As the most important in-school factor for impacting student outcomes, teachers are critical to the education system’s recovery from the unprecedented disruptions caused by COVID-19, and their voices deserve to be elevated as we reflect on the past year and look ahead to accelerating student learning in the coming years. In the face of a global pandemic, Tennessee’s teachers remained committed to serving students, which can be seen in their responses to this year’s Educator Survey.

For the past decade, the Tennessee Department of Education has partnered with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance to administer the Tennessee Educator Survey and gather teachers’ feedback from across the state. In the 2020-2021 school year, 50 percent of Tennessee’s teachers completed the survey.

Despite the immense challenges this year wrought, teachers reported a 91 percent job satisfaction rate — a true testament to Tennessee educators’ dedication to their students and their work. Still, respondents elevated several challenges on this year’s survey.

Since spring 2020, educators’ top concerns shifted from technology barriers to missed instructional time. Eighty-three percent of teachers indicated that students missing instructional time was a concern. Additionally, about six in ten teachers reported that they covered about 75 percent or less of the curriculum they would cover in a typical year, leaving large gaps in learning for students across the board.

Specific instructional challenges differed greatly based on mode of instruction. Virtual instructors struggled the most with student attendance (74 percent), whereas in-person teachers’ greatest challenge to instruction was due to required staff and student quarantines (40 percent). Teachers instructing to both in-person and virtual students at the same time struggled with incorporating virtual students into the physical classroom space (56 percent). The variation in reported challenges represents just how varied the teaching experience was this past year.

Many teachers faced challenges when adapting to virtual instruction. When asked to reflect on their experience this year, more than half of teachers (54 percent) felt like they did not have enough time to complete the work their school was asking of them for virtual instruction, and two in three teachers worried about adapting their curriculum for virtual learning. Some teachers felt professional development opportunities did not match their needs: 37 percent of teachers indicated their district did not provide enough professional development relating to virtual instruction.

Educators responding to the survey believe the following strategies should be considered to accelerate student learning:

  • Summer school
  • Extended school days
  • Additional instructional time in core subjects
  • Smaller class sizes and individualized supports

During January’s special session, Governor Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly took the first steps to implement some of these strategies by passing the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act. The legislation includes summer learning programs and a statewide high-dosage tutoring initiative — the Tennessee ALL Corps — to support students. In 2021, summer learning programs served more than 120,000 students — an accomplishment made possible by educators’ willingness to teach throughout the additional weeks.

The Tennessee Educator Survey is an opportunity for teachers to share first-hand experience and feedback that provides insights to recent progress and remaining areas of growth for the state. This year stands as a powerful example of the state and its teachers working together while keeping students at the center of their aims.

For the full survey results, visit the department’s website.  

Caroline O’Connor is a graduate fellow at SCORE.