Q&A with the Author

Congratulations on the publication of Lessons of the Pandemic: Disruption, Innovation, and What Schools Need to Move Forward, which you coauthored with Tim Pressley. Here we are in 2024, four years after the start of the pandemic. In your book, you write: “Although the crisis itself may appear to be over and COVID-19 has become endemic, the aftermath of what took place during the intervening years will continue to affect K–12 education for some time to come.” Can you briefly explain how students and teachers are still feeling the impacts of the pandemic?

For most who were frontline workers during the pandemic, their jobs have returned to normal. While schools have long since ended mitigation efforts like masks and social distancing, the realities of being a teacher and student have not returned to pre-pandemic norms. Many students are still behind academically, and our adolescents especially report far more instances of anxiety and mental health issues than even 5 or 10 years ago.

A particular focus of your book is teacher burnout. (In fact, you have an entire chapter devoted to teacher well-being.) What would you say to governmental and educational decision makers about this issue? How can we better support our teachers? What do they need to succeed in their roles?

When we were conducting focus groups with teachers, one of the last questions we asked them was – what do you need to be successful in your job? Their answers led us to devote an entire chapter to this subject. Teachers told us that they need support, time, and resources. They need support from their principals, parents, and colleagues. And they need the time and resources to do their jobs.

Surprisingly, you identify some positive changes that resulted from the pandemic. What were they?

Schools have historically been institutions that are highly resistant to change. The pandemic forced a fair amount of change, and some of it has been good. The increased investment in technology is a good thing. I hope this doesn’t happen, but if there were a COVID-24, schools would already be much better situated than they were in March 2020, in large part because of the increased use of technology.

Your book explores the impact of school closures on children academically, socially, and mentally. Studies have shown that literacy rates suffered, and the rates of depression and anxiety rose. What other impacts did your research uncover? Were any of your findings particularly surprising?

The thing that surprised me the most when I was doing research for the book was how much data was ignored when schools and school districts were closing their schools for prolonged periods of time. The spring of 2020 was understandable. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. But by the summer of 2020, data from East Asia and Europe suggested that schools could reopen and do so safely. By the end of the fall of 2020, data from New York City and elsewhere in the United States suggested the same thing. Yet, some districts kept their doors closed to children for several months after that. Many of the detrimental outcomes that we see in children today did not need to happen.

It’s impossible to talk about how the pandemic affected schools without talking about equity in education. (The pandemic clearly impacted students from systemically marginalized populations the hardest.) What can teachers and administrators do now to close the gap between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds?

One thing that has shown a lot of promise is high dose tutoring. The one-on-one attention a student receives can pay huge dividends in terms of learning, and evidence has suggested that this has been effective at remediating pandemic learning loss. It can be expensive but is perhaps an investment worth making.

Thank you so much! Changing gears, we would love to learn a little bit more about you on a personal level. When you are not working, what do you do for fun? Now that your book is out, is there a project that you are excited to work on next (a presentation, a workshop, writing another book, etc.)?

I’m a big fan of music. I enjoy listening to it. I play guitar myself, and I enjoy going to see live music. I do believe that music is a universal language.

In terms of upcoming projects, my coauthor Tim Pressley and I plan to continue to work to better understand teacher burnout. This is an issue that is not going away any time soon.

See all titles by and read more about David T. Marshall on his author page!