York research highlights challenges of teacher-student relationships during pandemic

online learning
online learning

The emergency shift to online teaching at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted teacher-student and student-student relationships and made it difficult to assess how students were performing, according to the findings of a survey of elementary and secondary school teachers.

online learning
The emergency shift to online teaching at the beginning of the pandemic disrupted teacher-student and student-student relationships

As part of a larger study, Associate Professor Sarah Barrett, of York University’s Faculty of Education, surveyed 764 teachers in May and June to explore and document teachers’ experiences of the unprecedented closures in the winter and spring of 2020. The survey provides a snapshot of teachers’ familiarity with online teaching before the pandemic and their circumstances, professional development and concerns during. Fifty-five per cent of participants were secondary school teachers and 45 per cent were elementary school teachers. 

The survey found:

  • Forty per cent of respondents reported having caregiving responsibilities that “significantly impacted” their ability to teach online. This was the strongest theme in the anecdotal responses. 
  • Eighty-two per cent of respondents said they had several students that they were worried would “fall through the cracks” with the new format. There were various reasons indicated in the anecdotal responses, including lack of equipment, special needs, and language difficulties.
  • Vulnerable students were made more vulnerable by the situation and teachers were often frustrated trying to make sure all students’ needs were met. 

The survey respondents indicated they were most concerned about: 

  1. Balancing caregiving and teaching responsibilities. 
  2. Equity, accommodations for students with special needs, and access to technology. 
  3. Authentic assessment of student learning. 
  4. The disruption of relationships.

“These findings about online teaching and learning need to be taken in context. It was an emergency situation,” says Barrett. “Usually, online teaching and learning is a choice made by both the instructors and students. Usually, teachers have the time to prepare and plan. However, in this emergency situation, there was no real choice on the part of teachers, students, or parents. And, importantly, teachers’ efforts to adapt were complicated by the incremental extensions of school closure. This is because short-term lesson planning depends on long-term curriculum planning. The uncertainty made this long-term planning impossible.” 

These findings will inform a final comprehensive report to be released in early 2021.