The COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread disruption to the education sector, and many in the United States took to social media as an outlet for their joys, frustrations, and fears as they relate to schooling. As the pandemic has continued—now into its third year—Americans have voiced their opinions about remote learning and what should be taught in school. At the same time, the pandemic ushered in a new wave of polarization in the U.S., which was evident around things such as whether face masks belong in the classroom and when schools should transition back to in-person learning—with strong held opinions on both sides of the debate.
To understand the conversation more systematically, we analyzed social media posts relating to education over a period of more than two years prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. This analysis shares our findings and is the second in a series of social media analyses. An earlier analysis explored parent, teacher, and student perspectives from England, and additional papers will be released exploring the social media conversations in Brazil and India.
This analysis focuses on the U.S. due to our research interests. Several U.S. jurisdictions participate in the Center for Universal Education’s (CUE’s) Family Engagement in Education Network (FEEN), a global peer learning and exchange community of practice that looks at how family-school engagement contributes to education system transformation. We were curious whether the experiences of the U.S. jurisdictions in our network, which have seen increased family engagement driven by the pandemic, mirrored national trends, as well as what other conversations around education are taking place across the country.
We were interested in studying what parents, teachers, and students are discussing and how their conversations have shifted over time. We were also interested in whether the three groups were discussing the same things or if conversations connected (i.e., whether different groups were talking to each other). Our analysis uncovered the following:
- More voices. COVID-19 brought a lot more regular people into the conversation about education. Unique social media users in our sample more than doubled as compared to the period just prior to our focus. More teachers, parents, and students took to social media to share their perspectives on education, especially around topics such as remote learning.
- Different concerns. Teachers, parents, and students do not appear to be concerned with nor talking about the same things. Teachers are focused on supporting each other through a difficult period and parents are focused on more controversial issues like masks and what belongs in school curricula, while students are mostly focused on their immediate schooling experience, which was largely negative during the pandemic. While parents, teachers, and students sometimes talk about each other in their posts, the vast majority of conversations take place as if they were in different worlds. As the U.S. grapples with increasing polarization, the lack of conversation among teachers, parents, and students seems to reflect and reinforce this.
- Wide-ranging and polarized parental views. Parents are reacting to major changes in their children’s education. Their perspectives on social media are varied and often at odds with one another, and these divisions, often along political lines, seemed to have increased during COVID-19. Some concerns discussed by parents—namely, the role of race in U.S. history—appear to be driven by a small number of outside groups, such as activists, historians, and lawyers.
- Teachers leaning on each other. Teachers turn to each other for help, both before and during COVID-19. One of the most remarkable findings we saw in our data sample is the high prevalence of teachers—mostly before the pandemic—calling on each other to help purchase school supplies, something we have not observed in the other countries we are studying.
- Declining support for teachers. At the beginning of the pandemic, we observed high support for teachers and recognition of their challenging role, but this worrisomely appears to have decreased over time.
Below, we explore our methodology and dive into these five insights further.
Why social listening and what was our methodology?
Social listening is an innovative research method for gathering and making sense of large amounts of social media data. We were interested in using this technique to explore a large volume of conversations around education. While CUE’s family engagement research included surveys of approximately 25,000 parents and 6,000 teachers, this represents only a fraction of all parents and teachers. By contrast, through methods like social listening, we can access the views of millions of parents, teachers, and students, and ascertain nuances and sentiment around education in real time, as well as historically.
We used the Talkwalker platform to conduct our analysis. Talkwalker is a social listening tool that gathers all public media content, from news stories to Twitter and Reddit feeds to blogs. The platform allows users to search for and view results associated with a given topic from public content and displays information such as the content text, author, source, and engagement (e.g., how many times a tweet was liked or retweeted). We used a Boolean query to search for the term “education” and multiple associated keywords and narrowed our search to “average” social media users (e.g., unverified individuals on Twitter, website forums such as Reddit, and blog site authors with limited post views) to try to listen to a more genuine conversation. From previous social listening analyses, we have found that influencers, politicians, and celebrities (who have more followers) tend to have more scripted conversations, which is not as useful for our analysis of the sentiment among the general population. We used a sample size of 25 percent of the total volume of conversation and analyzed top themes by user group of parents, teachers, and students. Whether users are parents, teachers, or students is determined by what they note in their Twitter or forum bio or what they say in their posts (e.g., a parent might say “my daughter”). Given that not everyone includes this information in their bios and posts, our sample looked broadly among all “average” users, and we zeroed in on posts by teachers, parents, and students wherever possible. Occasionally, in the analysis below, we have included posts from other groups when useful for understanding the conversation.
To understand the nature of the conversation over time, we looked at the top hashtags and top two-word combinations over three time periods: pre-COVID (July 15, 2019 – February 29, 2020), COVID Year 1 (March 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020), and COVID Year 2 (January 1, 2021 – October 31, 2021). Within each top hashtag and top two-word combination, we assessed the most engaging posts to understand the types of conversations happening, analyzing in depth more than 1,000 posts.
As with any study, there are certain limitations. When looking at social media posts, we are only looking at a population with internet access and who choose to post on forum sites, blogs, and Twitter. Social media users tend to be more heavily male than female and often represent a younger part of the population. The Talkwalker platform (as is the case with other platforms that CUE explored for this research), is not able to display Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok posts given the privacy protections of the platforms.
Who is talking and on what platforms?
As shown in Figure 1, our sample consists largely of forum posts, which make up 58 percent of the total conversation and come largely from the Reddit platform. Thirty-nine percent of our sample comes from Twitter posts. Less than 3 percent comes from blogs and external websites, which are non-news, interest-based websites.
Figure 1. The types of media where the education conversation took place
Approximately half of all users in the sample are in the 25-34 age bracket. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds represent the second large demographic at 29 percent (Figure 2). In our sample, 43.8 percent of users self-identify as female and 56.2 percent self-identify as male (Figure 3).1 As mentioned above, social media users skew younger and male, so these figures were not a surprise to us. What was most interesting, however, was that age and gender varied by certain conversation topics as we note in Insight No. 3 below.
Figure 2. Age of participants in the education conversation
Figure 3. Gender of participants in the education conversation
According to Talkwalker’s demographic features for family status, 66 percent of our sample self-identifies as parents. Regarding occupation, 24 percent self-identify as teachers, and 7 percent as students. It is likely that these percentages may be even larger, as this only reflects those who have included their occupation in their user bio.2
Insight No. 1: COVID-19 drew more voices into the conversation on education
Our sample of data encompasses 14.5 million results over the 2+ year period from July 15, 2019 through October 31, 2021 (Figure 4). This time period includes three school years and has allowed us to follow year-over-year trends, as well as trends throughout different times of the year.
We observed that the biggest spikes in conversation occurred mid-March 2020, coinciding with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and from July to August 2020, coinciding with the first school year opening during COVID-19 when there were numerous questions about how in-person school would work.
Figure 4. Changes in volume of education conversations between July 2019 and October 2021
If we look only at results that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic (which for the purposes of our research we considered as all posts on or after March 1, 2020 through October 31, 2021), we can see that more users were drawn to social media. As Figure 5 below shows, there were 4.6 million unique authors in this 20-month time period, which represents an increase of 128 percent from the previous period (i.e., the 20 months preceding March 2020). This is more than a doubling of unique authors. In addition, there were 94,200 unique sites in our sample (e.g., blog sites), an increase of 113 percent from the previous period. After the pandemic hit, more people were talking on social media about education.
Figure 5. Number of unique authors and unique sites, March 2020 through October 2021
The more than doubling of both unique authors and unique sites could signify that more people who use social media began discussing education or that new users came to social media to voice opinions and concerns about the education sector. The increase in conversation draws parallels to the experiences of U.S. jurisdictions in CUE’s FEEN, as well as other jurisdictions across the country, that have experienced greater participation from parents in their child’s education during the pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic created huge changes and controversies related to education, the number of average users talking grew, as reflected in the spikes in the volume of conversation at key moments during the pandemic and as we highlight further below.
Insight No. 2: Teachers, parents, and students voice different concerns in their social media conversations
When we analyzed posts by user group, a picture emerged around the kinds of conversations each group was discussing: Each group was focused on very different concerns and topics as if they inhabited different worlds. Given that teachers and parents are central actors in every child’s educational journey, this is concerning as it reflects a lack of shared discussion.
Across our sample of posts about education, the largest segment came from teachers. Teachers’ conversations were mostly around providing support and resources to one another in their challenging field, which has only become more difficult since COVID-19. Teachers’ posts often discussed their students or their students’ parents, but we did not find examples of teachers in conversation with students or parents directly.
The following example represents a typical resource-sharing post from teachers. An elementary school science teacher who posted during the pandemic offers resources to fellow teachers on ways to help students adjust to masking in the classroom:
If you are an #elementary #teacher who will be back in the #classroom with #students in masks, you need to read this great article from @edutopia about some compassionate ways to help kids feel more comfortable.?How to Help Students Get Used to Masks https://t.co/7qSMlxEs2A
— Amy Banks (@aub75229) August 5, 2020
Resource-sharing posts like above were prominent in our sample, which may be because Twitter and other social media are ripe for promotion of ideas and content through retweets and likes. The very nature of these platforms allows one to share information with a much larger community than one could reach in a non-digital world. This may mean that social media is a useful place for teachers seeking information outside of their formal classrooms or networks, as they can access more and potentially better information than in their smaller non-digital communities.
In addition to sharing and asking for resources, we saw several teachers offering motivation and encouragement to their fellow teachers, in recognition of the difficult job teachers have. This pre-pandemic post takes a “tough love” approach to encourage teachers to create a positive classroom culture:
If you're dreading going back to #school Mon, you have no one to blame but yourself. YOU create the culture in your #classroom. Create 1 where EVERYONE is stoked to be there! If you don't enjoy it why would the Ss? #KidsDeserveIt #BeTheOne #tlap #LeadLAP #Relentless #CelebratED
— Michael Earnshaw (@MikeREarnshaw) November 17, 2019
By contrast, parents did not share resources with one another but rather took to social media to discuss their own child’s learning experiences and their opinions about what education should look like for their child. Their conversations were mostly in reaction to the changing aspects of their child’s schooling, which ranged from parents’ support (or lack of support) for topics such as remote learning, mask mandates, and the subjects taught int schools. As we’ll describe further in Insight 3, parents’ perspectives in social media conversations became increasingly varied as the pandemic wore on. While parents sometimes mention teachers or their children in their posts, we did not observe dialogues between parents and these groups on social media.
During the pandemic, we saw several instances of parents frustrated by schools’ policies, such as this post below on a father’s frustration with the mask policy at his daughter’s school:
Elementary school daughter:
Dad, “why can I eat lunch without masks in same lunch room as other the other class, but can’t play outside with them at recess wearing a mask?”
How do you tell your daughter she is being educated at a school run by idiots??
— Ben Magelsen ?? (@benmagelsen) April 20, 2021
For parents, social media is a place to share thoughts on their child’s education, as well as voice disagreement with school policies being implemented.
Students’ conversations were mostly focused on their unique remote learning experiences, which were on the whole negative. Students largely spoke to each other and not to other groups. Typical posts were often in this vein:
Anyone else’s online classes blending all together??? Like honestly I don’t even know which teacher goes to which class. Same with the labs
— Alleah? (@XIIBXE) September 9, 2020
Or more simply put:
online school = not for me
— TaijahR (@taijaahhh) August 31, 2020
We saw at least one example from a student with disabilities who noted that remote learning was helpful for when being somewhere in-person was a challenge. It is important to note that remote learning was not bad for everyone, but from our sample, most students did not enjoy it.
Another element of remote learning that students discussed was missing out on traditional in-person opportunities like graduation and prom, the formal end-of-year dance for upper-level high school students. This student laments the lack of normalcy of her senior year of high school, saying:
I just want to walk across the stage with my best friends, finish out our spring activities, and dance at our last prom together. I want to do it all with the people that I’ve gone to school with the past 12 years. Breaks my heart that it might not happen ? #classof2020
— Sydney Hartsock (@SydHartsock) March 16, 2020
These students’ posts show a deep sense of missing out and frustrating educational experiences during long-periods of remote learning.
Insight No. 3: Parents have wide-ranging views and have become increasingly divided about what they want—often along political lines
We further explored the conversation among parents, given that parents had the most divergent perspectives from one another. Prior to the pandemic, parents largely shared stories, both positive and negative, about their children—a funny story their child told about school, a school field trip their child took and greatly enjoyed, or a disagreement the parent had with their teenager about school. As the pandemic wore on, parents’ conversations shifted toward reacting to in-person versus remote schooling and, later, to what is taught in school. We saw several instances of perspectives and values clashing around two key issues: 1) how to deal with school closures and remote learning and 2) how the role of race in U.S. history is taught in school.
Reactions to school closures and online learning
When schools first closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, parents were split on how to help their child continue learning. Some parents with greater financial means helped their children continue schooling during the pandemic by forming learning pods, which are small groups of students taught in –person by a hired teacher or tutor outside of the formal school system.
The learning pod discussion is well-summarized by this parent on Reddit, asking if it was out of line to keep their child in a learning pod, despite the school’s request that it be disbanded, saying:
“The school has reached out and asked us to disband our pod so they can get the students back (and the teacher we hired) saying it is impacting students who remain at the school and the best students are now beginning to leave for their own pod structures, taking the better teachers with them.”
The responses to the parent reflect the tension between individual and communal values. One person writes, “Other kids aren’t your problem and you bear no responsibility to them, particularly at the expense of your own childs [sic] education.” While another poster counteracts with: “As a member of any community, all of the members should matter and be considered. The other kids who are not able to take this route are probably from low income families. Effectively leaving them in the dust is an elitist move, and extremely bad for the community.”
Some parents also reacted to remote learning by sending their child to a different school (often a private school) that was offering in-person instruction. At least one parent in our sample went so far as to temporarily move to a different state to send their child to school, expressing, “California no longer provides school, so my family and I are headed to Denver for a few months so that my son doesn’t miss kindergarten entirely. He starts school on Monday at a public charter—5 days a week, 7 hours a day.”
Parents were deeply divided on this issue. Many voiced that they needed to do what was best for their family and their child and conversely many others felt that a “my family first” approach was coming at the expense of other children and the community writ large. These different perspectives point to the debate about the merits and social benefits of public education in America.
Discussions around how race and history are taught in school
As schools began to reopen after extended periods of remote education, the conversation on learning pods died down, shifting from access to school to what should be taught in school. Disagreement among parents and other posters in our sample was prevalent around how race and U.S. history are taught, with the viral trend of “critical race theory” emerging in 2021. Although even at its height, the conversation only represents a small part of the overall conversation on education, we have provided an in-depth look given the prominence of the debate in the broader mainstream media, the clear uptick in conversation, and examples we have heard of political polarization from the U.S. jurisdictions in CUE’s FEEN. CRT is an academic concept focused on “the way law has been a conduit for racial inequalities” according to Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the scholars who first coined the term, and there is a heated debate over whether it is being taught in America’s K-12 schools and what to do about it (See Box 1).
Box 1. What is critical race theory and why is it being discussed?
Critical race theory (CRT) is an academic concept that looks at how race is socially constructed and explores how the legal system and other institutions have perpetuated inequality. CRT is typically taught as a graduate-level law course; however, it recently emerged as a hot button issue around how and whether it is being taught in K-12 schools. While many argue that CRT—according to its academic definition—is not being taught in schools, a more nuanced debate is taking place and, for some, the meaning of CRT has transformed to include a broader discussion of how race and racism are taught in American schools.
There is a connection between CRT and politics. The emergence of CRT in popular media can be traced back to September 2020, when then President Donald Trump issued a memo banning CRT in federal training programs, which sparked a flurry of activity and subsequent action by many Republican-led state governments. Some scholars contend the Republican party is using the term to stir up backlash against the racial reckoning the country saw following the high-profile killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white policeman. Those on the political right say CRT is racist toward white people and pits racial groups against each other.
As of November 2021, nine states (Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) have passed legislation that restricts the teaching of race in schools, although the Arizona Supreme Court has since overturned its state legislation. Only Idaho and North Dakota have explicitly mentioned the words “critical race theory,” while other states have placed more general restrictions on the teaching of race in schools that could inflame divisions or show one group is inferior or superior. An additional 19 states have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation.
In the 2020-21 school year, there were several high-profile debates at the school board level around banning CRT. Debates such as one that occurred in a district in Orange County, California demonstrate the difficulty in banning CRT, as board members and parents wrestled with its definition. Across the country, parents have joined meetings to express their concerns, sometimes causing disruptions like in Washoe County, Nevada where in-person board meetings were halted for a month after parents filled an auditorium and expressed threats of violence. Other parents have sought to delay the proceedings of school boards, such as a parent in South Kingstown, Rhode Island who submitted over 200 public record requests for school curricula and lists of library books culminating in 300 hours of work for the school.
The contentious topic of CRT was barely discussed throughout our sample in 2019 and 2020 yet explodes in volume in the middle of 2021 (Figure 6). This also fits with our observation that tensions became more prominent as the pandemic progressed.
Figure 6. The volume of conversation around ‘critical race theory’
Many posts about CRT in our sample reflect the debate around whether or not CRT is happening in schools. In this example below from an attorney, who presumably is talking to parents, he shares how some teachers are trying to navigate legislation around what they cannot say in the classroom and urges his followers to speak out against this.
School teachers are busy this summer coming up with ways to hide CRT. They know you're on to them -demand transparency.
BELOW: a teacher group explaining "if you can't say" things sounding like CRT, you can hide it with other words. @realchrisrufo @ConceptualJames pic.twitter.com/e821OIFuge
— Dan Lennington (@DanLennington) July 6, 2021
On the other side of the debate, this post—directed at parents—notes that CRT is not taught in K-12 schools and calls on parents to focus their attention elsewhere, stating:
Imagine if the parents who are protesting Critical Race Theory—which isn’t taught in UT K-12 schools & which they don’t understand—instead put their efforts toward ensuring every student had food, shelter, and emotional support?
We would be unstoppable.
— Katie Matheson (@katieomatheson) May 27, 2021
An interesting finding about the CRT discussion compared to the other topics in our study is that it involves more than just parents. As we have already highlighted through examples above, many professionals and activists are also part of the conversation. This could be why the conversation skewed older and male when compared to the general education conversation (Figure 7). A much larger percentage of 35-to-44-year-olds and 45-to-54-year-olds were talking about CRT as compared to the general education conversation in our sample. Almost 70 percent of people talking about CRT were male, which is much higher than in the general conversation.
Figure 7. Age and gender of social media users discussing CRT compared to the general conversation on education
Source: Talkwalker and authors’ calculations.
In addition, when we look at the hashtag themes associated with mentions of CRT, we see the far more explicit references to political actors and movements than in other areas of the education conversation (Figure 8). Top hashtags include #MAGA (the “Make America Great Again” slogan coined by former President Donald Trump), #FoxNews (the conservative news network), and #VAGov (relating to the 2021 election for governor in the state of Virginia where CRT was a prominent topic of discussion).
Figure 8. Word clouds about ‘critical race theory’
To illustrate this point, one of the earliest conversations in our sample around CRT was from The Virginia Project, a Republican political action committee. The post asked parents to document evidence of CRT and send their findings to a specific Twitter user, @AsraNomani, who happens to be the founder of Parents Defending Education, a national grassroots organization that works “to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas.”
If you have a child in FAIRFAX COUNTY Public Schools and have documented evidence of any of the various forms of far-left indoctrination ("critical race theory", "diversity", "equity", transgenderism, etc.) please send them to @AsraNomani
— The Virginia Project (@ProjectVirginia) September 6, 2020
This post shows there is a degree of organizing by and for parents around what is happening in classrooms. Another prominent group that showed up in our sample, as well as in news media, is No Left Turn in Education—started by a parent frustrated by what was being taught in her children’s public schools. The group has a section on its website for parents to share their stories about CRT in their child’s school, as well as read about the many examples of CRT taking place across the country.
Beyond the discussion on social media, the debate has been picked up and covered amply by journalist and media organizations. For example, in a span of just three and half months, Fox News mentioned CRT 1,900 times. This may be why a national survey from Learning Heroes found that in 2021, 40 percent of parents worry a lot about “having politicians who are not educators making decisions about what students learn in the classroom.”
As described in Box 1, the debate around CRT also played out in school board meetings. When we filtered our sample by mentions of the school board, we can see a rise in the volume of conversations proportional to the rise in CRT mentions. Figure 9 shows the volume of conversation related to the term “school board” overlayed with the sentiment of the conversation, which is mostly negative, as indicated by the color red. Figure 10 shows themes associated with school board by sentiment, also mostly red. Notice also that CRT is a top theme.
Figure 9. Shifts in sentiment relating to school boards before and during COVID-19
Figure 10. Top themes relating to school boards before and during COVID-19
While it may seem from the prominent conversations in social media that parents are deeply frustrated—whether it be around COVID-19 and schooling, critical race theory, or their local school board —there is evidence that overall many parents are feeling better about their children’s education as remote learning has subsided. A national survey of K-12 parents by the Understanding America Study (UAS) Education Project finds parents are much less concerned about their child’s learning and well-being in 2021 than in 2020, especially as school returned to in-person. The UAS study did not find meaningful differences in responses between Republican and Democratic parents, although there are differences by race, as Black parents have more concerns about their child’s learning and well-being than other groups.
Social media is often cited as amplifying the extremes, which in the case of the conversation among parents on education may be the case.
In summary, we saw wide variation in the perspective of parents in our sample, including as it relates to how schooling should continue during the first year of the pandemic. As the pandemic went on the conversation shifted toward contentious discussions around what should be taught in school, with several outside groups also contributing to the conversation. At the same time, recent studies such as the UAS study could signify that the anger over CRT may not be as widespread as we see in news and social media.
Insight No. 4: Teachers have an incredibly strong community in one another
Teachers in our sample have a strong sense of community with one another. Teachers regularly provide support to one another in education communities on Twitter, with the three most popular in our sample being #edchat, #edutwitter, and #teachertwitter. These are places where teachers can share resources, such as classroom lesson plans and remote learning tips, ask for advice, or express frustration about challenges, especially those around schooling during the pandemic.
For example, this teacher shares resources around socio-emotional learning (SEL) using the hashtag #edchat:
Are you looking for ways to strengthen #SEL in your school or classroom? Check outMarch's SEL Calendar with activities or suggested read alouds for every single school day! #edchat #K12 #teaching #SELBookshelfhttps://t.co/iPC2uhrsYJ
— Dan Wolf (@DanWolfEDU) March 2, 2020
Beyond exchanging resources to help get their jobs done, teachers use online communities to connect with one another and share their fears and frustrations, which were higher than normal during the pandemic as teachers navigated their safety and the safety of others when returning to in-person classrooms. For example, these two educators both took to #teachertwitter to express their concerns regarding school reopening:
As badly as I miss being in physical school, the decision to go back in person will put the lives of my students, colleagues & families at risk. I call on @NYCMayor @DOEChancellor & the #NYCDOE to follow the lead of #LASD & stay remote. #COVID19 #SchoolReopening #teachertwitter
— Kait Nova?️? (@kait_nova) July 14, 2020
Back to school in two weeks. No teacher should have to dress like this, but here we are. #artteacher #teachertwitter #SchoolReopening #TeacherSafetyIsEssential #teacher #teacherlivesmatter #BackToSchool pic.twitter.com/2RGhaXiW3e
— Kathryn Vaughn (@MissKatieDi) July 19, 2020
An interesting trend in our sample prior to the pandemic was tens of thousands of teachers who used Twitter to ask for help purchasing school supply lists and raising awareness of fellow teachers’ lists. Posts often mentioned a variant of “clear the list,” in which public school teachers advertised school supply lists for their classrooms and asked others to help them purchase supplies. Teachers regularly spend their own money on purchasing school supplies for their classroom or for a fellow teacher’s classroom, including items like pencils, crayons, glue sticks, books, and classroom furniture. This appears to be a uniquely American phenomenon and only appeared in the U.S. out of the four countries we studied. In Brazil, England, and India–the other three countries in our study—teachers are not taking to social media for basic school supplies to do their jobs.
In this example, a teacher shares the link to her Amazon.com wishlist and notes she cannot afford to pay for school supplies for the hundreds of kids she teaches in a year along with supporting her own family:
As a middle school teacher ??? I might teach 150-180+ low income kids each year. Buying school supplies and science lab supplies kills my bank account. My poor hubby covers our 4 kids and bills so I can cover my classroom! #cleartheliststexas https://t.co/YXDptlxQxN
— Jenny Juarez, M.Ed (@JensClassroom) August 7, 2019
This teacher has cleared her list and wants to help others when she gets her next paycheck, displaying a striking amount of compassion for her fellow teachers:
List officially cleared as of now!!!! I received 7 $10 gift cards towards the 2 wobble chairs. I only have to pay $35 now. Plus my 2 teacher stampers to help with my RTI papers!!! I'm super excited & wil pay it forward on payday! #clearthelists #support_a_teacher pic.twitter.com/KhayMMYDrh
— Sandy (@mrscornet0909) August 20, 2019
There appears to have been a shift in focus from “clear the list” in 2019 to teachers offering resources to support one another and their students during the pandemic. When we look at mentions of “clear the list” over time (Figure 11), we can see a dramatic decrease in 2020 when schools were remote and supplies became less of a need. Even in 2021 as most schools returned in-person, the conversation volume around “clear the list” was down. This could mean that the federal aid dollars given to schools to support learning during the pandemic went toward needed supplies—shifting the burden away from teachers—which would be a silver lining of the pandemic.
Figure 11. Volume of conversation relating to ‘clear the list’ before and during COVID-19
Insight No. 5: As the pandemic persisted, support for teachers slowly declined
Early in the pandemic, parents and education personnel expressed widespread support for teachers. As parents were at home helping their child with remote learning, they had a window into what the job of a teacher entails. Many parents called out teachers for their dedication and hard work as an educator, as did school administrators and even fellow teachers who could see how hard teachers were working during the pandemic, which included learning a whole new method of instruction as classrooms transitioned online. A couple of weeks into the pandemic, a parent shares his support and gratitude for his son’s teacher in this post:
I have been impressed with my son’s teacher, Mrs.Shadid, over and over this year! He was incredibly excited to hear a story be read to him through google classroom this morning! Mrs.Shadid is a true hero and a legend in our household! @NISDVillarreal_ @RoxanneJGtz @eavilaJaguars pic.twitter.com/8CtzrzSesL
— Gustavo Trevino (@GustavoTrevino9) March 23, 2020
However, when looking at teacher appreciation posts across our sample, we noticed two interesting trends: 1) Posts are largely limited to the month of May, when the national Teacher Appreciation Week occurs, and 2) the volume of posts during Teacher Appreciation Week declined from 2020 to 2021 (Figure 12).
Figure 12. Volume of conversation around “teacher appreciation” before and during COVID-19
While Teacher Appreciation Week is only one measure of support for teachers, in CUE’s focus group discussions with teachers from U.S. jurisdictions in the FEEN, we heard something similar: Teachers initially felt an outpouring of support—especially from parents—during the early days of the pandemic and shared that the support died down as the pandemic wore on.
Teachers’ jobs have been extremely difficult and dangerous over the past couple of years. Teachers have had to shift to an entirely new method of teaching when schools were remote, and—as in-person learning has returned—have faced a host of new challenges ranging from enforcing mask mandates in the classroom to navigating staffing shortages and quarantines to being at greater risk of catching the coronavirus by working in indoor, often poorly ventilated spaces. It appears that the newfound appreciation for teachers during the onset of the pandemic may have only been temporary. The lack of support for teachers is worrisome for the future of the profession, especially as teachers are leaving the workforce in droves.
As the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a wave of new education considerations, parents, teachers, and students had even more reasons to discuss their experiences on social media. In looking at more than two years of data using the Talkwalker social listening platform, we found that the pandemic brought more regular people into the conversation. We also saw that teachers, parents, and students are not concerned with the same things. Teachers are focused on supporting one another through resource-sharing, parents are reacting to major education changes brought on by the pandemic and other societal current events, and students are reacting negatively to online learning. Moreover, parents are divided among themselves. There was a mix of parent perspectives around big education issues, which seemed to only increase during the pandemic and especially along party lines. In addition, we also found that while teachers have an incredibly strong community, as displayed by the push to support each other’s school supply lists, we observed a worrisome decline in support for teachers as the pandemic continued.
In looking at how the social media conversation reflected the experiences of the U.S. jurisdictions in CUE’s FEEN, we notice some similarities related to increased discussion of education during the pandemic, political polarization around the content of school curricula, and perceived declines in support for teachers over time. The FEEN jurisdictions are deeply committed to and have prioritized building trusting family-school relationships, so the social media similarities can only tell one part of the story, though they do underscore the challenging moment we find ourselves.
While social media does not represent the entirety of the education discussion, the conversations from our sample of more than 14 million results are illuminating, and we are also struck by what is missing: the discussion among the different constituent groups. Perhaps more conversations between groups can help break down the political polarization we saw on display.
We are grateful to Jeannine Ajello, Adam Barton, Meghan Foley, Danielle McMurtry, Katherine Portnoy, Hope Shourd, and Claire Sukumar for their assistance in developing this report.
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- Figure 3 represents binary gender only. Talkwalker also displays data for those who identify their pronouns, of which 8 percent of users self-identify as nonbinary.
- The three groups of parents, teachers, and students are not always mutually exclusive. We sometimes observed posters who self-identified as both a teacher and a parent in their bio. In these cases, we coded the poster’s group based on the nature of the post (e.g., if they were discussing what they did in their classroom that day, we coded them as a teacher, whereas if they were discussing what their child learned in school that day, we coded them as a parent).