October 21, 2021

USB CF

The Education People

How teachers see the current health of the educational system

Introduction

From April 30 through May 20, Teacher Consultant Response Network members responded to a survey about their experiences with the reopening of their schools for in-person instruction amid the waning coronavirus pandemic.

One hundred thirty-six leading teachers responded to 27 survey questions and offered almost 1,900 thoughtful comments.

This spotlight focuses on teachers’ perspectives on the current health of the educational system as schools are reopening after distance learning for over a year. There are six sections in this spotlight:

The system response to reopening challenges

The data: Statements about the teachers’ perspectives on the reopening process

In the previous spotlight, we highlighted teacher responses regarding how their students were handling the transition to being back to school in person (Teachers reflect on how students are doing after returning to school). Here we look at other aspects of reopening schools: how Covid funds were spent and how the reopening plan, in general, is working out at their schools. We asked teachers the extent of their agreement with the following statements:

To note:

A majority of teachers expressed their dissatisfaction with the way funds were spent to prepare for schools to reopen.

  • Only one-third (35%) of teachers agreed with the statement, “In our district the re-opening plan makes sense and is going as well as it could.”
  • Over half (54%) of teachers agreed with the statement, “Some of the supplies, materials and technology purchased to support returning to school and hybrid teaching are poorly chosen and have not been worth the expense.”
  • Only one quarter (29%) agreed with the statement, “Our district has made good use of extra Covid-related resources that it received from state and federal sources.”

Comments

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The district administrators feel it is their duty to make the decisions about educational technology even though they have never taught in a classroom where it has been used. Then they felt it was their duty to make decisions about educational technology during the pandemic. That seems counterintuitive to me.

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

There was no real process in place for teachers to select appropriate technologies to use for hybrid and also transition to in-person. The selection of tech and tools that go beyond hybrid and enhance the classroom setting for all such as tracking cameras, screens with the use of translation, hubs to throw devices for sharing, apps, microphones and speakers, etc. have in-person uses that benefit and innovate learning.

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

I think some of the things we purchased were well-intentioned, but not necessary. I don’t really blame the district for that, though. We are all trying our best to figure this out.

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

The district purchased second monitors, Bluetooth speakers, and mics for every teacher to support concurrent teaching. Most of these devices are currently sitting in boxes as teachers realized “going back to basics” was best for teaching. Managing the extra devices proved to be too demanding and not a priority during concurrent teaching.

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

Our district bought thousands of plexiglass shields for each desk that are now being discontinued after only a few weeks. I cannot imagine the cost, and do not wish to imagine the waste involved.

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

The school board in my district wanted us to go back in person. Okay. That was done. Why are they still meeting on Zoom?

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

Teaching in the current environment

The data: Statements about the current conditions of education and their impacts on teachers

In this section, we asked teachers about the extent of their agreement with statements about their current teaching situation and whether they feel understood by policymakers, administrators and the public.

To note:

  • Almost all teachers (93%) of teachers agree with the statement, “The demand on teachers have never been greater than they are right now.”
  • Similarly almost all teachers (91%) agree with the statement, “Policymakers and the public do not understand what teachers are going through and how hard they are working to adjust to these new circumstances.”
  • Three-quarters of teachers (76%) also agreed with the statement, “Administrators in my school/district have no idea what it is really like to teach right now.”
  • As a result of the factors described above, many teachers (40%) agreed with the statement “I have increasing doubts about my ability and/or willingness to remain in the teaching profession.”

Comments

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The public has a distorted view of teachers — they have NO idea how hard I have worked this year. The administration thinks they know how it has been, but they have NO idea…

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

It is so disheartening to know that the majority of the policymakers — and the public — don’t realize and understand how challenging it has been to teach throughout the past year. I am filled with worry about my students’ well-being and guilt that I am not doing enough for them.

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

I’ve always seen myself as a strong person. Never would I have imagined needing to seek therapy and be put on antidepressants. District administration is so dumb and only cares about money — not the kids, not the teachers.

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

Unfortunately, I have thought about leaving the profession. I am 19 years into it and thought I would go another 10. However, if our District Office goes back to the way things were before the pandemic, I just can’t see myself staying in teaching. It’s totally demoralizing and discouraging.

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

I have given this school year everything I could throw at it and have experienced a lot of success with my students.

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

A person can only take so much before they break. I know that I am a damn good teacher. However, current policy will send me into another field of work before too much longer.

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

The pandemic will NOT chase me out of teaching — nor will the largely ignorant public. … I have received MANY compliments from families this year about how their child has progressed and how happy they have been. Anyone who says that this school year has been a total bust is not looking closely enough.

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

It is my district school board and district leadership — not students, parents, colleagues or site leadership — which has for the first time made me think about retirement.

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

I have never questioned my career choices as much as I have this year.

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

Many times I felt so frustrated that I just wanted to pull the plug and shut off my camera, but it was those eager students that wanted to learn and would sit there right on time every morning with a smile that could light up a room, that motivated me to keep going.

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

I have felt that our teacher voices, at least in my district, were silenced. The only thing I constantly read was TEACHERS YOU CAN DO IT! but at the same time I am certain they have NO clue how we have felt and how much of ourselves we have given so that we can teach our students.

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

I love my job. I used to spend every waking moment trying to be the best teacher for my students. After seeing how little I am respected by parents and how little support parents have given me I no longer want to teach.

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

I am pouring my heart and soul into something where no one cares. The students’ growing and learning used to keep me motivated but I don’t even have that this year. I am so scared that my love for teaching will not come back. I am NOT alone.

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

I have decided to retire this year because of all this craziness. It is totally unsustainable and our administration does not know what it is like at all.

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

The teaching profession is not highly valued when the safety of staff is a low priority and teachers’ lives are put on the line, as we saw — and continue to see — during this pandemic.

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

Many are retiring — if I could, I would …

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

Sources of support for teachers

The data: How teachers are being supported during the transition to reopening schools

In our first survey, we asked teachers about the usefulness of various sources of support for addressing challenges they faced while teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic (Challenge & Opportunity: Teachers weigh in on heartbreaks, breakthroughs of distance learning). In this section, we ask about these same supports within the context of teaching during the transition to reopening schools.

During this transition to reopening schools, to what extent do you feel you are being effectively supported by …


To note:

  • Most effective supports: More than half the teachers felt supported by the following sources to some extent or greater:
    • other teachers (79%)
    • online resources found through Google searches (69%)
    • their on-site administrators (68%)
    • professional organizations, newsletters, and journals (59%)
  • Less effective supports: Less than half of the responding teachers rated the following supports as being useful to some extent or greater:
    • district support/resources (42%)
    • county support/resources (27%)
    • state-level support (23%)
    • university-supplied support/resources (17%)

Comments

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The biggest support I have found is my fellow teachers.

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

Teachers are the ones in the trenches right now, so we are leaning on each other more than anything else.

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

There needs to be true collaboration among teachers and administrators … and not phony collaboration … The district has a tendency to bark out orders and principals comply. That is a sad case and goes against all ideas of true collaboration that is needed to move into the new era of education.

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

Our principal has been amazing in supporting all staff.

– A teacher in a middle school with 95% low-income students in the San Diego Area

When in doubt, I fall back on Writing Project ideas, units, lessons and strategies, and other teacher consultants to work with and collaborate.

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

I am a member of the Knowles Teaching Fellowship and the support that they have provided me during this time has been phenomenal. I was able to find funding for distance learning technology to help me while working from home.

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

As always, my greatest support are other teachers who completely understand the day-to-day challenges of teaching, and can offer a sounding board, advice, or just a laugh when I most need it!

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

Parents have been very supportive this entire year. Not a single parent has complained.

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

The best way for me to reach out for support was through my networks and social media. I believe that my personal network has a better pulse on the situation than my local school or district administration.

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

Sources of inequity in the educational system

The data: Teacher perceptions on sources of inequity that currently exist in education

In our first survey, teacher comments shed light on how the pandemic exacerbated inequities already existing in the educational system. For this survey, we articulated a set of specific conditions believed to produce inequities in teaching and learning and asked teachers to assess the extent to which they agreed. A majority of our teacher respondents agreed that the full set of conditions listed were substantial or very substantial sources of inequity.

To what extent do you feel that the following are current sources of inequity in the educational system:

To note:

  • Major sources of inequity: Two-thirds or more of teachers agreed that the following were substantial or very substantial sources of inequity:
    • home circumstances that undermine student motivation and learning (90%)
    • lack of system supports for students who are disengaged (85%)
    • the range of capacity among districts to support teachers and students (69%)
    • student and family lack of access to technology and the internet (67%)
  • Other sources of inequity: Other factors rated as substantial or very substantial sources of inequity:
    • range of curricular supports and other resources among different communities (64%)
    • pressure on teachers to meet accountability measures (60%)
    • the range of professional supports available to teachers to adjust to new challenges (57%)

Comments

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The Public also has no idea how bad our schools were in underserved areas before the pandemic. Over half our kids were already more than 1 year behind grade level. Schools now have to decide: are we going to meet our students where they are — or will we just worry about grade level standards. We didn’t have enough support before, it will be worse now if we don’t get more labor support.

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

Wealthy districts are always going to have greater resources to help all of their students. Unless educational funding formats change, this discrepancy in district income will always negatively impact students in poorer districts.

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

In underserved communities a high percentage of parents are not able to meet their children’s needs. That is why it is essential to increase spending at these underserved schools with more labor support — teachers, aids, specialists, custodians, secretaries, community liaisons.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 90% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey Area

Districts that are “high-performing” have less pressure to hit arbitrary testing targets or other numerical goals which lead to a narrowing of curriculum, less engagement, and the opposite of intended consequences.

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

I personally have felt that my students and I have been largely supported in my district overall, but I believe we are the exception, not the rule.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 17% low-income students in the North Coast

As long as school funding is determined by local property taxes, we will always have significant divides in the resources our schools receive and can in turn provide to families.

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

There are so many factors that contribute to inequity in the educational system. It is broken in many places, not to mention the few places listed in these survey questions. For example, the lack of available support personnel who can communicate in all languages in districts is a huge factor that contributes to inequities.

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

Teachers in our district are concerned about getting kids to grade level and counting AR words. This creates a false competition among the schools where students with resources win against students without resources. Teachers feel this pressure to compete and our Title 1 schools have been especially hit. Our principal is very supportive but this out-dated mindset continues to affect morale in our district.

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

All of these circumstances are why online learning was awful and inequitable. How can I fail a third grade student who had no babysitter so he had to go to his grandpa’s weekly kidney dialysis appointments where they left at 2 a.m. How do you fail a student who has one hot spot and many siblings and cousins all crammed into one room trying to hear their teacher teach? How can I fail a student who had a hot spot but lived in a motorhome with her five siblings.

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

The fact that there are schools where students have experienced almost zero learning loss this year speaks to the inequities in education. Where are those schools located? Who attends those schools?

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

Sadly, it seems that teachers in higher income districts have an easier time teaching their students — because there are less of the problems mentioned above. It truly exacerbates the divide, and it seems we teachers in low income districts are helpless to adequately address that divide.

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

Teacher priorities for policymakers

The data: Teacher prioritization of recommendations for addressing current challenges

In our first survey, we asked teachers if there was information they wanted to share with policymakers and other education leaders and organizations (What California teachers want policymakers to know). For this survey, we consolidated and categorized their responses into nine recommendations and asked them to assign a priority to each.

As schools are reopening, what would you now recommend to state and district policymakers to address current challenges? How would you prioritize the recommendations listed below?

To note:

  • Top priorities for teachers: Three-quarters or more of teachers said that the following were high or top priorities to recommend to state and district policymakers:
    • reduce class size and increase the number of professionals in schools (94%)
    • invest in meeting the social/emotional needs of students as they return to their schools (90%)
    • fix the school funding system so that greater equity, adequacy, and stability are realized (88%)
    • fully fund the education of students with disabilities (86%)
    • suspend standardized testing until schools have re-opened for an extended period of time (79%)
  • Other high priorities for teachers:
    • reinvent California’s accountability and support system to be useful to local districts, schools, and teachers (64%)
    • invest in teachers’ professional learning opportunities (63%)
    • overhaul teacher preparation so that new teachers are prepared to deal with the realities of teaching during and after the pandemic (48%)
    • invest in the development and distribution of curricular resources that address current challenges (46%)

Comments

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Class size is easily the most challenging part of teaching in my opinion. All of the other factors that make up being a teacher are exponentially more complex with each extra student added to a classroom. When I think of ideal class size I am envisioning 12 students maximum. A solid cohort of kids that really get to know each other and their teacher, and a teacher who has the capacity to differentiate and accommodate each learner.

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

Please give less wealthy districts the funds and support staff necessary to focus on students who need extra support.

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

Reducing class sizes is important so good teaching can happen. When there are too many students in class, teachers are overwhelmed and not as able to provide individualized instruction to meet students’ academic and socio-emotional needs.

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

I think reducing class size and focusing on social emotional needs of students in the fall would have a major impact on student success.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 17% low-income students in the North Coast

Socio-emotional learning is a top priority — without positive mental health, students are unable to function in a classroom.

– A teacher in a middle school with 42% low-income students in the Sacramento Area

When investments are to be made into the social/emotional needs of students and funding for greater equity, there needs to be a greater teacher voice at the table. Decisions that are made by districts, more often than not, are out of touch with what students and teachers need to thrive as we come out of pandemic.

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

I would recommend more labor support during contracted hours. This is essential — even one specialty teacher, resource specialist, or a few aids rotating would make a huge difference. … Most teachers know how to run an efficient class, they just don’t have support to do it during contracted hours.

– A teacher in an elementary school with 90% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey Area

I have grown so much as an educator since I began, and nearly all of that growth is a product of having embedded collaboration time in my teaching day to learn from (and with) my colleagues.

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

I would consider suspending standardized testing indefinitely, or at least revisiting how we do it. Classrooms spend simply too much time on testing, and it is stressful and lacks meaningful data for educators.

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

If this year has taught us anything, it is how to distill things down into what is really important. And standardized tests do not make that list. I truly believe they will cause more stress and harm, and will not offer any useful insight.

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

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