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Challenges for Educators During Distance Learning

By Salvador Alvarado and Rocky Ng

It has been more than half a year now since schools and universities have had to close their doors to students. All part of a measured attempt to get a hold of a pandemic the likes of which we had never seen before. The transition that followed has been one riddled with challenges, especially for educators who have had to adapt to a whole new way of teaching. To explore this new reality facing by them, we have conducted a survey of educators ranging from: high school teachers, university professors and graduate student assistants (GTAs). Through their responses we attempt to highlight some of the hurdles they have been confronted with during the pandemic, along with their personal advice on how to make the best out of the current situation.

What has been most difficult to navigate about teaching virtually?

“Teaching virtually is impersonal. Many students do not turn on their videos. Some seem leave the room or perhaps don't engage in the material. I think they generally seem less interested. Zoom fatigue is setting in for most of us. Also, going back and forth between videos, documents, chat, breakout's a lot to manage and sometimes I feel like an airplane pilot trying to keep all the balls in the air, PLUS deliver a decent content-based experience.”

-Professor at S.F.S.U

Helping students find the assignments they need to be working on and keeping track of students who needs extra help. The pace of distance learning lessons is much slower than in the classroom because of students who don't know where to go. Also, adapting all of my lessons into a digital format has been challenging. Having equitable class discussions with student participation is challenging also.”

-Teacher at South San Francisco High School

“Forming a tight knit connections with students, and being able to read their body language/physical cues when they're confused about something during class. A connection has definitely been formed, but I would say it isn't the same as teaching in person for sure. “

-Graduate Student Assistant at S.F.S.U

For too many instructors it has been quite disheartening giving lectures to an audience who they are not even sure is there listening to them. In addition, the transition to a virtual setting brought the inevitable challenge of adapting lesson plans into a digital format. In general, the biggest hurdle has been making sure students are engaged and actually learning the material.

What are some ways you have adjusted to the online format?

Educators are lifelong learners and are able to adapt to this new teaching environment. In this survey, many teachers have reported that they learned new technology skills and apps to support their pedagogy. Here is a table that summarizes the adjustments:

What advice do you have to educators and students struggling with the online format?

Many of our educators are trying to stay positive amid a pandemic. Many of our fellow educators best advice are summarized below:

Find ways to connect with your students in breakout rooms or required office hours. Try to reduce any extraneous assignments/assessments, as it will also reduce your workload.“

- Professor at S.F.S.U

“Breath and give yourself time to learn and adapt. Make mistakes and own them. We are all human and this is NOT how I was educated. I earned my degree while card catalogs were still a thing and microfiche was king! You are never too old to learn new things!”

- Teacher at South San Francisco High School

“I think both students and teachers need to be really proactive in talking to each other. Students should reach out to teachers when they need it, and teachers should create space for that communication”

- Graduate Student Assistant at S.F.S.U

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. (

While analyzing the results, it really reminds us to practice Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We need to take care of ourselves before taking care of our students. We need to eat, feel safe, and sleep so that we can teach. If you are one of the educators who are struggling, breathe, and take a step back. What are the essential needs for YOU? Perhaps identifying those needs and ask for help if you need to. Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint. Self-care is the first step to continue this long journey. Also, you are not alone. All educators are here to support each other and to positively impact our students!


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