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South Florida teachers on how the profession has been affected by the pandemic

Carl Juste Broward schools photo.jpeg
Carl Juste
Miami Herald
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to increased levels of stress and anxiety for students. But Broward County Public Schools has struggled to find social workers and school counselors. A new internship program aims to fix that. Above, Cypress Bay High School students enter the campus in Weston on the first day of school in August.

Teachers face pressure from COVID, politicians, and parents. What’s it like being a teacher today?

On this Monday, January 17, edition of Sundial:

Schools and education have always been in the crossfire of political debates. Now, add to that the dangers and fears that come with COVID.

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All students are back in the classrooms full time and they don’t need to wear masks or practice social distancing.

Teachers are facing pressure from politicians and parents––while being aware of their own safety.

We’re joined today by a panel of teachers from around South Florida to talk about life behind the teacher’s desk.

The panel included:

  • Jim Gard, who teaches math at Monarch High in Broward County 
  • David Erhard, who teaches English at Key West High School in In Monroe County
  • Bridgett Valdez, who teaches journalism at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High in Miami-Dade 
  • Lakisha Robinson is a teacher’s coach at Tradewinds Middle School in Palm Beach County 

This excerpt of the conversation has been edited for clarity.

How COVID has affected students' behavior 

GARD: The amount of attendance is maybe 25 to 50% in some of my classes. Attendance is down. Kids coming in late anywhere from five minutes to 45 minutes late, virtually any period of the day. They've been out of school for two years now. Now in the ninth grade, they had no seventh grade, they had no eighth grade and they just they don't know how to interact with each other. Everything's been via the internet, phone, what have you, but face-to-face it's just not happening. It's really, really different.

VALDEZ: I have sophomores that missed their entire freshman year in high school. So they're now back in the building and I think they just forgot how to deal with each other in person. And what is socially acceptable as far as behavior goes. That's what I see them struggling with. They don't want to participate in class. Even your students that are good students, don't want to be called out. They don't want to say the answer out loud. They just want to operate under this like radar where they're barely functioning on a social level. I think it is because they were home for so long.

How COVID has affected the quality of education 

ERHARD: The urgency for these kids is absolutely none. I mean, last semester I had kids that were trying to turn in on December 12th assignments that were due in October. And they feel that ‘well, at least I did it.’ But it's not like that. Every teacher in the English department has a Google classroom and every kid that's absent if they’re quarantined or whatever can get all their assignments. And I beg my kids to do something because some of them I haven’t even been here since we got back from Christmas break. Then, they show up on Monday [and] that could be up to 60 assignments that they missed.

I had a kid that was out 53 days last semester and he wanted to attempt to make up all his work. And I'm like, ‘dude, that's September. I'm sorry.’ But I will give them leeway. I was one of the ones that allowed them to make up any work from October to December. And still, I didn't have kids do it.

ROBINSON: What I did find [is] the nicer I became, the less I saw a difference in the work being turned back into me. I did something where I started supplying the actual answer key to some of the assignments, just to assist. And when that didn't work, I started sending the answer keys to the parents in lieu of hoping that the student would turn in the work — still didn't happen. We would get to the end of the marking period and the student had a 13% [cumulative]. And they wanted me to work magic and make up additional assignments as extra credit to bump your grade from 13% to 60%. There's nothing I could do at this point. You earned the F's, so that's what I have to give you.

A proposed bill to allow video and audio recording in classrooms

A bill proposed in the Florida Legislature is calling for video and audio recordings in classrooms so that parents could review the recordings. Read more about that bill here.

ROBINSON: I would love it. This is how I look at it. If you're doing your job, you're lesson planning, you're being intentional, targeted with your instruction and you're being the consummate professional and you're doing your job. So please watch me all day long. I have invited parents to my class to see what I do. A lot of them are like, ‘wow, you work really hard,’ but it just gives people the opportunity to see what it is we do and how much we are actually managing all day.

VALDEZ: Come see what I do. It is not easy. Let's watch your child behave and then come speak to me about what you think I can be doing differently. [But] my classroom is a safe space for my students. So I would welcome the opportunity for parents to see. But I don't want my students to feel put out.

ERHARD: We always use microphones and cameras all the time anyway for kids with needs and things like that. The one thing that I have a concern about is, am I getting the true response from the students? Am I getting what they're really trying to say? Or are they saying something because they know they're being filmed and recorded?

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Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the lead producer behind WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.