Teachers reflections about spring transition to distance learning - AZEdNews
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Teachers reflections about spring transition to distance learning

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  • Shannon Sowby   |   Expect More Arizona

Teachers Took Part In Professional Development Courses At Chandler Unified School District’s Breaking Barriers For Excellence Equity Symposium At Hamilton High School From June 5-6, 2019. Photo By Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Expect More Arizona has released additional results from a May 2020 survey. This second phase of data highlight teachers’ reflections on school closures and distance learning last spring.

Survey results reveal teachers often struggled to contact their students, levels of student engagement varied widely, and educators worked more and relied on their own personal resources to teach their students.

Additionally, teacher responses showed there are still gaps in Internet and device accessibility for students, and there is a need to better serve special education and English language students.

“School closures last spring were unprecedented,” said Christine Thompson, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona. “Schools had to shift to distance delivery overnight, leaving both teachers and families to quickly adapt as best they could with the resources they had. As many schools transition to partial or full online instruction in the coming weeks, educators and school leaders have been working hard to address each of these issues.”

During the transition, only about half of teachers relied on online-only instruction, while 40 percent employed a hybrid approach with bothonline learning modes and paper packets. But not being physically at school meant that students would rely more heavily on home-based help; two-thirds of teachers shared that their students had an adult or older sibling at home helping them with their learning.

Only 14 percent of teachers responding felt that three-quarters or more of their students were engaged in distance learning. The majority (60%) of teachers said between 25 percent and 75 percent of their learners were engaged. Teachers shared that parent and family involvement, Internet and device accessibility, work not counting toward final grades per a statewide policy, student motivation, and constant contact from teachers all played a role in whether or not students were engaged.

“The immediate transition to distance learning was stressful for everyone,” Thompson added. “More than half of teachers called it difficult or very difficult and anecdotally we know that parents struggled to help their children stay engaged and navigate technology, while often balancing a full-time job and other responsibilities. It’s important for people to hear that the learning opportunities and expectations of students will undoubtedly be different when the new school year begins.”

While some teachers felt prepared or very prepared for the shift to distance learning (23%), a substantial majority said they were only somewhat (41%) or not prepared at all (35%) for the shift in at-home learning. The shift to distance instruction required teachers to extensively rely on their own personal resources (Wi-Fi 94%, phone 78%, etc.) and spend more time working, with 55% of teachers saying they worked some or significantly more than in a traditional classroom setting.

Fifteen percent of educators shared that very few of their students had access to the internet when schools first closed. Twenty-one percent communicated that very few of their students had access to an internet-enabled device. During school closures, close to half of teachers indicated that their schools/districts provided a device (45%), Wi-Fi hotspot (4%), or both (24%) to students who needed them, however 26% did not provide anything.

“Arizona’s opportunity gap was on full display last spring, and the state was reminded that too many still lack access to the wide variety of online resources available today,” said Thompson. “The inability to attend school in person disproportionately impacts youth living in poverty and exacerbates their existing challenges. We should not lose sight of these issues as the new school year begins.”

While a majority of those who responded were general education teachers, the survey asked for their perceptions of how special education and English language learner (ELL) students were served during the school closure. Thirty-nine percent felt that very few or no special education students had their needs met while 37 percent felt the same about ELL students.

The voluntary survey was conducted by Expect More Arizona. Nearly 11,000 K-12 teachers participated. Data was compiled and analyzed by Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and Decision Center for Educational Excellence, led by Kristi Glassmeyer, Jeanne M. Powers, and Joe O’Reilly.

The survey was conducted in cooperation with the Arizona State Board of Education and other groups who shared the survey with teachers, including the Arizona Department of Education, Arizona Charter Schools Association, Arizona Education Association, Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona School Administrators, Arizona K-12 Center, Arizona Education Foundation, Tucson Values Teachers and many more.

More detailed survey results can be found at ExpectMoreArizona.org/TeacherVoices.

About Expect More Arizona

Expect More Arizona is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization bringing communities together to create positive change in education at all levels. For more information visit ExpectMoreArizona.org.