School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center

Surveys: Most Teachers Don’t Want In-Person Instruction, Fear COVID-19 Heath Risks

By Madeline Will — July 24, 2020 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

More than half of teachers don’t think there should be any in-person instruction at the beginning of the school year—and nearly 1 in 5 say they won’t return to work if their district does reopen school buildings.

Teachers are more likely than administrators to express concerns about returning to school. The vast majorities of school leaders (96 percent) and district leaders (90 percent) say they are willing to return to their school building for in-person instruction, compared to 81 percent of teachers.

Also, teachers of color are more likely than white teachers to be concerned about going back into the classroom. Just 35 percent of teachers of color say there should be in-person instruction this fall, compared to 47 percent of white teachers. Eighty-three percent of white teachers said they’re willing to go back into school buildings, compared to 66 percent of teachers of color.

Those are some of the key findings from a nationally representative online survey by the EdWeek Research Center. The survey was conducted July 22-23, and 1,366 educators responded—873 teachers, 251 principals, and 242 district leaders.

Districts are scrambling to figure out how best to start the school year, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. Some—including nine of the 15 largest districts in the country—are staying virtual for the first semester. Others are offering full, in-person instruction for all students. Many are offering a hybrid approach to instruction, in which students learn from home some days and come to school the other days.

More than three-fourths of teachers surveyed said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the health implications of resuming in-person instruction in the fall.

Forty-three percent of teachers said they personally have a physical condition believed to make people more vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus. Those can include advanced age, obesity, diabetes, immunocompromised conditions, asthma, high blood pressure, and pregnancy. Forty-six percent said a member of their household has a physical condition that puts them at risk.

Will Teachers Return to Work?

In several places across the country, teachers are protesting a return to in-person instruction, and teachers’ unions are putting pressure on districts to stay virtual in the fall. But if districts stick to their plan of a hybrid or fully in-person model, teachers who are nervous about returning will have to decide if they will come back to the classroom. Some teachers are considering quitting, taking an unpaid leave of absence, or retiring early.

“I think a lot of teachers and school counselors are willing to make those tough choices at this point, and I wouldn’t surprised if there were a lot of people who don’t return if we don’t feel safe with the plans,” said Alicia Hollis, an elementary counselor in Kansas City, Mo.

One-third of teachers said they were likely to leave their job this year, in the EdWeek survey. Only 8 percent said they would have been likely to leave before the coronavirus pandemic.

There was also a significant racial divide between those willing to return to in-person instruction. Black and Hispanic Americans have been disproportionately negatively affected by the pandemic and are more likely than white Americans to be hospitalized due to COVID-19. A poll released last month found that nearly one-third of Black Americans know someone personally who has died of COVID-19, compared with 17 percent of adults who are Hispanic and 9 percent who are white.

The EdWeek survey found that just 40 percent of Black educators said they would be willing to return to school if their district reopens for in-person instruction, compared to 84 percent of Hispanic educators and 86 percent of white educators. (These results are for both teachers and administrators, since the sample size was too small to look at racial breakdowns by profession. Most teachers in the country are white.)

Greater Fears Than Other Workers

Meanwhile, a Gallup survey has found that teachers are about three times as likely as other workers in the United States to say they are “very concerned” about being exposed to the coronavirus while working—and their unease has risen sharply as the first day of school approaches.

The data come from an ongoing online COVID-19 survey of workers. The most recent survey was taken June 29-July 19, and included a sample of 495 teachers. The May and June surveys were completed by more than 650 teachers.

Three-quarters of teachers have at least some level of concern about being exposed to the coronavirus in their workplace, compared to about half of other workers.

While Americans as a whole say they believe the coronavirus outbreak is getting worse, teachers are now more likely to have a grim view of the situation: 64 percent of teachers say the pandemic is getting worse, compared to 51 percent of other workers. Earlier in the summer, teachers and workers had similar views of the situation.

The Gallup survey also found that teachers have an increasingly positive view of remote work. Nearly three-fourths of teachers said they would prefer to work remotely—up from 57 percent in June.

Image: Registered Nurse Laure Hale writes on her car during a motorcade protest to the Duval County School Board building on July 14 in Jacksonville, Fla. Duval County teachers and their supporters were protesting plans of starting the upcoming school year with the rate of COVID-19 infections hitting record rates in Jacksonville. —Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.