Elevating Teacher Voices in the Midst of a Pandemic

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In late May, Expect More Arizona conducted a voluntary survey of Arizona educators. We asked participants to reflect on the overnight shift to remote instruction, and to share their thoughts and concerns for the upcoming school year.

Many themes emerged, but none more profoundly than this: our state’s teachers care deeply about their students and can’t wait to get back to the classroom as soon as it is safe. While teachers are concerned about catching students up academically, they generally feel confident in their ability to do so. Of greater concern is helping support the social and emotional needs of each student – whatever that may look like. This highlights the need for schools have the resources to support counselors, psychologists, nurses and others who can meet kids where they are and help them adjust as best as possible to the new ‘normal.’

Health and safety was also a big theme of the survey. Approximately two-thirds of the nearly 10,800 respondents indicated that the health and safety of staff and students is their biggest concern. When in-person, teacher-led learning resumes, teachers hope to see rules requiring educators and students to stay home if they are sick; strict sanitation procedures and access to cleaning products in the classroom; clear protocols and procedures for staff, parents, and students (everyone that might interact on the school campus); and professional cleaning of classrooms every day.

Equity and concerns about widening achievement gaps also played prominently in the survey results. Despite concerted efforts by school leaders, community organizations and businesses, educators shared that not all of their students have access to the internet or to an internet-enabled device. We also know that many students did not have access to a caring adult at home to support their distance learning. It’s clearer now than ever before that the inability to attend school in person disproportionately impacts youth living in poverty and exacerbates existing challenges. Survey results also showed there is a need to better serve English language learners and special education students.

Complete survey results are available online, yet they represent only a snapshot in time. School leaders and teachers continue to do their absolute best to respond to an ever-changing environment, with a focus on supporting student success and keeping everyone as safe as possible. Students, educators, parents and caregivers are anxious to get kids back in classrooms. In the end, students will be best served if we all focus on working together, being patient and respectful, and assuming good intentions, as everyone works toward creating safe environments to support success for all students in these unprecedented times.