Teaching Profession Opinion

What We Learned About Teachers During the Pandemic: A Series

Suddenly distant from their students, teachers were on their own to make school happen

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.

Lincoln Agnew for Education Week
Teaching Profession Opinion I've Studied Teachers for 20 Years. The Pandemic Was Their Ultimate Challenge
Researcher Lora Bartlett wondered what was happening behind the scenes as teachers' cheerful voices radiated from her daughters' computers.
Lora Bartlett, July 19, 2021
4 min read
Illustration of teachers working
F. Sheehan/Getty
Teaching Profession Opinion Teachers Were Told to 'Give Grace' as the Pandemic Started. They Did That and Much More
Districts offered little guidance otherwise, writes researcher Lora Bartlett.
Lora Bartlett, July 26, 2021
4 min read
A teacher shares her pandemic experience.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and PeopleImages/iStock
Teaching Profession Opinion Only 15 Students Showed Up for Online Class. Then, Teachers Got Creative
When COVID-19 closed school buildings, teachers worked to exhaustion but also felt proud.
Lora Bartlett, July 26, 2021
1 min read
A teacher tries to juggle remote and in-person instruction
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty images
Teaching Profession Opinion Will the Pandemic Drive Teachers Out of the Profession? What One Study Says
The way decisions were made this past year underscored teachers' lowly place in the school hierarchy, writes researcher Lora Bartlett.
Lora Bartlett, August 2, 2021
5 min read
Conceptual image of teacher voice
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
Teaching Profession Opinion 'I Didn't Hug My Children for 3 Months'
When COVID-19 rates rose, a teacher's sacrifices to stay in the classroom didn't seem to count, writes researcher Lora Bartlett.
Lora Bartlett, August 2, 2021
2 min read
bartlett 4
F. Sheehan/Getty
Teaching Profession Opinion After Propping Up Schools in the Pandemic, Teachers Now Feel Ignored
More than ever, schools are missing out if they don't heed teachers' voices, writes researcher Lora Bartlett.
Lora Bartlett, August 9, 2021
6 min read

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.
Map of United States

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.