enhanced Safety, and Mitigation Tactics. While health and safety are (and should be) of paramount importance, none of the items address instructional considerations. Along with school reopening requirements, the state has proposed a “Three Phases of Recovery” process (USBE, 2020a, 2020b).

    Phase 1: Address the Essential 5. Spring 2020 constituted Phase 1, where schools were expected to “continue providing learning opportunities for all students” while mitigating the spread of the virus.

    Phase 2: Bridge Learning Gaps. Summer 2020 is Phase 2. Educators are to assess learning gaps, provide small group and individual tutoring, and offer “digital opportunities” for catch-up.

    Phase 3: Return and Reimagine. Phase 3 provides goals for the coming school year. This Phase will rely on “assessments” to determine learning “baselines” in order to continue individual and small-group instruction. It also will apply the Spring’s teaching and learning experiences to create more personalized learning. In light of these developments, the lead author quickly sent a brief query to 91 teachers enrolled in his Summer classes.

    Teachers were asked about 1) their involvement in preparations for Fall, 2) whether they expected to be involved in the Plan due August 1st, and 3) to what extent they expected schools to respond to students with greatest needs. Twenty-three (23) teachers have responded so far. Of those 23, 13 have not had or do not expect to have much input into the Fall arrangements, four have had clear and consistent involvement, and six have “sort of” been involved (primarily in the form of a survey about different options). Only one teacher shared having the opportunity to speak directly with the Superintendent, the Principal, and expecting to be involved in the district Plan. Another teacher asked specific questions about possible changes, shared research pro and con about those changes, was thanked for her input and has not heard back. The Superintendent indicated that “all stakeholders” would be involved in decisions, but the list of those to be involved showed nurses, administrators, parents, etc. but did not include teachers. When she asked about the omission, the teacher was told the list was “not exhaustive”, but while a parental survey has since been distributed, she has not received one for teachers. Her summation of the experience so far is “unbelievably disappointing”, and she ended her response with “Thanks for asking!!!” 

    Conclusions and Next Steps

    The last four months have made crystal clear the many things educators, parents, and society at large take for granted about school. Parents have realized the fortitude it takes to be with 25+ pre-adolescents for six hours a day. Teachers have realized (or realized more deeply) paramount importance of the interpersonal nature of teaching and learning. The COVID-19 virus has also forced us all to confront the fact that even in the 21st Century, there are still fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of school to answer. Perhaps most importantly for this forum, our findings indicate that teacher voices are still not consistently heard when it comes to decisions about schooling. The switch to online instruction occurred quickly and without planning, and many teachers felt unprepared for the change and the expectation that in many respects they continue with “business as usual”. Although both teacher preparation programs and district professional development include use of technology, too many teachers ended up relying on colleagues or muddling through on their own. A tacit assumption that today’s generation are practically born technologically literate was contradicted by the fact that large sectors of the community had little or no adequate Internet access, and that many parents and students did not know how to use the learning platforms and materials schools offered them. Finally, and perhaps most disturbingly, significant numbers of students simply didn’t avail themselves of what was offered. When face-to-face school ended they just disappeared. 

    We are using these findings in two areas so far. At the pre-service teacher preparation level we will include principles of online instruction throughout our program. In addition to typical “tech-assisted” skills and strategies, we want prospective teachers to understand what can be gained, as well as lost, when teaching entirely online. While remote instruction may not be ideal across the board, there are ways to take advantage of the individualized and self-instructed opportunities it offers (Dobransky, 2020). Second, we are encouraging our graduate teachers to apply lessons learned in formulating their practitioner research studies, which our program requires of all Master’s candidates. A few of our current Master’s candidates have already done so. For example, one teacher will be looking at the effects of the soft closure on school personnel. Another will investigate how to best organize the material she does put online; and a third will examine unequal access to the Internet. As the next school year unfolds, there will be many more opportunities for teachers to step up, be heard, and advocate for schools that care at least as much about the person as about the outcome (Noddings, 2013). Teacher-educators’ role is to encourage, stand with, and support those teachers.  

    References

    Dobransky, D. (2020). COVID-19: An Experience by a School Staff Coping with the Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge_base/covid-19-an-experience-by-a-school-staff-coping-with-the-crisis/

    Governor Gary R. Herbert (2020, March 13). Retrieved Jun 30, 2020 from https://governor.utah.gov/2020/03/13/gov-herbert-announces-two-week-dismissal-of-utahs-public-schools/#:~:text=SALT%20LAKE%20CITY%20(March%2013,novel%20coronavirus%20in%20our%20communities 

    Hong, E. & Rowell, L. (2019). Challenging knowledge monopoly in education in the U.S. through democratizing knowledge production and dissemination. Educational Action Research, 27(1), 125-143. 

    Imad, M. (2020, March 17). Hope matters. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved July 2, 2020 from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/03/17/10-strategies-support-students-and-help-them-learn-during-coronavirus-crisis 

    Noddings, N. (2013). Education and Democracy. NY: Teachers College Press. 

    Seale, C. (2020, May 19). Parent Involvement Has Always Mattered. Will The COVID-19 Pandemic Finally Make This The New Normal In K-12 Education? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/colinseale/2020/05/19/parent-involvement-has-always-mattered-will-the-covid-19-pandemic-finally-make-this-the-new-normal-in-k-12-education/#38d6ed145e46 

    Tanner, C. (2020, April 21). It’s been 5 weeks and thousands of Utah students still haven’t logged on for school amid the coronavirus. Salt Lake Tribune. https://www.sltrib.com/news/2020/04/21/its-been-weeks-thousands/ 

    Utah State Board of Education. (June, 2020a). Three Phases to Recovery. https://schools.utah.gov/file/09e18d3b-91e6-46a2-a2e8-b513f18ecbd0 

    Utah State Board of Education. (June, 2020b).  Three Phases to Recovery: Resource Hub for Utah’s Educators and Families. https://schools.utah.gov/file/87cac4a3-1ced-464e-8286-1e1d11236335 

    Utah State Board of Education. (June, 2020c).  Reopening schools. https://schools.utah.gov/coronavirus?mid=4985&aid=1  [contains link to reopening requirements and planning Template]   

    To cite this work, please use the following reference:

    Judd, J., Rember, B. A., Pellegrini, T., Ludlow, B., & Meisner, J. (2020). “This is Not Teaching”: The Effects of COVID-19 on Teachers. Retrieved from https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge_base/this-is-not-teaching-the-effects-of-covid-19-on-teachers/

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