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Survey Report

2021 Teaching Survey:K–12 Teachers Are (More) Overworked During Pandemic

Surveyed teachers reported working an additional 900 hours in the past year to accommodate virtual learning.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S., the learning experience for K–12 public schools changed completely.

As teachers were deemed essential workers, they took on unprecedented workloads to keep students on track. And while many college students and instructors were already comfortable with virtual learning, or at least aspects of it, K–12 schooling had remained reliant on in-person instruction — meaning significant learning curves lay ahead.

In our latest survey, we asked 1,500 full-time public middle and high school teachers about their experiences teaching during the pandemic and uncovered just how many extra hours they put in along the way.

How Has Online Instruction Changed Teachers’ Workflow?

Teachers instructing online worked an additional 5 hours per day

That’s an extra 900 hours — or 37.5 days in one year.

As schools across the country rapidly transitioned to online learning, teachers left their classrooms to teach from home for an indefinite period of time. Now in the second school year post-pandemic, an overwhelming majority (85%) of our respondents indicated that they are still teaching at least partially online.

The road wasn’t easy for teachers making the switch. With technologies and platforms to be trained on and a host of new educational challenges to consider, our respondents had to put in a significant amount of extra time to make the adjustment work. Overall, teachers who instruct online indicated spending about five additional hours per day on tasks related to virtual instruction — equating to 900 hours, or 37.5 days in a year.

Teachers spent at least one extra hour a day:

American teachers working more emails meetings

These added responsibilities are a likely contributor to teachers feeling overworked and an indicator of the tremendous effort it takes for online learning to be successful in a K–12 setting.

73.13% considered leaving teaching at least once during the pandemic

As they dealt with extreme circumstances and heavier workloads, teachers faced rising frustration. Among those teaching virtually, many stated they considered leaving the teaching profession because of the pandemic.

In a multiple-selection question, 46% indicated struggling to balance teaching and personal responsibilities, while 40% were concerned about becoming ill. In addition, 38% said they found it difficult to adapt to a virtual learning environment, perhaps highlighting increased needs for support as the shift to online instruction continues into additional academic years.

Building Community in the Online Classroom

Pandemic classroom community office hours

Structuring an online classroom comes with its challenges — such as creating the sense of community that comes naturally when classes are held in person. Aided by technologies and offering additional resources like virtual “office hours,” 66% of surveyed teachers said they were able to establish community online for their middle- and high-schoolers — which is no small feat given the rushed nature of the transition and their pupils’ younger ages.

In comparison to our earlier report on online learning in higher education, significantly more college students (85% in total) felt they had a sense of community in their online classes. These figures could reflect a higher level of familiarity with online learning platforms at the college level, or that students may feel more of a virtual community than teachers realize.

Online Learning Technologies & Tools

To set up for success in online learning, teachers needed the right tools and technologies. Our respondents indicated using a variety of platforms, like Canvas and Blackboard, although Google Classroom (31.16%) was most preferred by our surveyed middle and high school teachers.

This statistic aligns with our most downloaded LMS apps report, where we found that Google Classroom had the highest number of downloads in peak lockdown months of March and April 2020.

LMS online customer support

When it came to receiving support for their course management systems, most respondents indicated being satisfied with their schools and LMS providers, although a portion of instructors noted room for improvement. As online learning becomes a more standard part of education in the U.S., more advanced technical support offerings will become a priority.

Looking Ahead

Teachers’ outlooks for next year are:

Teaching outlook positive 2021

As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be distributed and case numbers begin to decline, 60% of the surveyed teachers indicated feeling more hopeful about the 2021–22 school year, whether it means teaching in-person or continuing to teach online.

47.80% want to teach in-person in fall 2021 | 34.40% want to teach online in fall 2021

Nearly 50% of respondents said they’d like to get back to the classroom in fall 2021, though a sizable 34% said they’d prefer to stay virtual. With a year of virtual learning experience behind them, teachers, school districts, students, and parents are likely to become more comfortable with online instruction, but the work required to make it sustainable is far from over..

As schools continue to adjust their plans, it’s important to ensure that educators have the tech support they need to make the learning experience as seamless — and as stress-free — as possible. And the more seamless course management systems become, the more teachers are empowered to create classroom communities that provide for optimal learning…

Survey Methodology

Using Pollfish, we surveyed 1,500 U.S. public school teachers (middle and high school grades). We asked respondents about their experiences teaching during the pandemic, the instruction formats they use for virtual learning, and their outlooks for the future, and featured the top responses in this report.


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