A difficult yet resilient school year for teachers

On June.7, Luis Sanchez was struggling when navigating through the online school system and had to get help from his mom, Raisa. (Shantel Sanchez/SFMN)

Lisa Santamarina, 51, is a third-grade teacher at Fairlawn Elementary School in Flagami. After working in the profession for almost 30 years, she says the key to success is being positive in the classroom.

Sometimes that isn’t easy. One of her students this past year lost two family members to COVID. She visited the child’s home and sent a sympathy card. 

“Many of my students are distracted and seem very withdrawn from class activities,” Santamarina said. “Every class I remind them that if they want to talk, we can take a break from class and we can talk individually whenever they’d like.”

Whether they taught face-to-face or online, many South Florida teachers had a very difficult school year. While risking their own health, they had to turn their frustration into hope for their kids and the next school year.

As the school year comes to an end, Florida principals and teachers await a $1,000 bonus for transitioning back to work. But many complained about the difficulty of adjusting to the online system, then returning to in-person teaching, which has also caused stress. 

Aside from being a strong support system for students who have suffered through grief and uncertainty this school year, teachers have also had to constantly keep up with safety measures ordered by higher-ups. 

While teaching on school grounds, 2,631 teachers have tested positive for COVID-19 since October 2020, Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ reports. 

Yulissa Reyes, 42, is a special education teacher at Mae M. Walters Elementary School in Hialeah. She had to face many challenges during in-person teaching, which began in October 2020. She struggled with helping her students adjust to new routines during school hours. 

“My hands were bleeding from how many times I had to sanitize surfaces on a daily basis and I had to be very vigilant because if one of my students didn’t precisely follow the safety procedures, the whole class had to quarantine.” she said. “Personally it was the most difficult year for me in my 20 years of teaching, but I got through it.” 

Some students and teachers were allowed to work at home. But this also created problems. 

Luis Sanchez, 15, a student at Southwest Senior High School in Olympia Heights, has seen all of his teachers encounter issues using the online system this school year. However, as a result, his teachers placed more emphasis on strengthening their communication with their students so he had an easier time reaching them. 

“I would say that teachers were expected to have difficulties with the online school system because it is still somewhat new to them, which did interfere with class time,” he said. “But at least this school year all my teachers have answered my messages within a day. The progress has been slow but effective.”

The Miami-Dade County school employees helped students and teachers to deal with the stress resulting from the pandemic.

Elmo Lugo, 52, is a media relations specialist for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. He’s very well-informed on the medical and mental health resources available for teachers. He said these resources were urgently needed.

“The county has remained focused on the needs of our employees during the pandemic,” he said. “Throughout the school year, 26,174 employees have already used the free behavioral telehealth visits offered.”

Santamarina, the Fairlawn teacher who urged positivity, said her love for teaching has encouraged her to keep pushing forward regardless of all the obstacles that she has had to overcome this school year. 

“It has truly been a difficult school year, but my passion for teaching has allowed me to persevere,” she said. “I’m excited about facing all challenges that come my way and lifting the kids up in their academic growth.”

Shantel Sanchez is a senior at Florida International University studying Broadcast Journalism. She enjoys traveling and spending time with family. Shantel aspires to earn a two Bachelor’s degrees; one in Broadcast and another in Marketing, and then earn her Master’s degree. Her goal is to become a well-known news reporter and to own a marketing agency by the age of 27.