Educators Share Top Concerns About Returning to School Amid Pandemic

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From evaluating reopening plans to identifying how to support students and staff, school leaders continue to grapple with uncertainties prompted by COVID-19. To understand how we can best help educators, our team reached out to gather their top concerns about returning to school.

Educators shared candid insights, including their sentiment towards and preparedness for the 2020-21 school year. After reviewing responses, we recognized seven common concerns.

Concern #1: Safety and Health

The safety and health of students, colleagues and respondents is top-of-mind. In a survey conducted by Education Week, more than three-fourths of teachers said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the health implications of resuming in-person instruction this fall – this matches our findings.

“There are no best practices for teaching in this sort of [remote] environment: how to set up a classroom to account for disinfection and hazardous material handling. How to conduct class activities […] how to conference with students or intervene in discipline situations from that distance. How to teach required content and meet student learning goals […] and how to emotionally support anxious students – and ourselves…”
–David Nurenberg, Ph.D., associate professor, Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education

“Beyond the health concerns of COVID-19, university faculty are apprehensive about returning to campus and the distractions that face-to-face teaching […] will bring. How will professors lecture through face coverings? Will students be able to learn in a collaborative environment while physically distanced? Many [faculty] have gone to great lengths to move classes online over the past several months, and while that has its own suite of challenges, it still may be a safer path forward.”
–Gilbert L. Michaud, Ph.D., assistant professor of practice at Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, Ohio University

“Let’s be real, safety is of the utmost concern about returning to school since COVID-19 and educators matter just as much as students. If not, then who will teach?”
–Clarence McFerren II, speaker, educator and author, Mac J. Books

The Gale Academic Digital Learning Handbook offers various content formats and curriculum development ideas to help create an engaging learning environment for students. Explore these quick tips and learn more about the handbook, including practical steps for teaching online and course development activities to make an immediate impact on online learning.

Concern #2: Social-Emotional Learning and Mental Health

New stressors and changes prompted by COVID-19 require additional social and emotional learning (SEL) and mental health support for students. In fact, the National Education Association stated that SEL should be a priority during the pandemic. This is reinforced by new CDC findings that almost 3 out of 4 young adults reported at least one adverse mental health condition.

“I’m worried that a lot of this isolation is going to stunt our children’s social and coping skills.”
–Cassy Ramalingam, director & teacher of preschool & kindergarten, Ramalynn Academy

“While I thought remote learning would make it difficult to fully support the social and emotional learning of my students as we’re doing distance learning, I feel prepared for the start of the school year – remotely – because we have spent so much time building strong relationships with our students.”
–Lauren Partma, Teacher, McKinley School, Pasadena, California

Gale partners with experts like the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation to provide ongoing access to trusted mental health and SEL resources when students need them most. Start by incorporating these simple practices into everyday instruction. Each aligns with CASEL’s framework; corresponds to best practices from leading Gale eBooks authors; and is leveled for elementary, middle and high school students.

Concern #3: Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction

School-family communication is essential to offsetting a lack of face-to-face interaction. Educators emphasized the importance of connecting with students and families to establish and maintain relationships.

“At the end of the last school year, internet access, communication with parents and connecting with the students who needed the most help was challenging due to the lack of face-to-face interaction. While distance teaching is great, that face-to-face connection with kids who need a teacher’s guidance and support the most is my personal concern for the upcoming school year.”
–Josh Hastings, blogger, teacher and founder of Money Life Wax

“My first concern is addressing the academic slide. My second concern is the social and emotional aspect of learning. I fear that there is going to be a lot of anxieties and reteaching of community values when we are not able to actually display these values, (i.e. sharing).”
–Anita Perry, author, yogi & educator

For English- and Spanish-speaking students, we developed a quick-start guide to explain what databases are, why students and teachers love them, and how they help kids get schoolwork done with fewer roadblocks. With one for elementary schoolers and one for middle and high schoolers, students and their families now have a simple Spanish-language guide for getting started with Gale In Context databases. Customers can access these and more resources at

Concern #4: Lack of Teacher Training

New training is required to deal with trauma and academic losses caused by COVID-19, including trauma-informed and SEL practices. The uncertainty of in-person instruction means that districts may need to shift to more flexible training options.

“We need more training for educators to equip them with the skills they need to be trauma responsive at the micro and macro levels before school reopens.”
–Karen Gross, author, educational commentator and educator, Karen Gross Education

“Teachers need practical tools and strategies to cope with this stress that include more than admonishments to ‘buck up, pull it together and do it for the kids.’ […] A recent study showed that we lose nearly 14% of our teachers to attrition each year. We can do better.”
–Dan Tricarico, author of The Zen Teacher

In today’s environment, providing professional development that’s personalized, job embedded and sustainable can feel like a balancing act. Gale eBooks: Professional Learning support The Four Pillars of Online PD, with each collection bringing together 10 to 50 cross-searchable titles featuring authors from ASCD, ISTE, Corwin Press, Solution Tree and more. They address topics such as virtual learning, differentiation, supporting all students, culturally responsive teaching, social and emotional learning and high-quality literacy instruction.

Concern #5: Regression of Learning in Low Socioeconomic Households

Additional learning challenges are present for students in low socioeconomic households, as the COVID-19 virus has exacerbated existing challenges for those families.

“Most of the ninth-grade students I teach come from low socioeconomic households and/or have existing learning challenges. My biggest concern is the regression of learning in populations that are already struggling.”
–Josh Hastings, blogger, teacher and founder of Money Life Wax

“We live in a time where socioeconomic divides are of great concern to people. We are setting things up to create one of the biggest socioeconomic gaps we’ve seen.”
–Liz Kirk, CEO and founder, Alcott Learning

Students lagging behind their peers in reading need a literacy intervention—especially in homes where technology isn’t always readily available. Offering physical books in the large print format provides equity and promotes engaged reading. The increased text size and spacing improves decoding, fluency, and comprehension can support struggling students and lessen the achievement gap.

Concern #6: Quality of Education

There are both academic and non-academic factors that impact the quality of education students receive this year. For instruction to be effective, students and staff must feel safe and supported.

“My top concern is the health and safety of my students. Returning face-to-face presents exposure risks that we will do our best to avoid. Secondarily, I am concerned about the quality of education my students receive. The environment is already stressful and can be disruptive of their ability to master material.”
–Robert C. Bird, professor of business law and Eversource Energy Chair in Business Ethics, University of Connecticut – School of Business

“It is often said that a quality education is the key to future success. However, presently, the key to future success […] is SAFETY. There are still a lot of unknowns […] the fear of the unknown is detrimental, especially mentally which impacts one’s ability to focus and concentrate. More importantly, what about educators and their families?”
–Clarence McFerren II, speaker, educator and author, Mac J. Books

Educational databases offer students equitable and personal opportunities to learn and grow while giving teachers access to quality resources that supplements and enhance instructions. Gain a better understanding of how students and teachers can effectively use databases inside and outside of the classroom with these best practices.

Concern #7: College and Career Readiness

Student readiness for college and career is top-of-mind.

“One of the key concerns I’ve heard in my practice is the stress felt among high school counselors regarding college planning for their students. Families expressing stress about standardized testing, recruitment, college visits, financial aid, tuition costs – all associated with the impact of COVID.”
–Sherry Skyler Kelly, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and founder of PositiviTeens

Whether instruction takes place in-person, online or both, college and career readiness resources are essential. Through the Gale Presents: Peterson’s Test and Career Prep suite, users receive access to online practice tests for high school and college entrance exams, intuitive college and career searches and advice on interviewing and networking.

Gale is committed to supporting educators during this unusual school year.

We’ll continue to collaborate with administrators, teachers and students to understand how we can meet their evolving needs. To learn how Gale can support you this school year, visit our eLearning webpage.

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