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A study on the effects of COVID-19 and distance learning on teachers’ working conditions.

July 13, 2020

  • GRAD Teacher Education
    Steve Hambuchen

“Suddenly Distant: Teaching in the Age of Covid-19”

What happens to teachers’ working conditions when a pandemic displaces students from classrooms and forces all learning to go online virtually overnight? Alisun Thompson and Lina Darwich, assistant professors of education at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling, are developing a study in collaboration with researchers at UC Santa Cruz to address this specific question.

Thompson and Darwich explain that when the pandemic caused schools to suddenly close, the unexpected and immediate change required teachers to manage the work of “distance learning” with varying degrees of structure and support. The sudden pivot to online instruction and logistical concerns of how to restructure schooling has since stirred debates on the foundation of teaching, the role of the teacher, and the purpose of “brick and mortar” schooling. Thompson and Darwich emphasize that what is frequently absent from these debates and reforms, however, is input from the people closest to teaching and learning—the classroom teachers themselves. This study aims to fill this gap by hearing directly from classroom teachers about what the shift to distance learning has meant for their work.

“The study is situated in the literature on teachers’ working conditions,” explains Thompson. “We know that teachers are the most important school level variable for student success. We also know that the conditions of teachers’ work matter a great deal to teacher quality.”

Thompson and Darwich add that since teachers report that the support they receive from their colleagues is very significant in terms of creating favorable working conditions, they are especially curious about how the move to online instruction has affected that support network. They are expecting to hear about the challenges and successes of this new context.

“As teacher-educators, we are very interested in learning how to better prepare future teachers for the shifting landscape of teaching,” says Thompson. “This study will give us a better understanding of the constraints—and opportunities—that current teachers are experiencing in the context of COVID-19.”

Thompson and Darwich lastly share their own experience with distance learning as teacher educators and the positive outcomes that have come from it: “Our recent virtual interactions with our students have taught us about the flexibility that online learning has provided to students to ‘attend’ lectures at a time that works for them. This flexibility has helped students who have children, are taking care of family members, hold jobs, and live further away.”

Learn more about our Teacher Education program here. If you are a classroom teacher and are interested in volunteering for the study, please visit the study website: Suddenly Distant: Teachers Work in the Context of COVID-19.

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