Virtual School Is Weighing on Teachers
young teacher’s heartbreak was palpable. “The
main reason I became a teacher was to interact with students and help
them with their social and emotional learning,” he said,
shaking his head. “And I’m not getting that.”
was one of dozens of K–12 teachers in the United States and United
Kingdom who shared their experiences recently for a report by our
company on the COVID-19 pandemic’s continuing impact on education.
Speaking by video, educator after educator said the unprecedented
2020-21 school year is causing them multidimensional anxiety.
long list of worries includes the frustrations of providing a remote
experience similar to a traditional classroom setting, difficulties
engaging students virtually, technology blips, and concerns about
amplification of the socio-economic digital divide.
no immediate return to normalcy in sight as vaccines are slowly
rolled out, teachers’ stress level appears to be rising. So is
their feeling that others—from
administrators to the general public—aren’t
taking their concerns to heart, beyond lip service about how valued
these laments likely aren’t surprising to those in the education
field, it was powerful to hear them shared so candidly, and it’s
impossible not to empathize as these public servants grapple with
previously unimaginable challenges.
theme expressed repeatedly in the conversations was that while Zoom
school is better than no school, teachers are struggling with trying
to provide the same quality of instruction as in the physical
in the end, don’t think it’s possible. Classroom
management, socio-emotional learning, and monitoring of student
success are all suffering, they asserted.
that virtual instruction is all bad. Several teachers said they like
how digital conferencing apps allow them to teach synchronously and
enjoy the flexibility of teaching live or recording on-demand lessons
for students to watch at their own pace or at a later time.
also have found that digital conferencing is good at facilitating
one-on-one communication with students and their families or
caretakers, and can help engage students by building virtual breakout
sessions for projects and more manageable class discussions.
they’re also disheartened by a number of drawbacks. Almost every
teacher who spoke to us bemoaned the lesser human connection in
virtual environments. The teacher quoted at the beginning of this
article was far from the only one who said they got into teaching to
build relationships and trust with students and miss the in-person
interaction in school.
also reported difficulties in engaging students in the virtual
classroom, such as getting them to be honest and speak up when they
have an idea or need help.
Issues for Students
are an issue, with teachers unable to control what’s happening in
students’ homes during their lessons and feeling that they’re
always competing for their attention.
glitches with apps, platforms, microphones, and internet connections
are frequently disruptive.
teachers worry that socio-economic and technological inequalities
impact how easily students can access educators, other students, and
of this has left many teachers overwhelmed and exhausted. Their jobs
were extremely time-consuming to begin with and now they’re working
even harder as they adapt to new methods and technologies.
Short- and Long-Term Adaptations
are they adapting? Many are spending less time lecturing and more
altering lesson plans for digital settings and incorporating more
visuals, discussions, and group-work assignments.
integrating supplemental teaching and collaboration apps into digital
conferencing and devoting extra time to keeping up with remote
they’re building “off-task” time into lessons to increase
empathy between teacher and student, and student with fellow student.
of the teachers who spoke to us said they probably wouldn't use
virtual communication tools post-pandemic, at least not for classroom
education. “I don’t think I’m going to have a use for it in
terms of my classroom,” a female teacher said before adding with a
smile, “I would
to see if for staff meetings.”
many had suggestions to help improve the digital experience, such as
providing instructional/tutorial materials for educators, students,
and families to more quickly learn and use new technologies and tech
also like to see a number of improvements to digital conferencing
tools, such as the ability to pre-assign small groups/breakout rooms
before class rather than during class time, control when students can
see each other to cut down on distractions, and toggle between seeing
the students’ faces and their screens in order to offer quicker
the coronavirus vaccines bring hope that teachers and students can
return to traditional classroom settings in the coming months, nearly
three-quarters of teachers we surveyed felt they should be considered
a priority group for the shots but not ahead of medical professionals
and other first responders.
expressed concerns about the safety of and long-term side effects
from the quickly developed vaccines, but nearly all agreed that the
benefits outweighed the risks.
in our report deeply yearn to return to the classroom. Although
technology has provided a stopgap, it simply can’t replace the
in-class experience. Let’s hope they get their wish soon.
About the Author
Estes is Chief Insights Officer at
human insights platform.