While the overwhelming majority of statewide teachers plan to return to the classroom this fall, a June survey of educators shows half those teachers have concerns about their safety and health as coronavirus precautions continue when school resumes in July or August.
Expect More Arizona (expectmorearizona.org), a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization, surveyed nearly 10,800 classroom teachers who voluntarily shared their thoughts about resuming in-class instruction in the fall. A majority of respondents were from Maricopa County (59 percent) but the survey represented every county.
By far, teachers’ biggest concerns about returning to school are the health and safety of staff (67 percent) and students (62 percent).
“As far as COVID precautions and discussions with my students in the fall, they are going to be very important,” said Amy Raper, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade social studies at Oasis Elementary School, 7841 W. Sweetwater Ave., Peoria.
“It is something that everyone will need to take seriously especially since we all want to be on campus as much as possible. Even though kids and especially my junior high kids that I teach know that, for example, they need to wash their hands frequently, there is going to still need to be daily reminders for them because while we may be in the classroom like we were before all of this started our world has changed so much since March.”
According to the survey, 79 percent of teachers plan to return to the classroom with 18 percent still undecided. Only one quarter of respondents indicated that the pandemic influenced their decision.
Other key areas of concern include student mental health (37 percent) and helping students catch up (35 percent).
Arizona educators also want to be a part of the decision-making process as schools consider their reopening plans, the survey shows.
As of May 31, the majority of Arizona teachers had yet to be included in school planning conversations, according to Expect More Arizona, with 56 percent sharing they had not been included and 22 percent who had not yet been included, but who expected to be in the future.
“While no one knows what the next few weeks, months or even year will hold, it is essential that schools and other education decision-makers include student, parent and teacher voices in the process,” Expect More Arizona president and CEO Christine Thompson stated in a news release. “The large number of participants in our survey speaks volumes about educators’ desire to be heard.”
Three in four survey respondents want to see rules requiring teachers and students to stay home if they are sick. Additionally, strict sanitation procedures and access to cleaning products in the classroom should be a priority for school districts, along with clear protocols and procedures for staff, parents and students.
“In terms of safety I am concerned for everyone’s health and well-being,” added Ms. Raper, who will begin her 17th year of teaching this fall, and her sixth at Oasis. “I want to make sure our classrooms are cleaned well and we as teachers and staff members have what we need to keep our classrooms and schools as clean as possible.”
The survey was conducted by Expect More Arizona in partnership with the Arizona State Board of Education. Data were compiled and analyzed by Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and Decision Center for Educational Excellence, led by Kristi Glassmeyer, Jeanne M. Powers, and Joe O’Reilly.
Other groups assisted in sharing the survey with teachers, including the Arizona Department of Education, Arizona Charter Schools Association, Arizona Education Association, Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona School Administrators, Arizona K-12 Center, Arizona Education Foundation, Tucson Values Teachers and more.
Teachers like Ms. Raper see the educational value in an in-classroom environment, even sharing that her own eighth- and first-grade children this past spring missed the daily in-person interaction with fellow students. However, school districts and teachers themselves stepped up overnight when COVID-19 changed the education approach overnight, and she did encounter some positives with the virtual transition this past spring.
“I kept daily ‘office hours’ with my students where they could check in with me, teach them, and interact with them,” Ms. Raper shared. “I had some students who showed up each and every day because they needed that interaction even though it was virtual. I also used a website/app with my students called FlipGrid. This allowed me to pose questions to my students, and they would respond to me and their classmates virtually. For some of these students it allowed for me to see them in a different light than what I could just see in the classroom. Some students really thrived in this type of setting and really shined which I loved being able to see. I have begun to think about incorporating some of these things like using FlipGrid again in the fall and what that would look like.”
More detailed survey results are available at ExpectMoreArizona.org/TeacherVoices.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for schools all over the world and Arizona has been no exception,” Ms. Thompson stated. “Spring closures reminded our community that educators are some of the most dedicated and necessary professionals out there.”