Expert point of view
New survey suggests teachers’ roles after lockdown are unsustainable, expectations need to be reassessed
Schools are back in person, but that doesn’t mean things are back to normal, according to our latest survey of 685 K-12 teachers from more than 500 school systems in 49 states. The full survey report, which also includes responses from nearly 400 K-12 administrators, is available on our website, ChristensenInstitute.org.
As of fall 2020, the Clayton Christensen Institute has been conducting a series of surveys to collect teaching snapshots and perspectives from teachers and administrators as U.S. K-12 schools navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. From mid-April to mid-May of this year, we collected 1,042 responses from a nationally representative sample of teachers. In October, we organized another round of data collection.
We’re just starting to process and analyze this data, but as we dive deeper, some of the most striking findings relate to how teachers deal with the current challenges on their plates. In many ways, their roles seem unsustainable. Is it time to rethink some of the fundamental approaches to K-12 education?
Teachers face new struggles
The situation of teachers has changed radically. While the results of last spring’s survey revealed that most teachers spent the school year primarily in distance or hybrid arrangements, this school year almost all teachers are back to teaching in-person. , as shown in the graphic below.
As the situation for teachers has changed, the nature of their struggles has changed. The following graph shows the proportion of teachers who identified various challenges as relevant to their experience.
What hasn’t changed for teachers?
While our latest survey reveals how much teachers have changed since the last school year, it’s also worth noting what hasn’t changed. The extent to which students’ social and emotional hardships due to the pandemic affect their classroom, for example, is virtually the same. Last spring, 62% of teachers identified this as a challenge; this fall, 60% did.
Some might have expected a decrease now that school is back in person. But the return to a more familiar setting hasn’t meant that the challenges of the pandemic don’t seep into the classroom. One teacher noted: “I am surprised by the main social / emotional issues faced by grade 4 and 5 students. It’s almost as bad as a kindergarten student when he starts school and cries for his parents. I have had 4th and 5th grade students crying saying they want their mom.
What are the biggest challenges for teachers right now?
Even with most schools returning to in-person instruction, major difficulties caused by COVID-19 persist. Student absenteeism (64%). COVID presents logistical challenges, with one teacher explaining that “it is also almost impossible to determine who is chronically absent and who is quarantined until their return, making it difficult to hold students accountable for homework.”
An equally important challenge for teachers was to hold students accountable for completing schoolwork (60%). As teachers strive to meet academic benchmarks, several have referred to the temptation others have to use COVID as an excuse to lower the bar. As one teacher noted, “Parents and school districts keep talking about how ‘hard’ this is for our students and give them free passes that don’t help students but allow them to. use the “cop” from “I’m a covid kid ‘.”
What else seems difficult?
A resounding chorus of comments in the open-ended section of the survey highlighted two major challenges that we did not explicitly question in the survey: 1) student behavior against school standards. school, and 2) teacher stress, burnout, and capacity overload. For example, one teacher said that “students forgot how to ‘go to school’… They forgot how to deal with deadlines, time management and what it was like to show up to the building 5 days a week . ”
Another teacher’s comments were typical of recurring workload statements:
“We are understaffed in every possible area, from bus drivers and guards to teachers and principals, and therefore constantly waste time planning to cover someone. This leads to ridiculously long hours when planning and scoring now has to be done 100% on our time most of the time. The teachers are more exhausted and exhausted than I have ever seen before and are leaving the classroom in droves, making the situation even worse. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to keep all of the balls we juggle up in the air all the time and the important things slip through the cracks more often than we’re comfortable with.
Should schools and educators rethink expectations?
Overall, the data from our latest survey raises an important red flag: even with the abandonment of distance learning, teaching is currently exceptionally difficult. Interestingly, however, these challenges are not rooted in threats to health and well-being, but in expectations.
Policymakers and society expect schools to ensure that students meet certain criteria for academic success at every grade level, but after more than a year of poor quality distance education, many students are falling behind. on the right track. Teachers expect students to follow certain standards of behavior for mainstream education to work, but after 18 months of unconventional schooling made worse by stress and social isolation, some students do not comply.
In light of these challenges, one temptation is simply to lower expectations. But it is a dangerous proposition, especially when expectations are often the lowest for the most disadvantaged students, to their detriment. Yet at the same time, expectations disconnected from reality are the recipe for failure.
Making K-12 education holistic and sustainable
What education needs right now is a reassessment of expectations.
Our society needs to broaden its narrow focus on test scores to take a more holistic look at all of the factors that affect student achievement and long-term development. One way to keep students on track for success may not be to double the acceleration with a secondary dose of remediation, but rather to figure out how to do mastery-based learning.