April 9, 2020 | Kian Northcote
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the U.S., K-12 schools face a now-familiar dilemma: Continue with face-to-face classes, or switch back to hybrid or even full-time remote learning?
Many states are trying to avoid further disruption by keeping schools open and instead focusing on developing COVID-safe learning environments.
But how do teachers feel about in-person teaching during a pandemic that’s showing little sign of slowing down across the country?
It’s a question we asked more than 2,700 educators currently teaching face-to-face classes, and our findings reveal that many teachers still have legitimate concerns around school safety.
Here are three key takeaways from our survey.
- Teachers feel schools should do more to prioritize their safety.
- Practical policies would help teachers feel safer in class.
- Teachers believe more should be done to tackle mental health issues.
Teachers feel schools should do more to prioritize their safety.
Since the early stages of the pandemic, many schools have employed a mix of in-person and hybrid classes to help tackle the spread of the virus.
In fact, 80% of teachers we surveyed now use a combination of both methods.
The answer comes as no surprise because hybrid, or blended learning, means there is less risk of exposure for both staff and students, while some social and classroom interaction is still maintained.
But looking ahead, schools should only use hybrid models to supplement face-to-face learning in K-12 schools when possible. Most teachers will happily tell you that it’s in the classroom where they’re best able to develop strong connections with students.
But despite the majority of teachers favoring a return to full-time in-person classes, health and safety remain a significant concern.
99% of participants we surveyed not only highlighted health and safety as a top priority, but 66% also feel that their school is not taking health and safety seriously enough.
No wonder some states have a hard time convincing educators it’s safe to teach in the classroom.
So, what advice would teachers give schools for developing safer learning spaces?
Practical policies would help teachers feel safer in class.
90% of schools across the US have implemented new policies on social distancing guidelines, including mandatory cloth masks, frequent hand washing, and the spacing out of classroom desks.
The results from our survey suggest some schools’ measures may not be consistent enough.
With safety measures in mind, we asked teachers how they felt about returning to the classroom.
The response was eye-opening.
70% of participants indicated that they either feel unsafe returning to face-to-face teaching or are not convinced their school is adequately prepared for classes to resume safely.
And when asked to list practical solutions they would like to see introduced, almost half of all teachers we surveyed listed smaller class sizes as vital to creating safer classrooms.
We know that COVID-19 spreads via respiratory droplets released through the mouth or nose, so smaller class sizes significantly reduce infection risk.
However, one of the dilemmas schools face is that smaller class sizes often result in more classrooms needing teachers, which proves difficult during a much-publicized teacher shortage.
Most teachers will happily tell you that it’s in the classroom where they’re best able to develop strong connections with students.
Teachers believe more should be done to tackle mental health issues.
When schools discuss mental health and wellness policies, it’s usually students who are their primary concern.
This is understandable because we still tend to view teachers as responsible adults who are better equipped to deal with trauma.
But teaching can be a challenging job, with long hours and a perceived lack of support among some educators contributing to high levels of stress and anxiety, leading to mental illness and burnout.
But the uncertainty and fear caused by COVID-19 has only exasperated these issues.
A recent nationwide poll by the National Education Association (NEA) revealed how more than a quarter of teachers are considering walking away from the profession because of the pressure applied by school leaders who are following the governments’ orders to keep schools open.
Not enough consideration has been given to the psychological well-being of teachers and our research supports this indifference.
Although 58% of schools across the country have implemented mental health and wellness protocols, our detailed infographic shows how this compares unfavorably with other key protocols that schools have prioritized during the pandemic.
We also learned that less than half of all schools had provided training on mental health and wellness.
It’s not surprising then that 44% of teachers who participated in our survey feel that school leaders don’t prioritize mental health and wellness.
Schools need to listen to their teachers.
Health and safety is clearly a major concern, with more than 90% of surveyed-teachers stating their preference for working at a school that values better working conditions.
Post pandemic, schools will be under greater pressure from both parents and educators to develop and maintain comprehensive health and safety policies.
On the one hand, our research highlights that schools are taking steps to promote safer spaces for staff and students.
Still, it also reveals that schools must do more to convince teachers that its safe to continue in-person lessons without compromising either the educators’ or students’ health and well-being.
We know that health and safety at school is a priority. That’s why, together with Johns Hopkins School of Education, we launched a brand new training course called the Safe and Healthy Schools certification program.
This exciting new program emphasizes health and safety from a holistic perspective.
Plus, it specifically addresses challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and provides practical resources, solutions and training that can help make school a safer place to learn.
Get the training your school needs to create and maintain safe and healthy learning environments. Learn more about this course at our course overview.
For more great insights on how teachers feel about teaching during a pandemic, check out this informative infographic we created!