Navigating the new normal: teachers reflect on the post-pandemic

The bell rings, marking the end of the day at an elementary school in Kendall. As kids file out of the classroom, Vivian Gil, who has been teaching for 29 years, has just about had enough. 

“It gets to a point where you are like — that’s it,” Gil said. “I’m going to be very honest. I love teaching, but I hate what it’s become.”

The school year ends on June 8, which is fast approaching. Amidst rising teacher shortages across the United States, some teachers in South Florida say they feel unsupported by the public and the current educational system. These problems have long been present and the pandemic only made it more noticeable. For many teachers, the aftermath of lockdown was the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

A piece from the Florida Education Association states that “Florida has long-standing difficulties with retaining and recruiting public school employees. The shortage plays out as hundreds of thousands of students have no full-time, certified teachers in their classrooms.” This has led to nearly 6,006 vacancies listed for teaching across the state. 

Gil proposes that lack of support from parents led to a surge in kids not respecting the etiquette of a classroom. Many had spent much time in online learning at home, which contributed to the decline in social and academic development. 

“The biggest change or problem that I see, not only did they miss out on learning gains and learning itself, but [also] social behavior, [and] interacting with others,” explained Gil. 

Enidmarie Wilkie, a K-8 music teacher at Somerset Academy, a charter school, also experienced this issue. While she is not ready to leave teaching, she has also felt unsupported, especially as her kids struggle to focus due to the transition from online learning to a physical classroom. 

“During COVID, when we were supposed to be in the classroom, the kids were muted,” explained Wilkie.“Many of them would have other apps and websites open [on their computer] to converse with [other] students.”

Wilkie says students have equated the classroom to an online space where they can be whoever they want, act however they want, and face no consequences. The result has been an increase in bullying, particularly amongst fifth and sixth graders transitioning into middle school. 

Contributing to this trend are TikTok challenges, which have surged across schools in the U.S. The result: high-school students have vandalized school property and participated in self-damaging behavior. 

These TikTok challenges have become so prevalent in schools that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning TikTok on public school WiFi earlier this month. The bill is set to go into effect on July 1. 

To combat this issue, some teachers have resorted to micro-managing their classrooms by creating strict rules about cell-phone usage during class time. 

Barbara Kaplan, a social studies teacher at Herbert A. Ammons middle school, limits screen time in her class. According to her, this decision contributed to her having a “great year.”  

“I have a strict rule that the kids are not allowed to bring their phones into the bathrooms, and they all have devices,” Kaplan explained. “So unless they ask permission, they’re not allowed to have their phone even out…I walk around constantly to monitor what they’re doing…. I’m managing everything.”

Kaplan teaches at a magnet school that uses the International Baccalaureate program, which is a global advanced studies initiative. Typically, students who pursue these alternatives to regular education tend to care more about their studies, and have parents who put more effort into supporting their kids. 

Teaching both a gifted fourth grade class and a regular fifth grade class, Gil can attest to the importance of parental support in a child’s academic career. 

“In order for students to be successful [it starts] at the home,” Gil said. “And it’s a team effort. If that doesn’t exist, everything that we’re doing and that we’re seeing goes out the window.” 

This is one of the biggest frustrations plaguing teachers today — that the blame for a child’s academic failure falls solely on the teachers when there are other factors at play. Without parents supporting their kids to succeed academically, educators become a scapegoat. 

Especially when test scores come out. The Florida Standard Assessment (FSA) tests a student’s progress in their education. Given that teachers receive the results electronically, Gil noticed that her math students did not perform adequately mainly due to this disregard in education. 

“I was just sitting down and calculating and 80% of my afternoon class had five or more absences or left early and missed crucial instruction,” Gil said. “A lot of them got ones and twos, which is not passing…and that comes from home because the kid is not the one that decides if they come to school or not.”

Not only is it important for the child to do well in their studies, but also for the school itself. Public funds for schools are allocated based on how many students pass their exams. Hence, the schools that perform better academically receive more funding and more access to resources. Yet, as many students have been performing below their grade level since the pandemic, many teachers have become scapegoats for these failures when the real problem lies beyond the classroom. 

“I don’t think they should have ever passed [laws for] grading schools and grading teachers,” Gil said. “I think the idea was like, ‘[teachers] they have this summer’s off [so] we got to do this, we got to run this like a corporation, and we got to get our numbers up, our sales up.’ And that’s not the way children and teaching and education should work.”

During the pandemic, the entire country sang the praises of teachers as parents faced a fraction of what it’s like to teach their own kids. Yet, in 2023, nothing has changed. These issues have been present before quarantine, but now teachers are being held to expectations that lie beyond their control. 

At the end of the day, these teachers only want understanding and support from the community around them. They want more visibility and better laws for themselves, and when they see that parents, students, and the school board are not appreciating them, they look into other jobs that will. 

“How is me, one person in a classroom, going to change all of this?” Gil asked rhetorically. “You know how we’re required to do jury duty? Maybe, everybody should be selected every so often to, you know, sub in a really get the whole full experience of what we deal with on a daily basis.”

Fatima Belagam is a junior majoring in digital journalism. She is interested in music and film journalism and plans to work as a freelance journalist after graduation.

Rachel Rodriguez is a senior majoring in digital journalism at Florida International University. She is interested in analyzing media trends and film. After graduation, she aspires to attend law school and become an attorney focusing on media law.