Last year, a team of nine educators from Australian, New Zealand, the US and Singapore lead by Associate Professor Louise Phillips from James Cook University conducted an international qualitative study of 635 teachers.
The survey, which opened in May, asked teachers how COVID-19 affected them and their students. Interestingly, of the 179 Australian respondents, 65% had over 21 years teaching experience, but less than 10% had experience teaching online.
Dr Melissa Cain, lecturer of Inclusive Education at the Australian Catholic University’s National School of Education, said the immediacy of the switch to online learning initially overwhelmed many teachers.
“A significant increase in their workload as well as a scramble to obtain technology access and the skills to use new apps and programs was noted,” Dr Cain told The Educator.
“The production and delivery of online teaching and learning materials was a challenge without adequate training and resourcing”.
Dr Cain said that while technology was one major theme, the other was the importance of relationships.
“Teachers underestimated their new role as counsellor for anxious students and parents, especially parents of students with special needs”.
One respondent said:
‘Not only had I very little experience with distance learning, but also little interest. I treasure face-to-face contact as I believe that teaching is about relationships, and it is far more difficult to establish relationships in an online environment.’
Dr Cain said the good news is that many parents have a gained a better understanding of what and how their child learns, and the complex and important job that teachers do.
“On reflection, while the swift change to online learning was stressful and taxing in many ways, and that the vast majority of teacher prefer face-face teaching, it is clear that Australian teachers are resilient, creative, and dedicated to their profession,” she said.
“They proved they are adaptive under extreme pressure”.
Should online learning be needed again in 2021, Dr Cain believes teachers will be better prepared with technological requirements and will know to prioritise personal connections with students and parents, demonstrating more patience, kindness, and empathy.
“They will be more flexible with content presentation and requests for extensions on assessment. They will know where and who to turn to for advice and utilise each other for support”.