89% of Teachers Have Returned Exclusively to In-Person Work

89% of Teachers Have Returned Exclusively to In-Person Work

Student engagement is up, but teachers’ job satisfaction may suffer
public school teacher and student bumping elbows

Roughly two years after COVID-19 caused the first school shutdown, nearly 9 in 10 public school teachers say they’ve returned exclusively to their classrooms — despite ongoing concerns about the omicron variant and debates over vaccine mandates.

In a new report from Upbeat, a company that provides research and support services for primary and secondary schools, more than 14,000 public school teachers in 14 states were asked to discuss their work experiences during the fall of 2021. The survey found that while in-person teaching may relieve some stressors for teachers, job satisfaction appears to be low.

Transitioning back to in-person teaching

In February 2020, the first COVID-19-related school shutdown took place in the U.S. Over the next month, nearly every U.S. school temporarily closed for in-person studies.

In the past two years, teachers have had to weather uncertainty about returning to schools and — in the process — adopt several new teaching models, including remote and hybrid. According to the Brookings Institution, the average teacher had to switch models twice during the 2020-21 school year alone.

As of fall 2021, most teachers say they're back in the classroom. Here's what teachers report in the Upbeat survey:

  • 89.1% are teaching exclusively in-person, versus 27.0% in fall 2020
  • 5.3% are teaching hybrid, versus 54.0% in fall 2020
  • 2.4% are teaching remote, versus 19.0% in fall 2020

One of the expected upsides to in-person education has been increased student engagement. Teachers are reporting an increase, but it may not be significant as expected: 46% say that almost all students are engaged in their studies, though that’s only 5 percentage points higher than fall 2020’s 41%. And just like last year, 35% of teachers report that only some students are engaged.

New challenges for teachers

While in-person teaching may make lesson planning and communication easier, it has some potential downsides.

According to previous surveys from human resources consultant Robert Half and the Pew Research Center, respectively, more than half (54%) of all professionals report wanting fully remote positions, particularly in different cities or states from where they currently live. Meanwhile, nearly half (46%) say they want to live in suburban areas. A return to in-person teaching may remind teachers of their inability to seize the permanent, remote opportunities many other workers have.

An early 2021 survey from RAND Corp. found that roughly 1 in 4 teachers were planning to leave their jobs by the end of the school year, up from 1 in 6 who said the same before the pandemic — this means that teachers may soon be quitting at the same rates as other workers.

In the Upbeat survey, teachers reported low overall satisfaction with various working conditions. These are the areas where the smallest percentage of teachers say they're satisfied:

  • Compensation and career path (56%)
  • Work/life balance (63%)
  • Diversity (69%)
  • Cultural competence (70%)
  • Professional development (72%)

While many workers have expressed a value shift toward work-life balance and the desire for better compensation, teacher input shines a light on another set of unique challenges that teachers face: shortfalls in diversity and cultural competence in schools.

When asked about their schools' preparations for handling issues of racism and discrimination, 65% of Black teachers and 66% of Hispanic/Latinx teachers report positive perceptions, in contrast with 70% to 73% of teachers in other groups.

Female teachers also report dealing with their own unique stressors — in particular, women are more likely to report challenges in balancing workload with home-life responsibilities. The survey notes that 63% of teachers overall say they feel positive about their work-life balance. But when broken down by gender, female teachers express this sentiment at 10 percentage points lower than male teachers (63% versus 73%). In addition, just 56% of female teachers found their workloads to be reasonable.

Motherhood may be a factor at play: According to the RAND survey, one-third of teachers care for their own children while teaching.

Methodology: For its Teacher Engagement Survey, Upbeat polled 14,024 teachers, who work in 425 public schools across 14 states (New York, Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Vermont, Nebraska, Arkansas and Oregon). The survey was administered between Sept. 27 and Nov. 13, 2021.