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Back to school in the new normal: What teachers need most this fall

Heading back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic means most of our nation’s teachers are facing unprecedented challenges this year.

Some teachers are implementing new rules, procedures and classroom configurations to limit the spread of the illness. Others are creating entirely new online curricula for students who will be learning from home. Many teachers are tasked with doing both at the same time, often without additional financial resources to make it all happen.

A recent survey of 1,000 U.S. teachers by the education nonprofit DonorsChoose found that 42% of teachers are planning to teach in a hybrid format this fall, with students undergoing a combination of online learning and in-person learning. Thirty-five percent will teach entirely remotely, while 8% will teach in person and 14% were unsure at survey time. Eighty-six percent of teachers report feeling uncertain, anxious and overwhelmed as they prepare for the coming school year, and 81% expect that their schools will be forced to go online only at some point this school year.

“I feel like waiting for answers is the hardest part,” notes Rosemarie, a teacher who responded to the DonorsChoose survey. “It is a wait-and-see with the health and safety of students, families and staff members always in the forefront.”

In the survey, teachers also revealed the resources they most needed as the school year began.

Teachers in the classroom: Cleaning supplies and PPE

Of those teachers who expect to return to the classroom, 79% say they need cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep their students healthy and safe. In fact, DonorsChoose — which allows teachers to create requests for school resources that the public can help fund — saw a surge over the summer in teacher requests for hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and air filters. Teachers have also been quick to request basic supplies like glue, scissors, crayons, and pencils, since 72% of teachers report their schools are no longer allowing students to share materials.

Teachers online: Instructional technology

Many teachers began teaching online at the end of last school year. As school starts this fall, 52% of teachers report feeling more prepared to teach online than they did last spring, but there are still a number of challenges. The hardest part of teaching online, teachers report, is keeping students engaged. To do so, their greatest need is for instructional technology: laptops, tablets, document cameras, and other technology to help them do demonstrations and keep their students interested in the content. Fifty-three percent of teachers also report a greater need for technology for their students, so they can follow along at home.

All teachers: Professional development

Even for teachers who have been teaching for years, this school year will likely feel like the first year of teaching all over again. The lessons they’ve built and refined over years of experience will have to be recreated to work for online or socially distanced learning. In the DonorsChoose survey, 41% of teachers say the professional development they need most is for online instruction techniques; 20% are interested in learning more about online tools and technology to help them become stronger at remote teaching.

All of these resource needs can add up quickly for teachers as the school year begins. “There will be a much greater need for classroom supplies as teachers have to change many things in their classrooms to keep materials, belongings and children separated,” says Gwendolyn, a teacher who responded to the DonorsChoose survey. “This expense will fall on the teachers.”

Since July, thousands of people have helped fund more than 70,000 teacher requests on DonorsChoose to help teachers start their year strong whether they’re teaching at home or in the classroom. Still, there are nearly 50,000 teacher requests awaiting support.

To find a teacher request to support, visit

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