Poll: 1 in 5 teachers will not return to classrooms this fall if schools reopen

If schools open as usual in the fall, some teachers say they won't be there.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Samantha Kubota

Whether schools open as usual in the fall, a new poll finds a good portion of teachers and students will likely not return.

A new online poll from USA Today/Ipsos found one in five teachers say they are unlikely to go back to school if they reopen in the fall. The poll of 505 K-12 teachers, conducted by the research company Ipsos for USA Today, showed nearly two-thirds of teachers said they have not been able to properly do their jobs amid the pandemic, which has forced most to switch to entirely online offerings.

Teachers surveyed also were concerned about their students falling behind. Three-fourths told researchers their classes were behind, though most predicted they would be able to eventually make up lost ground.

Jasmine Chung, a high school English teacher outside of Chicago, told TODAY she had "hated" doing e-learning with her classes for the spring semester but was anticipating continuing to teach via video-conferencing in the fall. She said she was not excited about continuing to educate online instead of in-person but agreed with the state of Illinois' likely plan to keep school buildings closed.

"If they were to start school in the fall, I definitely would not be comfortable," she explained, later adding if there were a successful vaccine and it was required for students to return, she would feel differently.

In the meantime, she's planning on teaching this fall mostly through computer screens — something she's not exactly looking forward to.

"Teaching is a very social job, right? And kids learn when you connect to them and you just can't when you’re in this 'Brady Bunch' box of Zoom," she said. "You can’t connect with like, 'Oh you, upper left-hand corner, did you change your hair?'"

Chung added that around half of her students were struggling to help support their families in the midst of an economic and health crisis — something that was making attending online classes difficult for them.

"We have kids that don’t even have reliable internet. We have kids that when their parents lost their jobs … they’re helping their families stay afloat," she explained. "How do I balance (one student) that made a YouTube channel that blew up … and is turning in zero work, but then we have (another student) who is working 80 hours a week and zooms in once or twice just to tell me that he’s there?"

She added she was worried about how they will do grades for students with disparate living situations when they return to class virtually for the fall semester.

"For e-learning, kids have to be held accountable for their learning," she explained, noting a "Do No Harm" mandate in Illinois meant students could not earn a lower grade this spring than the one they had going into quarantine. "They have to earn some kind of grade, whether that be pass/fail…it should be separate from their in-person learning grade. Something has to go on their transcripts."

Another USA Today/Ipsos online poll showed six in 10 parents with school-aged kids reported being “very” or “somewhat” likely to switch to at-home learning.

The survey found parents in the Midwest are least likely to say they would keep their kids home while those in the South were most likely.

Parents were also concerned about how children would maintain a social distance if they were to return to the classroom. Two-thirds of parents said they’d ask their child to wear a mask at school and said they expected their kid to have issues complying with social distancing at school. Nine in 10 teachers believed it would be hard to enforce such rules at school anyway.

As schools plan to return in the fall or for possible changes to the very structure of classrooms, both parents and teachers seemed to be searching for solutions, the parallel polls found.

Two-thirds of both groups supported the idea of returning to the classroom for two or three days a week and doing distance learning the other days. Both teachers and parents also supported having teachers who were high-risk practice online, while low-risk educators could return to the physical classroom.

"In the event that we would not be able to all come to school wearing full, self-filtering bubble suits, I would be in favor of a hybrid in-person/e-learning schedule that would allow part of the student population in on certain days to decrease the number of students in the school and classrooms every day," Chung told TODAY. "Those students without reliable access to internet and technology can use the in-person days to pick up paper materials and drop off work that way as well. The in-person element also soothes part of our social souls."

Four in 10 parents and teachers said students should not return to the classroom before there is a coronavirus vaccine, according to the USA Today/Ipsos polls.

If parents have to continue helping their school-age kids from home — even for a few days a week — next fall, Rebecca Drage, a kindergarten teacher in the Atlanta area told TODAY, they should remember that this constant state of flux and anxiety isn’t permanent.

“If they don’t complete everything perfectly, they’re going to be OK," she said. "We should just be re-thinking our expectations of ourselves and the kids.”

“It’s not typical right now and nothing is operating in a typical fashion.”