Australian Teachers during COVID-19 lockdown

Australians praise teachers for efforts during COVID-19 lockdowns

More than 40 per cent of Australians say they have a greater appreciation for teachers and the wider teaching profession after a school year interrupted by lockdowns and transition to online learning, a new Monash University report shows. 

In one of the largest surveys about the perceptions of schooling in Australia since the height of the pandemic, the Monash University report shows 41.6 per cent of respondents said their perceptions of teachers’ work had improved as a direct result of COVID-19.  ‘

The Impact of COVID-19 on Perceptions of Australian Schooling’ report also found three-quarters of the 1012 Australians surveyed were supportive of a flexible study model, where students have the option to take online classes, and 56.7 per cent of people agreed that the shift to remote schooling during COVID-19 was successful.

A resounding 91.9 per cent of respondents also said it was important for students from low socio-economic households to be provided with subsidised or free access to laptops and other devices necessary to complete their schoolwork at home.

Dr Fiona Longmuir,

Dr Amanda Heffernan, Dr Bertalan Magyar and Dr David Bright from Monash University’s Faculty of Education compiled the report.

“It is important to acknowledge this increase in positive perceptions of teachers’ work, given mounting evidence that the COVID-19 crisis has significantly increased the levels of stress and burnout among teachers across the world,” Dr Longmuir, Lecturer in Educational Leadership, said.

“Teachers have reported working untenable hours to ensure students maintain access to learning remotely, and in many countries have put their own health and safety at risk by being required to continue teaching in classrooms that are not COVID-safe.

“Importantly, our findings show a correlation between respondents who had a school-aged child at home and more positive perceptions of teachers’ work during COVID-19. This suggests that people who experienced remote learning first-hand were more likely to have a more positive perception of teachers’ work as a result.”

This study backs onto a comprehensive 2019 Monash Education report into the perceptions of teachers and teaching in Australia – the largest of its kind.  The survey of 2,444 Australian educators and members of the public highlighted a divide in the perceptions of teachers between the profession and the community. Seventy-one per cent of teachers said the profession was unappreciated, despite public perceptions of teaching showing that 82 per cent of people felt the teaching profession was respected.

“Our previous research about the Australian public’s perceptions of teaching showed a disconnect between teachers’ perceptions of low public respect and trust of teachers, compared with the high levels of trust and respect reported by the public,” Dr Longmuir said.

“With COVID-19 lockdowns and remote learning ‘opening-up’ the classroom to families and making teachers’ work more visible to many parents, we wanted to see if these perceptions changed.”

Parents who participated in the survey reported benefits from the shift to remote learning in Australia, including more family time, more flexibility in children’s schedules, better parental understanding of their children’s learning, a reduction in anxiety and stress, and an increase in children’s confidence in learning. However, respondents were cautious to note that while flexible or online learning would not work for all students, flexibility to meet individual needs and circumstances would be a positive approach.

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“It’s important to reflect, be innovative and be open-minded when it comes to schooling options. Last year showed that different learning options suit different students,” Dr Longmuir said. “We know that some students thrived when learning from home and others really struggled. The opinions of participants surveyed and observations of the experiences of students in 2020 suggest that the typical model of learning in classrooms does not have to be the only option offered to students.

“However, participants said it was important to maintain a sense of belonging and connection for students, and to consider the importance of traditional face-to-face modes of schooling for students’ social and emotional development.” Dr Longmuir said the burden of increased workloads and administrative tasks outside the classroom continued to be a concern, contributing to long-term burnout and the likelihood that teachers will leave the profession.

“In 2019, 75 per cent of participants in our survey of teachers reported that their workloads were not manageable. Our assumptions are that this will have been exacerbated in 2020 as other research has indicated increased teacher workload through the pandemic,” Dr Longmuir said.

“Teacher workload is a very important issue to address both to support the wellbeing of the teachers that are doing such important work, as the pandemic highlighted, and also to ensure that we attract and retain great teachers into the future.”

To download a copy of the report paper, please visit https://www.monash.edu/education