Teacher Time Use and Affect During COVID-19

Authors: Nathan Jones, Eric Camburn, Ben Kelcey, & Esther Quintero

This research was supported in part by a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences.

Project Summary

In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a shutdown of school buildings across the United States and a subsequent unplanned nationwide transition to remote learning. For teachers, these school building closures resulted in a transformation of many facets of their work, requiring them to take on new and often shifting roles, including learning new technologies and juggling work and home responsibilities. While a number of studies have documented aspects of teachers’ time use and affect during this unprecedented set of shifts, most have surveyed teachers at a single time point. None have tracked on teachers’ experiences before and after schools closed as a result of COVID. Therefore, education leaders and policymakers are left with an incomplete—or possibly less accurate—picture of teachers’ experience throughout this historic period.

In Teacher Time Use and Affect During COVID-19, the authors used a unique end-of-day time diary with a sample of 250 teachers in two urban school districts, including one district that allowed the research team to continue collecting data once schools closed in Spring 2020. While representing a relatively small sample of teachers, the study’s rich, longitudinal data provide the most direct and detailed evidence yet of teachers’ work before and immediately after spring 2020 school closures, including insight into changes in time spent on specific tasks, and in teachers’ emotions while engaged in specific work activities.

Key Findings

Findings from the study point to a dramatic restructuring of teachers’ workdays immediately following pandemic-related school closures including less time spent on instruction and more time spent in meetings and on planning, grading, and assessment. Equally important, given prior research establishing the impact of teacher affect on student achievement and teacher retention, the study also found profound shifts in teachers’ emotions while participating in various tasks, including:

  • Teachers reported highest levels of positive affect when engaging with students
  • Negative affect did not increase post-school closures, though positive affect declined

Implications and Recommendations

The findings from this study, while certainly relevant in the face of future closures or rapid transitions from in-person to remote learning, also reveal some underlying truths about the value that teachers derive from their work. The authors suggest several implications:

  • In the case of future closures, the data from this study suggests that it may be most advantageous for everyone to prioritize teachers’ time with students and should focus on working conditions that allow teachers to focus their efforts on their students. To do this, particularly in light of future shifts due to the pandemic, leaders will need to put systems in place to mitigate the additional planning and administrative meeting burdens teachers experienced in the spring of 2020.
  • Findings also suggest that a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting teachers is probably insufficient in meeting their needs and that there is more opportunity for differentiation for teachers across their various responsibilities. There may be benefits to tailoring roles to allow teachers to specialize in areas where they experience greater positive affect.
  • Finally, this papers shows that if studies only ask teachers about their typical time use or their overall feelings, we may not accurately capture teachers’ actual experiences. As the authors demonstrate in this study, a more careful accounting of teachers’ affect and time use holds the potential to show a far more nuanced picture of how teachers navigate their work.


WEPC Teacher Time

Project Resources

Work completed in collaboration with: