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Blog post Part of series: Covid-19, education and educational research

New teachers’ responses to Covid-19: Getting by or getting ahead?

Rachel Shanks, University of Aberdeen Mark Carver, University of Strathclyde

New teachers might have been expected to experience particular difficulties in moving to remote emergency teaching in March 2020. Funded by a BERA Covid-19 small grant project, we are exploring in what ways new teachers in Scotland felt their initial teacher education programmes and induction prepared them for the unexpected.

Our research builds on the Measuring Quality in Initial Teacher Education (MQuITE) project – a longitudinal study following two cohorts of graduates from their final year of study into their teaching career (Shanks, 2020). Each year, survey questions are added to reflect contemporary concerns; so in May 2020 we asked new teachers about Covid-19. Our question was: In your teaching, to what extent can you respond to new initiatives or changes (such as emergency remote teaching)?

The 243 new teachers who participated largely felt able to respond to the challenges of teaching during a pandemic. Responses on a four-point rating scale, where four was ‘a lot’, averaged 3.4. This compared favourably with overall ratings across the questionnaire’s other 21 efficacy dimensions of 3.13. This suggests that teachers felt more able to respond to emergency remote teaching than many other aspects of teaching that are considered as standard abilities by the OECD (2018).

‘[The new teachers’ responses to the survey] suggests that teachers felt more able to respond to emergency remote teaching than many other aspects of teaching that are considered as standard abilities by the OECD.’

In order to explore why new teachers felt able to respond to changes such as emergency remote teaching, we held three online focus groups with 11 members from our research cohorts, and took the following different theoretical frameworks into consideration.

  • How teachers see their roles (Twiselton, 2000; Fuller, 1969): some teachers see their role as presenting information/themselves; others focus on managing tasks/students; and some focus on pupil learning/skill development.
  • Teacher efficacy (Bandura, 1997): confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s own motivation, behaviour and social environment.
  • Teacher reflexivity: ‘the ability to adjust to change, especially rapid change, which is important to engaging with an uncertain future’ can be a key measure of teacher preparation effectiveness (Nikel & Lowe, 2010, p. 599).

We found a difference between what teachers think they should be doing, the ability they have to do that within normal constraints, and their ability to remain true to these principles when disrupted. The new teachers have found it hard to work without the immediate feedback of their pupils in the classroom. As one focus group participant said: ‘You felt like you were just in a bubble, just kind of putting out what you could.’

The focus group participants spoke about ‘expectations’ for their teaching during lockdown in terms of:

  • what was allowed/expected, in relation to their local authority permission and guidance – for instance, no new content was to be covered
  • expectations in relation to what other local schools were doing
  • imagining what they’d be doing and for how long – ‘it’ll be over by Easter’.

It seemed that during the first lockdown there was a sense of ‘getting by’ and ‘getting ahead’:

  • providing ‘content’ for pupils to work through on their own; and pupils and new teachers ticking off tasks
  • thinking week-by-week (pupils and new teachers getting through tasks each Monday)
  • some of the new teachers were sources of support for their colleagues and were able to make wider connections
  • some new teachers had time for online professional learning and were able to devise creative new teaching approaches, and their pupils were choosing to engage.

When we looked at what made the difference to the new teachers in the focus groups, they referred to ‘people’, ‘tools’ and a ‘lowering of expectations’. The new teachers valued the newness of helping ‘other staff who were struggling’ – for instance, they created ‘how to’ videos for colleagues. They had peer support through Microsoft Teams, Facebook, hashtags, and through their local and university networks. They felt that they were prepared with specific tools such as Apple Teacher and Microsoft Certified. They were able to rapidly access online professional learning as they knew where to go to learn how to access training and they could work it out – by using and creating ‘how to’ videos, for example. Expectations for their work had been lowered: for some because of the cancellation of exams; for others, because of the corporate messaging of ‘do what you can’ and through the Covid-19 recovery plan.

With teachers once again teaching remotely in lockdown conditions, we have conducted a further round of focus groups. Analysis is ongoing, but early findings suggest that these teachers are already progressing their own professional learning and the learning of their pupils through pedagogy-led implementations of digital technologies.


References

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. W. H. Freeman: New York.

Fuller, F. (1969). Concerns of teachers: A developmental conceptualization. American Educational Research Journal, 6(2), 207–226. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312006002207

Nikel, J., & Lowe, J. (2010). Talking of fabric: A multi-dimensional model of quality in education. Compare, 40(5), 589–605. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057920902909477

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. (2018). Teacher questionnaire. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/TALIS-2018-MS-Teacher-Questionnaire-ENG.pdf

Shanks, R. (Ed.). (2020). Teacher preparation in Scotland. Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Twiselton, S. (2000). Seeing the wood for the trees: The national literacy strategy and initial teacher education; pedagogical content knowledge and the structure of subjects. Cambridge Journal of Education, 30(3), 391–403. https://doi.org/10.1080/713657157