RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Chicago education officials are reversing course. It's the latest big school district planning to start the school year all remote. And now a new NPR/Ipsos poll finds that 2 out of 3 teachers say that's the right call. The national poll found overwhelming trepidation among teachers when it comes to returning to in-person classrooms. Anya Kamenetz from NPR's Education desk is here to talk more about the poll's findings. Hi, Anya.
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: What's at the root of the concern here?
KAMENETZ: Well, 77% of teachers are worried about risking their own health if they were to come back to the classroom. And almost exactly the same number don't trust that the resources are going to be there to keep them safe. So they said they're concerned specifically about accessing personal protective equipment, masks, even cleaning supplies. And keep in mind, reopening safely does bring a lot of new costs. And many schools are in a budget crunch right now because of the recession, and they've only received a little bit of the federal coronavirus funds so far.
MARTIN: So concerns for their own physical safety, their own health, which is a big one. Other concerns revealed in the poll?
KAMENETZ: Yes. For returning to the classroom, teachers were concerned about just the logistics of teaching while socially distanced - how do you create, you know, a live, spontaneous classroom while people are 6 feet apart - and also policing kids around following the rules. So 84% of teachers said they don't think that they're going to be able to or it's going to be hard to enforce social distancing among their students. For example, I talked to Felicia Tinsley, who teaches elementary special education students in Chester County, S.C.
FELICIA TINSLEY: I want to go back and then I don't want to go back because you will have to teach kids how to wear masks properly and teach them basically instructions on how to operate in our new society.
KAMENETZ: She says in South Carolina, mask wearing is really a polarizing issue. And so she wants to tell her students that it's a really serious phenomenon they have to pay attention to because she herself had the coronavirus.
MARTIN: Wow. So she speaks from experience. All right. What about the concerns teachers have over online instruction? This wasn't easy for a lot of them.
KAMENETZ: That's right. So even as they say they would prefer to return to online teaching, two-thirds of teachers said they would prefer that, but 84% are worried about the learning gaps that might open up even wider. And that also tracks with what we know about persistent gaps in accessing, you know, materials, equipment, Wi-Fi. And similarly, 4 out of 5 teachers agreed that, you know, they don't know how they're going to get to know their new students. Last year, they left off with students they'd been teaching, you know, since the fall. This year, it's a whole new class of kids. And then more than half of our teachers who were also parents said they can't do their jobs while also taking care of their kids.
MARTIN: Right. There's that. So schools are still making changes. I mean, this late some schools are just now deciding what fall's going to look like. I imagine that uncertainty is tough for teachers, too.
KAMENETZ: It really is. You know, the uncertainty itself is a huge problem for teachers just as it is, you know, for families and really for everyone during the pandemic. For Felicia Tinsley, for example, in South Carolina, her school district has already switched from going five days a week to going just a couple of days a week and also pushed back the start of the school year.
TINSLEY: And I said I'll just see what happens because every day something changes.
KAMENETZ: Four out of five teachers told us they're worried that the plan's going to change again, even after the school year starts.
MARTIN: So - I don't know - it's human nature to ask this. Were there any bright spots in this poll, Anya?
KAMENETZ: You know, when it comes to remote learning, I was really interested to learn that 4 out of 5 teachers say they think it's going to go better this fall because they're more prepared. So here's Danielle Simpson. She teaches fourth grade at Crescent Academy International. That's an Islamic private school in Michigan. And she says she's been taking courses and webinars to just up her online teaching game. And she feels confident.
DANIELLE SIMPSON: Teachers and admin are still going to be able to give their dedication to the students, even with this constantly changing circumstances that we have.
KAMENETZ: So, you know, despite everything that's been coming at them, teachers like Simpson are pretty determined to stick with this and persevere this fall and just see what they can accomplish.
MARTIN: Anya Kamenetz from NPR's Education desk. Thank you, Anya.
KAMENETZ: Thanks, Rachel.
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