'We’re exhausted': teachers overwhelmed by online transition

A major survey of 3,500 teachers from all sectors from Australia and New Zealand reveals a lack of confidence in meeting students’ learning needs online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report by education researchers at Pivot Professional Learning, in partnership with Education Perfect (EP), collected and analysed how teachers have been coping during the unprecedented transition to online learning.

Almost half of the respondents were not confident in their ability to meet student learning needs online, with one teacher saying: “It is like being a beginner teacher all over again, as you don't know what works or doesn't work well”.

Teachers also reported significant increases in demands on their time, with 70% saying planning time had increased either “slightly” or “significantly.” Responses included references to an “exponential” workload increase. One wrote: “We’re exhausted”.

Many teachers are also feeling socially isolated, with one saying: “Not only do we teachers miss the social connection with our students, we miss being with our colleagues and friends… teaching is successful when connection is strong”.

About 80% believed students would need extra instructional support when they got back to school. Primary teachers were the most concerned group of the impact of COVID-19 on learning.

Pivot Professional Learning CEO, Amanda Bickerstaff, said this not only indicates that teachers believe that a disruption to learning has happened for most students and but that equity issues have been exacerbated by the shift to distance education.

“Lower income, indigenous, students with disabilities, English learners and our youngest students are experiencing a much more significant impact to their learning and lives due to COVID-19,” Bickerstaff told The Educator.

“I believe that teachers will be able to provide better support when things get back to ‘normal’,  but I think there is an opportunity for schools and systems to help teachers strategize and prepare for a return that meets students’ needs”.

Bickerstaff said the crisis provides an opportunity to bring some innovations currently being rolled out in by schools back to the classroom and to leave behind some traditional strategies that may no longer be effective.

Technology the key to success

The report found that 72% of teachers in Australia consider a high quality platform as the most critical need for teaching online.

With schools using between two and five technologies to support distance learning, each was rated by teachers from just under 50% satisfaction up to more than 80% for key features like ease of use, ability to engage students and assess student learning.

Platforms with digital curriculum were rated the highest across features and confidence, possibly due to how planning and preparation time required less time: content was available, rather than having to be built. Teachers are able to focus on teaching, not building content.

Teachers reported differing levels of confidence in various technologies being used for teaching remotely.

Those whose primary technology was a video conferencing software were twice as likely to be ‘not at all confident’, which may in part be due to these technologies being general collaborative tools and not created to support teaching and learning.

So, what now?

The report made several recommendations, including prioritising student feedback, increasing opportunities for relationship-building and recognising and celebrating the work being done in schools across the region.

Bickerstaff said another important takeaway from the report is the need to prioritise the social aspects of schooling in these disrupted times.

“Distance education does not replicate the social and academic aspects of the physical classroom for most, and it’s an opportunity to innovate on how to create more connected communities when students are learning at home,” she said.

Bickerstaff said distance education is now part of the ‘new normal’, as the possibility of moving again to this type of learning in the future is “very high”.

“Integrating technology and distance teaching pedagogy into teacher education, working to create more equitable solutions for distance learning and creating system and school-wide plans for another shift are priorities moving forward”.