Student Well-Being

Survey: Students Want More Opportunities to Connect With Teachers During the Pandemic

By Sarah Schwartz — December 16, 2020 3 min read
Illustration of a student in a mask with their head down while working on a laptop.
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Middle and high school students say that they’re not doing as well in school as they were before the pandemic, and that they want more opportunities for connection with their teachers, according to new research from the National Education Association and the National PTA.
The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in October, asked 800 public school students ages 13-18 about the academic, emotional, and economic effects of COVID-19 for themselves and their families. Researchers also conducted focus groups with the teenagers.
On the whole, students said they weren’t doing as well in school now as they were before the pandemic.

Which of the following statements describes......how you were doing with your school work and academics before the coronavirus pandemic began last spring?...how you are currently doing with your school work and academics?
Doing well58%32%
Doing OK3648
Struggling620

This change was especially pronounced for the younger students in the sample, ages 13-15, and for students whose parents or guardians didn’t have college degrees.
When asked what would be most helpful to their learning right now, students emphasized student-teacher connections and individual support. The top four things that students said would be “very helpful” were:

  • More interaction between teachers and students
  • Additional tutoring to help them catch up and stay on track
  • Faster grading and feedback from teachers
  • More one-on-one time with teachers

On a call with reporters, NEA president Becky Pringle said it’s incumbent on school leaders to create schedules that meet these needs.
“We’re not talking about adding onto a teacher’s day,” Pringle said. “We’re talking about collaborating with educators in the way that they restructure a day, so that they can provide those kinds of things that the students are asking for.”
Research has shown that intensive tutoring is also one of the most effective ways to help students make up ground academically—and experts suggest that it’s a promising strategy for combatting learning loss due to school shutdowns, as Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk reported earlier this year.

Fears and Disparate Impact

The majority of students also wanted some time in school buildings. When asked what mode of schooling they’d prefer assuming that “nothing changes with the coronavirus,” 38 percent said they would want to be full-time in person and 27 percent preferred a hybrid model with some time in both environments. Still, 35 percent said they would want full-time online school.
In focus groups, many students connected hesitancy about in-person learning to fears about the virus, said Missy Egelsky, a senior vice president at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, on a call with reporters. “The anxiety wasn’t so much about fear of themselves getting it, but that they would bring it home and impact their family,” she said.
Egelsky shared quotes from the students: “I want to keep my family safe and my parents are both higher risk, so it’s not worth it to go to school,” said one white student in a rural school system.
A Black student in an urban school system said that online learning was safer: “My parents also support that [i.e., online learning] if it’s still an option … . Stuff changes when the virus ends,” the student said.
About 1 in 10 teenagers surveyed said that someone in their household had gotten sick with COVID-19, and more reported that the virus had affected people they knew: 40 percent said they had a friend who got sick with COVID-19, and 36 percent said a family member who doesn’t live with them had contracted the virus.
More than half of the students polled, 56 percent, said they were “doing OK” (as opposed to “well” or “struggling”).
But the survey also found that Black students, in particular, were more likely to have experienced economic hardships as a result of the pandemic: 37 percent of Black students said that at least one of the adults in their household had lost their job due to the coronavirus, compared to 27 percent of Latino students, 23 percent of white students, and 16 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander students.

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