Proceedings of a Workshop
COVID-19 and the K–12 Teacher Workforce: Seizing the Moment to Reimagine Education
Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief
Judith Warren Little (University of California, Berkeley, planning committee chair) opened the meeting by presenting its goals: hearing the experiences of teachers and principals, sharing new research conducted during the pandemic, and providing a forum for considering how both the pandemic and the movement for racial justice may alter priorities for education research and practice moving forward. In her introduction to the keynote presentation, Keisha Scarlett (Seattle Public Schools, planning committee member) noted that while the 2020 National Academies’ report recommended priorities for the future, it did not anticipate the subsequent tumultuous developments of the year; as a result, it may be necessary to reconsider the report’s conclusions. Like other crises, she said, those of 2020 present opportunities to “reimagine our expectations and aspirations for teachers, teaching, and schooling.”1
In her keynote address, Gloria Ladson-Billings (University of Wisconsin–Madison) called the current moment “a tale of four pandemics.” COVID-19 and systemic racism are the most obvious pandemics, she said; the others are an impending economic crisis and looming environmental catastrophes. While the situation is dire, Ladson-Billings quoted Arundhati Roy’s vision of these pandemics as a portal to a new world: “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred . . . or we can walk through lightly with little luggage, ready to imagine another world and ready to fight for it.” Ladson-Billings compared this action to addressing a malfunctioning smartphone, by doing a hard reset, we can “wipe the slate clean.”
1 Please refer to the link for the agenda and other materials: https://www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/covid-19-and-the-k12-teacher-workforce-a-workshop.
As a springboard for contemplating what this transition to a new world could look like, Ladson-Billings asked workshop participants to consider several questions:
- What assumptions were challenged during the pandemic (e.g., children cannot be trusted with access to electronic devices)?
- What is the role of social-emotional learning in education?
- What “counts” as learning (e.g., classroom learning vs. real-world experiences)?
- How can we put tests in the proper perspective?
- How can we focus on academic progress rather than meeting external standards?
- How do we help teachers understand disparities among students, the context in which their students live, and the challenges they face?
- How do we help the public understand the changing needs of education?
In the postpandemic environment, said Ladson-Billings, it is critical for educators to understand that not all students experienced the pandemic in the same way. Although it is often said that “we are all in the same boat,” some people “rode out the storm on a luxury liner” while others were “holding on to a bit of driftwood just trying to keep their heads above water.” Children who have experienced death and trauma, particularly in the hardest-hit Black and Latinx communities, may need resources and support to help them cope.
In closing, Ladson-Billings quoted Winston Churchill, who said “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Urging workshop participants to turn this moment into a movement by reimagining education, she listed several areas to prioritize. First, she said, there may be a need to move from remediation toward acceleration; for example, a school district in Minnesota has done away with remedial programs and now requires all students to take at least one honors or college-level course. Second, teacher recruitment may need to cast a wider net; she said, “If we keep bringing in who we have, we are going to keep getting what we have got.” Finally, she said, we may need to move technologies to the center. The pandemic has introduced new ways of teaching, and there will be a place for these technologies in a post-pandemic world. Ladson-Billings said she met one student who loved remote class because it allowed him to be in control of his learning and another student who said he learned more starting a podcast during the pandemic than he ever did in school; she stressed that “the young people are telling us something, and we need to be able to leverage these technologies.”
BEING A TEACHER: THE EXPERIENCE OF THE LAST YEAR
The 2020 National Academies’ report laid out how the context of teaching has evolved over the past two decades, said Huriya Jabbar (University of Texas at Austin, planning committee member). In particular, it highlighted the growing diversity of the student population, increasingly demanding expectations for student learning, and changing expectations for teachers. Despite these changes, she said, the report noted that the teacher workforce has remained relatively stable (e.g., largely White, female, and middle class) and that there is a lack of materials well aligned to the new expectations for teaching and learning.
Following the keynote address, the first workshop session featured two practitioners and three researchers who examined and described the experiences of teachers over the past year, including how teachers pivoted to remote learning and then back to in-person learning, how teachers adapted curricula and instruction in response to world events, and how these experiences varied by context and groups of teachers.
Alexis Miller (Southridge Elementary School, Lewisville, TX) said educators have been asking two questions. First, “Am I enough?” Second, “What frameworks at a structural level support my well-being so that I may serve my scholars better?” The events of the last year present an “opportunity to disrupt the cycle” of silence around the importance of self-care and mental health. Teachers have gone to great
lengths to share strength, compassion, empathy, and commitment with their students and families, and these sacrifices have impacted their own well-being. Now is the time, said Miller, to take a hard look at the core practices of educators and reevaluate how teachers can support and be supported. Miller said she is concerned about the sustainability of the teaching profession and the “invisible task that weighs on our shoulders,” particularly for those who are fighting more than one pandemic. However, she said she is encouraged by the young people who have found their voices and are asking important questions and sparking conversations that are catalysts for action.
Like many teachers, said Jena Nelson (Deer Creek Middle School, Edmond, OK), “I found myself having to completely transform the way I teach in March of 2020.” On the first day of remote school, no students showed up to Nelson’s class; she said this was a wake-up call to reflect on how to engage them in this brave new world. Teachers across the country changed their approaches and finished out the school year. While the experience was not perfect, said Nelson, it provided an opportunity to learn, observe, and focus on the most important components of education. Nelson noted that, like many, she was teaching online while also monitoring and helping her own children with their online classes. During the summer, Nelson’s duties as the 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year brought her into classrooms across the state, where she learned about the challenges and successes of teachers and student-teachers. Nelson stressed that a key priority could be continued focus on retention and the sustainability of the teaching profession. To recruit a workforce that will make a difference in the lives of children in this country, she said, “we are going to have to start changing rhetoric, changing policies, and start advocating for this profession.”
Teacher Experiences During the Pandemic
To support teachers going forward, said Matthew Kraft (Brown University), it is necessary to understand their experiences of the pandemic. Kraft told participants about research he and colleagues conducted that leveraged large-scale survey data to examine the challenges that emergency remote teaching presented for teachers and the role of their working conditions in supporting their efforts.2 Teachers reported a number of challenges that arose during the spring of 2020, when school buildings closed abruptly and teachers pivoted to emergency remote teaching, said Kraft. First, mid-career teachers, particularly women, reported difficulty balancing their work responsibilities with their caretaking responsibilities at home. Second, more experienced teachers had greater discomfort with technology; Kraft noted that support for teachers “likely needs to be differentiated based on their level of comfort with the type of technology that is required” for teaching. Third, teachers reported that students were less engaged in school, and students at schools with larger proportions of low-income and Black students faced greater challenges in accessing and regularly attending school. Kraft said that a range of factors contributed to these inequities, including the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on these communities, as well as less access to high-speed Internet and appropriate devices.
A key insight from this research, said Kraft, was that teachers’ working conditions varied substantially. Those who had less supportive working conditions reported a more significant decline in their sense of feeling successful at teaching. Further, he said, teachers who taught in a simultaneous hybrid model (teaching in the classroom and online at the same time) reported the highest percentage of negative working conditions. This research data, said Kraft, help to illustrate why organizational change—whether planned or unplanned—is likely to be more successful when schools have supportive working conditions that include strong communication, meaningful collaboration, and trusting relationships.
Lora Bartlett (University of California, Santa Cruz) described the Suddenly Distant Research Project,3 which surveyed and interviewed teachers during the pandemic and also followed a smaller focal group of teachers to chronicle their experiences. This study identified three main shifts in teachers’ work during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Bartlett: in the areas of technology, professional development, and work
2 Kraft, M.A., Simon, N.S., and Lyon, M.A. (2020). Sustaining a Sense of Success: The Importance of Teacher Working Conditions During the COVID-19 Pandemic. EdWorkingPaper: 20-279. See https://doi.org/10.26300/35nj-v890.
3 For more information on this project, see https://sites.google.com/ucsc.edu/suddenlydistant/home.
ing context. Prior to the pandemic, about 75 percent of teachers had very little experience with online teaching, and only 3 percent had substantial experience. As of April 2020, every teacher in the focus group was teaching in either a remote or hybrid model. As a result, teachers needed to quickly learn new technologies and adapt their curricula and pedagogical approaches. This need contributed to the rapid rise of emergent teacher-to-teacher knowledge networks; as Bartlett noted, it is typical in the early days of a crisis for new networks to emerge as people seek to cope and adapt. Seventy percent of the focus-group teachers reported that their colleagues were their main support and that they helped each other with issues by using digital communication tools (e.g., Facebook Messenger) throughout the day. There was also a rapid rise in social media networks, with new teacher groups enrolling over half a million teachers in the early days of the pandemic. Bartlett shared a story of a veteran teacher who, struggling with the digital tools required for remote teaching, reached out to a Facebook group asking for a Millennial who could help. A newer teacher in another state responded, and the two teachers met and worked together every week; the newer teacher helped the veteran with technology, while the veteran helped the newer teacher with scaffolding learning concepts. It was a “beautiful partnership,” said Bartlett.
The third shift was in teacher’s working context. In the spring of 2020, coping with uncertainty and little guidance, many teachers had newfound flexibility and autonomy to create school days and weeks that worked for their students. Many reported feeling “exhausted but satisfied” by the end of the school year. However, by the spring of 2021, teachers were feeling “exhausted and diminished,” said Bartlett. They were asked to teach in multiple modalities, adopt specific learning-management systems, and adhere to decisions that were made without their input. In addition, there were contentious debates and strong feelings about how schools should operate, and teachers were the subject of a great deal of public criticism. At the end of the 2020–2021 school year, teachers reported feeling more comfortable teaching in these new ways but worse about themselves as teachers. This strange paradox needs to be addressed as we move forward, concluded Bartlett.
Unique Challenges for Teachers of Color
While the past year was difficult for most teachers, Travis Bristol (University of California, Berkeley) said that teachers of color faced unique challenges. Like students of color, said Bristol, teachers of color change schools more often than White teachers, and Black teachers in particular have high rates of turnover. Kraft attributed this turnover to a number of factors, including the fact that teachers of color disproportionately teach in the highest-need schools, carry higher debt loads, are more likely to enter with alternative routes of preparation, are less likely to have the opportunity for mentorship, and may experience a hostile race environment and microaggressions. Teachers of color can experience social-emotional challenges due to racially hostile environments; Bristol said that Black male teachers interviewed during the past year reported feeling alienated because of the anti-Black racist beliefs of their colleagues.
Bartlett had spoken about teachers’ reliance on their colleagues during the pandemic; Bristol, by comparison, said that teachers of color are less likely to ask for help when they are the only teachers of color at their school. Professional learning communities can help teachers of color learn, share, grow, and advocate for themselves and others. Bristol reported on three key findings from one such community for male teachers of color.4 The first was that novice teachers found it helpful to hear about the challenges and pain of veteran teachers. The novice teachers said that they felt “like they could not ask for help” during the pandemic and that hearing from the veteran teachers normalized their struggles. Second, these communities created opportunity for novice teachers to deepen their content knowledge and their pedagogical content knowledge. Finally, said Bristol, “the community creates the conditions for normalizing self-care.” These findings from the professional learning communities for teachers of color may inform how we reimagine professional development for all teachers, he concluded.
One workshop participant asked both researchers and teachers to comment on the potential for teacher attrition as a result of the past year. Bartlett answered that 20 percent of the teachers in their study have
either left or are seriously considering leaving teaching; she said one of the main reasons they give is “feeling like their voices have been ignored or silenced” and that they do not get an “equal part in the conversation . . . to address professional issues.” Kraft agreed that while many teachers feel this way, he cautioned that data on teacher attrition is still needed. He added that we do not talk enough about who is entering the profession; Miller agreed and encouraged teachers to reach out and mentor incoming teachers who may need extra support when entering the profession at this pivotal time.
In response to a question from Jabbar about how to increase the diversity of the teaching workforce, Bristol responded that while many of the current recruitment efforts are working, more attention to retention may be needed. The “leaky pipe” for teachers of color can be attributed to challenging working conditions, or “being tasked with making bricks without straw,” and working with the most challenging students without the necessary resources, he said. Nelson added that in order to recruit and retain teachers of color, we have to “stop suspending [students of color] at such high rates.” Students of color will not seek teaching as a profession if they view schools as a “place of anxiety,” she said.
THE TEACHER WORKFORCE
Jason Grissom (Vanderbilt University, planning committee member) began by pointing out that the 2020 National Academies’ report documented key features of the teacher workforce, including its localized nature, the mismatch between areas of certification and the areas in which there are teacher shortages, the fact that students of color and students from low-income families are often served by less-qualified teachers, and the fact that the racial and ethnic composition of the workforce does not mirror the racial and ethnic composition of students being served. He asked speakers to discuss how these features have been changed or exacerbated during the pandemic and the struggle for racial justice.
TEACHER RECRUITMENT, PREPARATION, AND CREDENTIALING
When schools closed in March 2020, said Dan Goldhaber (University of Washington), teacher preparation was significantly affected. Teacher candidates either missed or had altered kinds of student-teaching experiences (e.g., online). As a consequence, there will be new teachers in the labor market who will be starting without the formative experiences that “predict how effective they are going to be and how long they are going to stay in teaching.” In addition to this change, states waived many of the requirements for becoming a teacher (e.g., licensure tests). Another COVID-related challenge, said Linda Darling-Hammond (Learning Policy Institute), is declining enrollment in schools; it is unknown how this will impact funding and hiring.
Mary Sandy (California Commission on Teacher Credentialing) stated that California is not producing enough teachers to fill the demand. During the pandemic, there was a hard stop in the preparation of the education workforce; prospective teachers could not take the tests required to be admitted to preparation programs or to exit them and be ready to teach. For the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, said Sandy, the immediate issue was how to “keep the preparation pipeline moving.” The second challenge, she said, was to ensure that educators were still getting what they needed to enter the workforce. Navigating these issues required five things that were not part of their normal operations: flexibility, creativity and innovation, adaptation, collaboration, and systems of support. There were a number of changes made, said Sandy, including postponing testing, loosening requirements for hours of in-person time with students, adapting to online teaching, and emphasizing collaboration. Sandy noted that her organization continues to search for ways, given the impact of the past year, to keep the pipeline moving while ensuring that teachers are prepared and qualified to teach.
TEACHER ATTRITION AND SHORTAGES
While there has been widespread media attention to the issue of teacher burnout during the pandemic, said Goldhaber, it is unclear whether and where the pandemic might result in teacher shortages. While state data from the past year show little teacher or principal attrition, he said, attrition tends to follow trends of the broader economy and therefore could rise over the next several years as the pandemic and associated unemployment wanes.
Goldhaber stressed that the focus should be on the “pinch points” of teacher staffing rather than shortages in general. One pinch point is in the supply and demand of teacher specializations, said Goldhaber; for example, there are shortages in STEM, special education, and English language learner teachers. Another major pinch point is in disadvantaged schools, which have a chronic challenge of staffing classrooms. Teachers of color disproportionately teach in the highest-need schools; 75 percent of teachers of color teach in the quartile of schools that serve the most students of color and the most students in poverty, said Darling-Hammond. Teachers of color have a higher debt load than White teachers, are more likely to enter with alternative routes of preparation, and are less likely to experience mentoring; all of these factors contribute to higher attrition rates. This is a “social justice issue,” said Darling-Hammond. Underprepared teachers are two to three times more likely to leave the workforce quickly, and unmentored teachers are about twice as likely, she said, yet funding for both preparation and mentoring has declined. Over the past year, teachers have been additionally stressed by online and hybrid teaching, fears of teaching in person, and the growth of poverty and trauma among students. One potential approach for improving recruitment and retention of teachers of color, said Darling-Hammond, is teacher residency programs, which tend to attract a more diverse teaching force and demonstrate high retention rates, thanks to the assistance they offer with tuition and mentoring. Sandy shared that a program that targets classified school staff for recruitment into teaching has been extremely successful; 70 percent of these recruits have been teachers of color.
CULTIVATING A DIVERSE WORKFORCE
In light of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism, said Keffrelyn Brown (University of Texas at Austin), there could be a need to “cultivate a racially diverse teaching force that is committed to and knowledgeable about culturally oriented, racially just teaching.” Schools have long struggled to create the conditions in which teachers see, affirm, and nourish students of color, particularly those who are Black, Brown, or Indigenous. In the wake of COVID-19, teaching conditions shifted rapidly and dramatically, she said, and families had inequitable access to technology and varying levels of support. At the same time, the death of George Floyd sparked protests that “made it difficult to deny the existence of systemic racism in the United States.” People of color, said Brown, often enter teaching with experiential knowledge about racism and a desire to address race, culture, and justice in their teaching. However, teachers of color are sorely underrepresented in the workforce, and the universal adoption of a curriculum that addresses race and justice remains a challenge. Some teachers lack first-hand experience or targeted preparation on these topics, others are unsure about their ability to do it well, while still others resist the idea of teaching these topics altogether. In addition, teaching about race is under attack nationally and across multiple states. Brown concluded by urging workshop participants to consider three key questions moving forward: (1) Will the pressure to catch students up further narrow the professionalization of teachers’ work? (2) How will the assault against addressing racism in K–12 classrooms impact the working conditions of teachers, particularly those of color? and (3) What role should teacher preparation play in preparing teachers to enter the field, given the twin pandemics?
We now have an opportunity to transform schooling, said Brown, and our action or inaction will impact whether or not we create conditions to “recruit and retain the most passionate, knowledgeable, and prepared teachers for responsive and just schooling.”
THE ROLE OF PRESERVICE TEACHER EDUCATION
According to Susan Gomez-Zwiep (BSCS Science Learning, planning committee member), the goal of this session was to look at how the events of the past year impacted teacher education programs and to examine the capacity of these programs to recruit and retain a diverse pool of prospective teachers, prepare teachers to work with a diverse student population, and equip teachers to work for equity and social justice. The 2020 National Academies’ report, she said, concluded that there are many types of programs and pathways for preservice teacher education, an array that reflects the traditions of state and local control of education. Further, there is little evidence of the impact of preservice teacher education on eventual performance in the classroom.
EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC
There were both challenges and opportunities for teacher education programs during the pandemic, said Thomas Philip (University of California, Berkeley). Many preservice teachers and cooperating teachers “were talking to cameras that were off” and experienced a digitized, two-dimensional form of teaching. What did it mean for these teachers, he asked, not to have opportunities to interact and engage with students in a three-dimensional room? As schools and teachers pivoted to remote learning, the rapid adoption of technologies narrowed learning to discrete skills, said Philip. What did it mean for teacher candidates to experience the normalization of these technologies and theories of learning? One bright spot of the pandemic, he said, was a narrowing of the disconnect between teachers and families. Through remote learning, teachers gained insight into the “love and support that defines homes and families,” he said, noting that it was “almost like conducting 24 home visits a day.”
During the pandemic, professions such as nursing experienced a “heroism bump”: the number of applications to nursing schools increased significantly, said Lynn Gangone (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education). By comparison, teaching programs actually saw a decline in enrollment, budgets, and staffing. This will be a challenge moving forward, she said.
DIVERSIFYING THE WORKFORCE
Recruiting, educating, preparing, and retaining a diverse teacher workforce is a multidimensional challenge, said Suzanne Wilson (University of Connecticut). Multiple factors lead people into teaching, such as a desire to work for social justice and create community, while other factors pull people away from teaching, such as salary and school working conditions. Recruitment and retainment are longitudinal and systemic issues that start in middle and high school, said Wilson, and extend into the communities and schools in which teachers eventually work. Wilson called this path a “leaky pipeline,” noting that while a large percentage of students seeking degrees in education identify as people of color, the percentage drops at each step of the career path (graduation, applying for teaching positions, and staying in teaching). While alternative routes have had success in recruiting a more diverse workforce, some of these new recruits leave the workforce quickly due to working conditions in schools. Ultimately, said Wilson, the decision to go into teaching is personal, and many potential teachers do not believe that they are welcome or that they will be successful within the structure of teacher education programs.
Rather than focusing on recruiting prospective teachers of color into education programs, said Philip, we should instead focus on building “a program in which prospective teachers of color see themselves thrive.” This perspective shifts the onus onto educators to create programs that are reflective of “our visions, our hopes and aspirations.” Philip shared his experience at Berkeley, where the student population has shifted from majority White to majority people of color over the past 3 years. There were two critical elements in this shift, he said. First, the leadership team spent months crafting an identity statement that serves to animate every aspect of the program. Second, there is a deliberate focus on “the everyday, the ordinary, and the unremarkable.” Philip explained that seemingly mundane issues such as how meetings are organized, how agendas are set, and how and where conversations are held are critically important and are “where equity and justice come alive.”
Recruiting a diverse workforce, said Gangone, cannot be accomplished without tackling institutional racism. This is made infinitely harder, she said, by the current backlash against critical race theory in schools, which will have an impact on the capacity to recruit, retain, and support teachers of color. She added that to recruit and support a diverse student body, it is necessary to recruit and support diverse teacher education faculty so that “our colleges of education are actually taught by people who look like the students.”
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND WORKPLACE SUPPORTS
John Papay (Brown University, planning committee member), stated that the 2020 National Academies’ report noted that teachers will require “substantial changes to what they do on a daily basis if they are to respond productively to . . . new expectations for student learning.” This observation was prescient,
he said, though no one could have predicted how dramatically expectations would change. Throughout the session, speakers discussed how professional development and other teaching supports have changed in response to the demands of the pandemic and the growing movement for equity and social justice.
Hilda Borko (Stanford University) told workshop participants about a long-term research-practice partnership with a professional development team and a school district in California that focuses on building a school district’s capacity in elementary science by developing teacher leaders. The plan was for a professional development team to design a program that would eventually be taken over by the district’s science mentor teachers. However, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted this plan, shifting the focus to the challenges of teaching virtually and improving equity, said Borko. During the pandemic, and in the wake of George Floyd’s death, researchers focused on three key research questions: (1) What challenges emerged during this period? (2) How were goals and activities adapted in order to address these challenges and support participating teachers? (3) What outcomes were important to the mentor teachers? Borko said that the challenges faced by teachers included learning how to design lessons and teach in a distance-learning environment, addressing social-emotional learning (SEL), issues of equity, and the lack of opportunities for collaboration. Leaders were also challenged to create professional development activities and guidance, support the SEL of their peers, and deal with fatigue and low morale. As a result, the program was adapted to support teachers in distance learning, build community, design virtual science lessons, focus on SEL and equity as organizing principles, and acknowledge the sociopolitical moment. The mentor teachers, said Borko, were focused on outcomes in three areas: classroom and teaching, leadership, and community. Borko noted that priorities shifted during this time, as leaders and teachers sought to focus on issues relevant to the moment. She reported that one leader said that SEL activities would normally be used as a warm-up, but that during this time, an entire day was devoted to SEL because of the needs and interests of participants. As Borko put it, “To what extent are people . . . going to be receptive to talking about science when they’re in survival mode?”
ClimeTime is an initiative in Washington State that focuses on teacher professional development and links science learning standards with climate science education, said Ellen Ebert (Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction). In the first 2 years of the program, prior to the pandemic, the collaborative model was successful in bringing experts from different fields together through professional development providers; approximately 14,000 teachers participated in face-to-face learning. In March 2020, said Ebert, they had to take a deep breath and reorient to an online model. A virtual conference in April 2020 brought together 1,200 teachers; Ebert noted that this was an opportunity to “model good, practical engagement on Zoom” for teachers, most of whom had never taught or learned online. When George Floyd was murdered, Ebert and her colleagues, forever changed, committed to doing deep learning and redesigning their work to have an antiracist stance with an equity focus. During this period, ClimeTime developed learning resources for students and teachers to meet the varied needs in the state; for example, some students needed paper-and-pencil materials, some communities needed materials in different languages, and some teachers needed justice-oriented materials focused on the here and now. The Climate Justice League, a subproject of ClimeTime, engages teachers across the state in discussions of local and regional topics oriented toward climate, social, and community justice. Ebert said she has been amazed and heartened by the number of teachers participating in these sessions, though they are exhausted and overworked. As the new school year approaches, said Ebert, ClimeTime is continuously iterating the topics and structures used to provide professional development for teachers across the state.
As the principal of an elementary school, Marcy Garza Davis (John F. Kennedy Elementary School, Corpus Christi, TX) and her colleagues had to “put our thinking caps on” to figure out how to continue students’ education when schools closed in March 2020. Switching to online learning was challenged by a lack of devices, so Davis and her colleagues made paper packets and ensured that students got
them, whether by mail or through home visits with gloves and masks. When school was slated to be remote again in the fall, Davis realized that all her students and teachers needed devices. She ordered 900 Chromebooks, but as everyone in the country was doing the same, they did not arrive for 9 months. The school year began completely virtual, then shifted to a voluntary in-person system, followed by completely in-person education. Classrooms used dividers, masks, handwashing, and other safety protocols. Davis said that preservice teachers were not allowed to be on campus, which was a very big disappointment because one of the most important things they could have learned from the pandemic is that “teaching is never the same” and that “you have to switch gears quickly at times.” Looking ahead to next year, Davis’s school has begun providing teachers with professional development on the social-emotional impact that COVID has had on families, trauma-informed instruction, and on addressing students’ needs so they will be ready to learn in the classroom.
When it became clear that school would be closed in March 2020, Guthrie Fleischman (Betty Reid Soskin Middle School,5 El Sobrante, CA) realized there was a critical need to bring teachers up to speed on how to teach virtually. Some teachers were already using Google Classroom, while others were more comfortable with paper and pencil. The teacher technology lead conducted a workshop to help familiarize teachers with the online resources they would need and to begin to convert their in-person lessons to online lessons. Most schools, said Fleischman, have a handful of teachers who are familiar with technologies; professional development time was devoted to letting those teachers share this knowledge with their colleagues. Simultaneously, school leaders were trying to figure out how to “keep [teachers] feeling inspired and alive in the work that we’re doing when we’re staring at screens all day.” Fleischman and his district colleagues began holding a weekly Facebook Live event called “60 Minutes in the Faculty Lounge.” At this event, stakeholders discussed issues such as maintaining community in a distance-learning setting, the wide variety of online resources available, and how to integrate arts into distance learning.
In May 2020, after George Floyd’s death, these conversations shifted to the issue of police violence, looking at systems of White supremacy culture and examining how systems of anti-Black racism are infused in education. Digging into these hard conversations, said Fleischman, allowed teachers and school leaders to begin to “reimagine the systems we live in and work in.” The pandemic and the focus on racial justice “pulled down the façade of public education” and made it impossible for people to pretend that everything was fine. At Fleischman’s school, these conversations resulted in brainstorming and vision-boarding about how to become an “entity of liberation.” The staff and students identified priority areas for action, including implementing an equity-based grading policy; detracking the school; exploring how Black educators, parents, and students are silenced in the educational system; and finding a new name for the school. Fleischman was blown away by one student’s perspective observation that “[Crespi] is somebody who mis-educated Native children, and if we are going to continue to name our school after him, what does that say about the education that you are giving me?” At a certain point in this process, Fleischman worried that he had led his staff astray in the attempt to address all of these complex issues at once. However, the staff assured him that they were doing the right thing, saying “This is the time. We have never had an opportunity like this. We will never have another opportunity to be like this. We must use this chance, and if we don’t, then we have missed the one opportunity that we were given over this last year.”
POLICY AND LEADERSHIP RESPONSES AND INITIATIVES
Tiffany Neill (Oklahoma State Department of Education, planning committee member) identified policy changes that have impacted the teacher workforce over the last 20 years, including No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Every Student Succeeds Act. The 2020 National Academies report concluded that these policies and other changes have resulted in more explicit demands being placed on teachers, including increased knowledge expectations. In addition, said Neill, teachers are called on to educate an increasingly diverse student body, enact culturally responsible pedagogies, and have a deeper understanding of their students’ social-emotional growth.
5 Formally known as Juan Crespi Middle School.
As teachers rapidly shifted to remote learning during the pandemic, there was an immediate hunger for best practices, said Marla Ucelli-Kashap (American Federation of Teachers). Teachers needed support on issues including privacy, student engagement, adapting content to remote instruction, and addressing racial inequities. The American Federation of Teachers provided resources and support in these areas by facilitating peer-to-peer professional learning, holding a virtual conference, and developing a train-the-trainer professional learning program in racial literacy. In addition, there was a newfound emphasis on SEL in response to teachers’ concerns about the health and well-being of their students and themselves, said Ucelli-Kashap. She noted that many had been advocating for SEL before the pandemic; COVID-19 helped to shift policies and acceptance.
During the pandemic, teachers were tasked with new and challenging responsibilities and teaching approaches, said Ucelli-Kashap. For example, teachers were asked to become experts on COVID-19 transmission and practices for keeping schools safe, and many teachers were asked to teach remote students and in-person students simultaneously. This model, she said, was “the worst policy of the pandemic” and was not pedagogically appropriate. As the pandemic begins to wane and in-person instruction resumes, teachers need time, trust, resources, and support to help children and communities move forward.
EQUITY AND TEACHER SHORTAGES
The policy decisions made in the face of COVID-19 will have major implications for equity in education, said Maria Hyler (Learning Policy Institute). In the midst of the pandemic, college enrollments declined, particularly at historically Black colleges and universities and community colleges. Students from lower-income families were more likely than higher-income students to have canceled plans to take classes. These trends, said Hyler, negatively impact efforts to diversify the teacher workforce. States waived or suspended requirements for educator preparation; teachers without comprehensive preparation are two to three times more likely to leave teaching, which contributes to shortages and undermines school improvement efforts. Underprepared teachers are inequitably distributed; schools with high percentages of students of color have four times more uncertified teachers than schools with low percentages of students of color, said Hyler. When there are shortages of qualified teachers, students of color and students from low-income families bear the burden, with significant negative impacts on academic opportunity.
Hyler identified three policy levers to address these challenges. First, there may be a need to sustain and deepen investments in high-retention pathways to teaching, such as grow-your-own programs that recruit those already involved in schools and support their transition into teaching, and teacher residency programs. She noted that successful residency programs have several key elements, including financial support, incentives to participate, and a full year of clinical practice alongside an expert mentor. Second, said Hyler, incentives may be needed to attract and retain teachers, such as increased compensation, targeted incentives for high-need schools or subject areas, and increased daily rates for qualified substitutes. Third, Hyler said that, given the changes enacted in response to COVID-19, states can streamline teacher licensure requirements by allowing candidates to demonstrate competency through rigorous performance assessments.
Stephen Pruitt (Southern Regional Education Board) concurred with Hyler’s concern about teacher shortages and equity. For example, he said, students in poor, rural districts in Georgia experience greater teacher turnover than more affluent districts. He noted that when teachers graduate and enter the workforce, “they are not exactly looking forward to going to a place [where] they can’t even get cell service.” In addition to higher salaries, policies and practices that enhance recruitment and retention in these underserved areas may be needed, he said. “In large part,” he said, “we are losing teachers because they are not getting the support, they are not getting advice, they are not getting guidance.” As a result of the pandemic, the social-emotional welfare of teachers and students has become an urgent issue, he said. Short-term fixes to the teacher shortage were adopted during the pandemic, such as waivers of state licensure certifications and recruitment of retired teachers. Longer-term fixes, said Pruitt, could include grow-your-own programs, teacher residencies, induction programs and guidance, pay raises
and bonuses for serving in underserved areas and subjects, student scholarships and loan forgiveness, and state leadership-development programs for teachers. Teachers were heroes for the first few weeks of the pandemic, said Pruitt, but became villains over time. As we move out of the pandemic and create longer-term education policies, it is essential to ensure that they reflect the value of teachers and do not exacerbate stigmas.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement have presented an opportunity to reimagine the life of teachers and their work, said Ladson-Billings. This dual pandemic has brought attention to systemic racism and inequities and has emphasized the importance of schools and teachers, said Erica Turner (University of Wisconsin–Madison, planning committee member). These circumstances, she said, demand a “humanizing” of teachers; rather than viewing teachers solely as a collective workforce, there may be ways of viewing them in the context of their lives, including their social-emotional well-being, their commitments and motivations, and the formal and informal ways they collaborate, learn, and teach. “We have been reminded this year that teaching is a sacred endeavor and that if we are not nurturing the hearts and the spirits of educators and, in kind, of students and families, then we are getting it wrong,” said Fleischman.
Noting that the past year gave teachers a two-way mirror into the diverse families and communities they serve, Gomez-Zwiep said it is critical to recruit, support, and retain teachers who are from these communities and can engage with them. One of the most salient challenges, said Kraft, is attracting the “people we need to be in front of our students every day” while also creating opportunities for teachers to sustain the profession into adulthood and balance their work-life responsibilities. Because teachers of color leave the profession in part due to challenging working conditions, said Bristol, it is critical to address retention by improving the working conditions in the schools where teachers of color are concentrated.
Moving forward, teachers and education leaders can use the “pandemic portal” to transform education, said Scarlett. Pruitt noted that making changes in education is usually a slow, difficult process: “Education is evolutionary at best, glacial at worst.” We have a unique opportunity, he said, to leverage the massive disruptive events of the past year to rebuild and reshape the educational system in a way that supports and lifts up teachers, students, and communities. We must begin, said Gomez-Zwiep, with brave conversations about race, racism, our history, and the systemic and subtle ways that education ossifies inequitable systems.
There were things “we did and didn’t do” in the 2020 National Academies’ report, said Little. The report focused more on expectations related to academics and content than on the socioemotional development, mental health, and well-being of students and teachers. It looked at diversity at the classroom level but devoted little attention to inequitable systems and preparing teachers to deeply see the “structures in everyday practices that reinforce inequity.” The report addressed the role of policy but gave short shrift to the role of leaders and leadership. Noting that she had long considered schools as individual workplaces that were not designed to promote community, Little said that the experience of the two pandemics demonstrated to her both the importance of teacher collaboration and the fact that teachers are able and willing to create community when needed. Rather than viewing teachers’ professional development and initial preparation as an individual endeavor, said Little, “we should be paying far more attention to building collective capacity.” Little closed by echoing Gomez-Zwiep’s call for bravery, saying that “these are times that call for courage and imagination in ways we . . . could not have imagined in the 2020 report.”
PLANNING COMMITTEE ON COVID-19 AND K–12 TEACHER WORKFORCE
Judith Warren Little (Chair), University of California, Berkeley; Susan Gomez-Zwiep, BSCS Science Learning; Jason Grissom, Vanderbilt University; Huriya Jabbar, University of Texas at Austin; Tiffany Neill, Oklahoma State Department of Education; John Papay, Brown University; Keisha Scarlett, Seattle Public Schools; Erica Turner, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Leticia Garcilazo Green, Study Director.
DISCLAIMER: This Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief was prepared by Erin Hammers Forstag, rapporteur, as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. The statements made are those of the rapporteur or individual meeting participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all meeting participants; the planning committee; the Board on Science Education; the sponsors; or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The planning committee was responsible only for organizing the public session, identifying the topics, and choosing speakers.
REVIEWERS: To ensure that it meets institutional standards for quality and objectivity, this Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief was reviewed by Kara J. Jackson, Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum, College of Education, University of Washington and K. Renae Pullen, K–5 Science Curriculum–Instruction, Academic Affairs Department for Caddo Parish Schools, Louisiana. We also thank staff member Ester Sztein for reading and providing helpful comments. Kirsten Sampson Snyder, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, served as review coordinator.
SPONSORS: The workshop was supported supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2021). COVID-19 and the K–12 Teacher Workforce: Seizing the Moment to Reimagine Education: Proceedings of a Workshop—in-Brief. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/26356.
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Copyright 2021 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.