A week before spring semester 2020, as COVID-19 gripped the nation, researcher and college professor Lora Bartlett was told to take her 300-student undergraduate education course online. She had no idea how to do that. Like millions of K-12 teachers, she was “suddenly distant” from her students and from her colleagues. Her twin daughters likewise found themselves finishing high school at the dining room table, with their teachers doing all they could to be present even while remote.
The experience spurred Bartlett along with three colleagues to conduct an in-depth study of public school teachers’ work during the pandemic. Bartlett draws on the study, “Suddenly Distant,” for these four essays. The series depicts how teachers coped during an unprecedented disruption to education. But it also explores what those 16 months mean for the future of teaching.
The essays will be published over the next few weeks.
About the “Suddenly Distant” Research Project
In the early summer of 2020, Lora Bartlett of the University of California, Santa Cruz, joined by three other researchers—Judith Warren Little from the University of California, Berkeley, and Alisun Thompson and Lina Darwich from Lewis & Clark College—started to document teachers’ professional experiences during the pandemic. As the virus raged, the researchers expanded their work.
More than 750 public school teachers across the nation responded to a summer 2020 survey, and from that pool, the scholars chose 75 to follow closely this past school year, including through interviews and surveys.
To capture a variety of contexts and outlooks, the 75 teachers chosen:
- Hail from Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Texas. The states were selected for their variation in teachers’ union strength and death rates from COVID-19 in July 2020;
- Teach in the suburbs (37 percent), in cities (31 percent), in rural areas (25 percent), and in small towns (4 percent);
- Work in elementary, middle, and high schools and teach a variety of subjects;
- Vary widely in experience, with about a quarter having more than 20 years in the classroom.
More than three-quarters of the teachers are women, roughly matching the proportion in the profession, and a quarter are teachers of color.
Thirty-six teachers, four from each state, were chosen for more extensive interviews. Each quartet included at least one teacher who was positive about his or her school community’s response to the pandemic and at least one who had serious reservations. Each group also varied by school level and the urban-rural demographic.