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Teaching in Crisis: Teachers' Voices During COVID-19

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper
Lecture presentation

Tuesday, December 1, 2:00–2:45 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)
Presentation 1 of 2
Other presentations:
Essential Components of Successful Instructional Coaching Programs

Dr. Heather Pacheco-Guffrey  
Andrea Cayson  
Melissa Winchell  
Dr. Jeanne Ingle  

This session will report the findings of a study of teachers’ experiences as the United States educational system abruptly moved to remote instruction in Spring of 2020. Over 700 teachers from 40 different states shared their challenges, successes and strategies working remotely with children from grades prek-12.

Audience: Principals/head teachers, Teachers, Teacher education/higher ed faculty
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Topic: Distance, online & blended learning
Grade level: PK-12
ISTE Standards: For Education Leaders:
Equity and Citizenship Advocate
  • Ensure all students have access to the technology and connectivity necessary to participate in authentic and engaging learning opportunities.
Empowering Leader
  • Support educators in using technology to advance learning that meets the diverse learning, cultural, and social-emotional needs of individual students.
For Educators:
  • Advocate for equitable access to educational technology, digital content and learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs of all students.
Additional detail: Session recorded for video-on-demand

Proposal summary


The study undertaken by the authors of this research session is unique, as little educational research exists on emergency or crisis schooling during the pandemic of 2020. There is a body of research from the work on teaching during environmental crisis, teaching during economic crisis, and teaching during geopolitical crises (Figart, 2010; Huston & DePietro, 2007; McDaniel, 2019). Previous work is concerned primarily with the effects of trauma on learning, the loss of teachers from the profession post-emergency, and the mitigating effects of the teacher-student relationship during crisis. However, these studies are not specific to the 2020 pandemic.

In fact, emergency remote learning during the pandemic of 2020 provides a complex context through which to explore already-researched themes in education, including those of equity and student engagement. Two themes which emerged most strikingly from the analysis of data.

In the “mess” of emergency remote learning during the 2020 pandemic in the United States, the complexities of student engagement and widespread inequity became clearer to teachers. PK-12 teachers were engaging with students from within students’ homes; issues of inequity that existed prior to the pandemic were played out--sometimes live--on teachers’ computer screens. And while teachers employed a variety of strategies to increase student engagement (Martin & Bolliger, 2018), other, often mundane (the availability of paper or crayons) or profound (the illness of a family member) factors interfered with learning and engagement and these could not always be mitigated by teachers. Currently there is a gap in the literature for understanding, explaining, and solving these complexities of student engagement and inequality during emergency remote teaching and learning. Early findings suggest that the structural inequities inherent in schooling in the U.S. and exacerbated by emergency remote learning play a critical role in the ability, extent, and quality of student engagement.
 The clear reality is that remote learning will become a go to strategy for districts across the United States. Understanding how to effectively engage students while being conscious of systemic inequities will be essential knowledge for teachers and administrators moving forward.


The authors of this research distributed a survey to PK-12 teachers in public and private schools nationwide in April and May of 2020. Over 700 teachers from forty states and the District of Columbia responded from urban, suburban, and rural communities inclusive of low-, moderate- and high-income school districts. Snowball sampling (Bailey, 2018) was employed to engage participants. Survey participation was solicited via Facebook posting by all study authors. Surveys were distributed through email and Facebook messenger. Teachers answered short-answer questions both about the problems they were experiencing during emergency remote learning and the problem-solving approaches and pedagogical strategies they were using to solve those problems.
These responses are currently being coded using open, axial, and selective coding in keeping with a grounded theory approach. In addition, follow-up focus groups with teachers who responded to the survey will be conducted in the summer of 2020 to provide thick description to the survey findings (Corbin and Strauss, 2015).

Types of questions included:
Role in education (classroom teacher, special education teacher, ELL teacher, etc)
School setting (urban, rural, suburban)
State and U.S. Territories
Teaching setting (public, private, charter, etc)
Student population served (low-, moderate-, high-)
Open-Ended Questions:
What are the top 5 issues you are/ have been encountering in your teaching following school building closures and transition to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
How are you problem-solving the teaching challenges you are facing?
Who/what are you relying on most to help solve the teaching problems you face?
Do you expect the challenges you face to be resolved? Why / why not?
Is there anything else you'd like to share about your experience teaching in America during the COVID-19 pandemic?


Preliminary findings indicate that the system of existing inequities in U.S. schools are exacerbated by the emergency transition to remote learning. Findings suggest that teachers were shouldering burdens that are inherently structural and systemically inequitable, including, meeting the diverse needs of learners, access to technology, home support, assessment, teacher work/life balance, maintaining academic rigor.
The researchers are employing findings to share common and persistent challenges, identify ways these challenges are being successfully addressed, and make recommendations based on the work and reflections of educators currently in the field. Effective technologies, strategies and resources are being collected and will be shared.


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of millions of Americans in innumerable ways. PK-12 education has been profoundly impacted by the rapid shift to online teaching and learning. In the spring of 2020, American teachers suddenly found themselves responsible for teaching their students remotely. These professionals, trained for face-to-face instruction, had to make this transition to remote teaching with little to no training or advanced preparation. They did this in a time of national crisis, when life circumstances were changing dramatically for most Americans; they did this during a time of tremendous uncertainty.

These persistent challenges have the potential to heavily impact the many teachers, children, families and support staff involved in America’s education system. In order to mitigate negative impacts and build successful and sustainable systems for the future, teachers’ experiences must be heard, valued and examined.

This research study adds to the body of scientific literature that is being established to document and learn from the experience of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, it provides clear lessons-learned and recommendations for educators from their colleagues in the field. Finally, this research study allows teachers’ voices to build a roadmap on how to effectively engage all learners as we move forward in an educational landscape profoundly altered by the COVID-19 reality.


Bailey, C. A. (2018). A guide to qualitative field research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2015). Basics of qualitative research: techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Sage Publications, Inc.
Figart, D. M. (2010). Editorial: Teaching during the global financial crisis. International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, 1(3), 236. doi:10.1504/ijpee.2010.034686
Fredricks, J.A., Blumenfeld, P.C., & Paris, A.H. (2004). School Engagement: Potential of the Concept, State of the Evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59.
Gonser, S. (2020, April 8). What Past Education Emergencies Tell Us About Our Future.
Huston, T. A. & DiPietro, M. (2007). In the Eye of the Storm: Students’ Perceptions of Helpful Faculty Actions Following a Collective Tragedy. To Improve the Academy, 25(1), 207.
Kamenetz, A. (2020, April 24). 9 Ways Schools Will Look Different When (And If) They Reopen.
Lincove, J. A., Barrett, N., & Strunk, K. O. (2018). Lessons From Hurricane Katrina: The Employment Effects of the Mass Dismissal of New Orleans Teachers. Educational Researcher, 47(3), 191–203. doi: 10.3102/0013189x18759542
Long, C. (n.d.). School Shootings and Other Traumatic Events: How To Talk To Students. Retrieved from
Martin, F., & Bolliger, D. U. (2018). Engagement Matters: Student Perceptions on the Importance of Engagement Strategies in the Online Learning Environment. Online Learning, 22(1), 205–222.
Martin, F., Wang, C., & Sadaf, A. (2020). Facilitation matters: Instructor perception of helpfulness of facilitation strategies in online courses. Online Learning, 24(1), 28-49.
Mcdaniel, R. (2019, November 7). Teaching in Times of Crisis. Retrieved from
Milman, N. B. (2020, March 31). This Is Emergency Remote Teaching, Not Just Online Teaching. Retrieved from
Strauss, V. (2020, March 26). Analysis | A trauma-informed approach to teaching through coronavirus - for students everywhere, online or not. Retrieved from
Reich, J., Buttimer, C. J., Fang, A., Hillaire, G., Hirsch, K., Larke, L., Slama, R. (2020, April 2). Remote Learning Guidance From State Education Agencies During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A First Look.

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Dr. Heather Pacheco-Guffrey, Bridgewater State University
Dr. Jeanne Ingle, Bridgewater State University

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