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Staff File Photo By Troy Stolt / Lakeside Academy student Emmett Loylass completes a virtual learning assignment at home in September 2020.

Whether it emanated from administration, the COVID-19 pandemic or some other reason, Hamilton County public school teachers largely found their school climate more challenging during the 2020-2021 year than the 2019-2020 year, according to a state teacher survey released Monday.

Their answers on school climate questions in the survey frequently showed both a satisfaction lower than the state average and a level lower than the previous year.

Dealing with both virtual and in-person classes is a challenge for any teacher, and the district had a number of students online for the first half of the year. Fortunately, in-person classes were available for most students for the majority of the year.

Nearly 20% of teachers who took the survey — 48% of all teachers did — either disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement that their school had "an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect." That was 5% more than last year and 1% more than 2019.

Across the state, only 13% of teachers either disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement.

On whether "our school staff is a learning community in which ideas and suggestions for improvement are encouraged," 15% of Hamilton County teachers who took the survey either disagreed or disagreed strongly. That was 6% more than last year and 3% higher than the state.

Concerning whether they "would recommend this school to parents seeking a place for their child," 15% of teachers either disagreed or disagreed strongly, but that was 2% lower than the 2019-2020 year.

Across the state, only 9% of teachers disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement, also down 2% from the year before.

On whether they were "generally satisfied with being a teacher in this school," 14% of Hamilton County teachers who took the survey disagreed or disagreed strongly, up 5% from the previous year.

Only 8% of teachers across the state — down 2% from the last year — said they disagreed or disagreed strongly that they were "general satisfied" with their status.

District teachers also were more dissatisfied with school leadership in 2020-2021.

Fully 37% of teachers disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement that "my principal regularly models effective instruction." That was an increase of 4% from the previous year and 11% higher than the state average.

Similarly, 28% of teachers disagreed or disagreed strongly that "the staff feels comfortable raising issues and concerns that are important to them with school leaders." That was 6% higher than 2019-2020 and 9% higher than the state average.

And 22% of teachers disagreed or disagreed strongly that "my principal is knowledgeable about the curricula being used," up 3% from the previous year. Across the state, only 16% of teachers disagreed or disagreed strongly.

District teachers also showed more dissatisfaction than the previous year on the statements "the principal at my school communicates a clear vision for this school" (up 3%), "I like the way things are run at this school" (up 3%), "my principal regularly gives feedback on my instruction" (up 2%) and "my principal knows my instructional strengths and areas of growth" (up 1%).

Nevertheless, given the above responses, teachers seemed to feel better about the school climate regarding discipline and behavior.

On the statement that "students treat adults with respect at this school," 80% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed, up 8% from the year before. On whether "students in my school are safe from bullying," 82% either agreed or strongly agreed, up 7%. On whether "I feel prepared to respond to any type of emergency situation that may occur at my school," 87% agreed or strongly agreed, up 3%. And on "school leadership effectively handles discipline and behavioral problems," 73% agreed or strongly agreed, up 2%.

As to other setbacks, 42% of Hamilton County teachers who took the survey indicated their individual planning time was insufficient, and 38% said their collaborative planning time was lacking.

In general, the teachers said their three biggest classroom concerns were students missing instructional time, maintaining and building relationships with students in spite of distance and uncertainty, and adapting their curriculum for home or virtual learning.

Related to COVID-19 specifically, large majorities acknowledged challenges facilitating student attendance, student participation, facilitating student-to-student interaction, finding instructional plans and materials, lack of technology training for students (all in virtual classes), and adapting to staff and student quarantines, incorporating students in virtual and in-person instruction, and managing student compliance to health and safety protocols (while teaching in person).

Hamilton County teachers, like instructors across the country, navigated a minefield while teaching virtually and in-class during the 2020-2021 school year. Whether their school climate issues were caused more by the pandemic than by leadership issues may not be known until next year's survey results. But with the district's recent leadership change and superintendent search, it's an issue that bears watching.

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