Public school teachers adjust to a new normal

English 1 teachers, Aayana Kenon and Kaloma Smith are among the group of veteran instructors at Gadsden County high school continuing to work despite the pandemic. Photo courtesy Aayana Kenyon

Similar to many of America’s unsung heroes, teachers often work tirelessly without receiving recognition or, in some cases, sufficient pay. As schools reopened in August after months of recess due to the COVID-19 pandemic, public school teachers were forced to adopt to a new reality.

In states like Iowa, Texas and Florida, officials mandated schools reopen at least five days a week for in-person instruction. For Florida, in particular, temporary injunctions instituted by state courts overruled state of emergency orders and required brick and mortar schools to resume operation as the coronavirus continued to pervade throughout the state.

Many teachers, in response to these edicts, voiced their concerns regarding their health and ability to enact hybrid education models safely. In Gadsden County,Floridas sole predominantly Black county, these stressors have added to the challenges teachers like Tireshia Galloway and Aayana Kenon face.

Kenon, an English 1 instructor at Gadsden County High School, believes she is only able to afford a fraction of her students with requisite instruction through the proposed online platform,Google Classroom.

For students that are virtual and already have support at home to help them I think that those students are still able to get an adequate education,Kenon said.

But students who don’t have any support at home with them during the day and are raised in school I don’t think those students are getting accurate (instruction). It (Google Classroom) doesn’t allow me to give them very adequate instruction.

Google Classroom is the technological medium Gadsden County and schools across the nation are employing. While the platform poses several advantages to education providers such as a user-friendly interface and easy accessibility, the disadvantage that outshines the rest is its impersonal nature.

English 1 Teacher, Kaloma Smith. Photo courtesy Kaloma Smith

The biggest stressor Ive been faced with is being able to build a rapport with the students, Galloway said.

Pre COVID-19, we were able to interact with the students, all of them were in person and there was just a little bit more student engagement. But now with the students being virtual, it’s harder to get in contact with them, to get them to engage in class and it’s harder to keep up with their attendance. So its been a little bit more stressful with us being accountable for students and not having access to students how we used to.

Before the closure of schools in late March, students and teachers at Gadsden County High School faced problems of their own. Seventy-six percent of the students are economically challenged and the teachers’ salary in the state is ranked at No. 45 in the country.

An open and healthy learning environment is at the foundation of the education models Galloway and Kaloma Smith, an English 1 instructor at Gadsden County High, implement. Building a connection, for Smith, is imperative because she doesnt teach because of the salary she earns. She said she teaches in order to help students matriculate.

However, because teachers are not paid adequately, fulfilling the obligations associated with education providers can be difficult when you must consider how you will manage financially.

Yes. We’re getting a raise. All Florida teachers are getting a raise and I’m thankful for that. But it’s still not nearly enough for what I need to do my job effectively. The salary that we get is still under $40,000 and that’s with a raise,said Smith.

If politicians were to advertise a basic starting salary for all teachers, for at least $50,000, I don’t feel like that’s too much to ask for, then that would be great. Because no money is not everything, but if I am struggling to manage my money and not because I’m a wild spender, I’m just simply not making enough money, and I’m living check to check, then that’s affecting me from doing my job to the best of my ability. I can’t come to work every single day and be in the best spirit or deliver my lesson the way that I want. So if in the back of my mind, I have to worry about which bills Am I going to pay this month? Or do I have enough gas to make it to work? That’s shouldnt have to be an issue for me,” she added.

Instructors, similar to Smith, Kenon and Galloway, work every day to serve the children and maintain the welfare of themselves and their families. These challenges, although they may appear minor in comparison to the health risk and burden teachers have been subjected to amid the pandemic, illuminate the plight and sacrifices of the countrys most under-celebrated champion — educators.