Uncharted Instruction: Florida Educators Adapting to COVID-19 and Looking Ahead to the 2020-2021 School Year
The Professional Educators Network of Florida released a survey to educators to learn more about their perspectives about distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The main purpose of the survey was to learn more about how distance learning affected teachers, to give them a platform to tell about what worked, what didn’t, and what they felt that they could do better. Hundreds of educators across the state responded, most being classroom teachers with ten or more years of experience. The results were both informative and constructive, and their perspectives have potential to guide the future of Florida Education. However, there was not a general consensus about how educators feel about returning to schools in the fall–and what form that return should take. The opinion to return or not, whether virtual or in-person, seemed depending on an educator’s age, quality of health, and other personal responsibilities he or she may have. Therefore, the responses were varied and at times, seemingly contradictory. The survey questions ranged from educators’ opinions of how successful online learning was overall, barriers to success for students and teachers, student engagement and inclusion, as well as safety and health concerns. While the majority of the respondents had a favorable view of the transition to online learning overall, they were concerned about how to help the “invisible students”, the ones that lack reliable internet access, the ESE or ELL students, or the ones that do not have parents available to support their learning. Additionally, one of the major concerns across the board is how to ensure that schools will be safe enough to return to: many of the respondents did not see how students could effectively social distance or how smaller class sizes could consistently occur. There were many suggestions on how to improve the situation for future school closures, many of which were practical and creative. See the details of the results at the link below.
Professional Educators Network of Florida Educators Survey: COVID-19 and Distance Learning Survey
Educators responded from all over the state of Florida, and this survey included PEN Members as well as non-members.
Nearly 83% of the respondents are classroom teachers.
Most respondents are veteran teachers, with nearly 55% having taught for more than 10 years.
Over 85% of the respondents rated the transition to online learning, 1 being very poor to 5 being excellent, as a 3 or above. About 14% rated the overall experience a 2 or below.
The educators that found this format to work described helpful factors such as the use of Google, flexibility with assignments, and strong existing relationships with students.
Educators cited many challenges to transitioning to online learning, but the most prevalent challenges were students having internet access and converting lessons to an online format.
Additionally, over 13% cited the largest challenge to online learning as personal responsibilities of caretaking for others in their household.
Many commented that the lack of parental involvement, the disappearance of the “invisible” students (ESE, ELL, those living in poverty), and the speed/lack of training was especially challenging. Many teachers that taught younger grades–kindergarten and first grade in particular–had a very hard time making the online format work well.
The majority of the respondents rated student engagement with online learning to be a 3 (43.1%) or 4 (25.5%) out of five.
The survey’s free responses revealed that a major reason that students were not engaged was lack of internet access along with low motivation. Having parental support was cited as a crucial component to student engagement. Several teachers addressed the engagement and parental involvement issue by offering online meetings in the evening so working parents were more likely to be present. Some suggested that sending home more manipulatives for the younger students may be helpful for better engagement.
The situation for ESE and ELL students was more dire in the perspective of the respondents. Overwhelmingly, the educators cited that these groups of students did not fare nearly as well with an online format. The needs of these students did not get met in their opinion.
However, educators rated their students’ overall readiness for the next grade level to be slightly lower, with 32.3% rating it as a 3 and 23.5% as a 2.
Respondents elaborated on their perspectives with suggestions to improve student readiness for the next grade level. Ideas ranged from using more face-to-face time for students to practice effective online learning, the availability of more targeted support to struggling students, and for classes to be available during the summer. One of the most frequently mentioned improvements to help students to be more prepared was to give teachers more training and support for online learning.
There were many student needs that educators are concerned about. The needs that topped the list were food insecurity, access to mental health counseling, child care, and parental access to employment services.
Educators were varied with their caretaking responsibilities during the pandemic, with a little over 40% having no one besides themselves to care for, and 31% having children under 18 to care for.
Respondents a variety of suggestions to help relieve the level of burden when it comes to having a simultaneous role of both educator and caretaker:
- A way to offer child care for teachers was one of the top suggestions educators had.
- Allowing teachers to enter the physical building to have a space to work without interruption.
- Schools systems to put into place flexible timelines, realistic expectations, and clear schedules in order to safeguard the teachers and students.
Most of the educators that responded rated their level of concern for their safety/health as a 3 or above when it came to returning to school in the fall.
Among the concerns that educators specifically pointed out, several emerged as the top worries:
- Inability to truly social distance, even with smaller class sizes.
- Younger students may not be able to properly socially distance and keep themselves germ-free.
- Parents sending sick children to school.
- Many of the respondents felt more apprehension because they fell into a high-risk group because of either age or health conditions that may make contracting COVID-19 more dangerous.
Educator pay/staff cuts were also a huge concern as a potential result of the COVID-19 crisis.
While there has been no official word from legislators or the Department of Education regarding pay cuts or mass staff reductions, educators are still worried about the future given the economic climate COVID-19 has created. Most have cited concerns about the pay raises lasting or whether certain positions will be eliminated because there are no children in the building (coaches, gym teachers, etc). Additionally, respondents commented that to either cut pay or give teachers more responsibility would cause teachers to leave the profession.