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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

COVID-19 pushed some Alachua County teachers to quit

immunocompromised teachers
immunocompromised teachers

Eric Baez misses tying his tie each morning before heading to Eastside High School.

The 33-year-old computer science teacher played jazz or lo-fi hip hop in his classroom while his students worked. Now, the teacher left the profession after his first year due to health dangers.

Baez is one of a growing number of educators around the U.S. who left the classroom due to COVID-19. This trend has also been seen in Alachua County Public Schools. In the school district, 40 staff members have retired or resigned since August, said ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson.

Based on a review of school board agendas from 2019, the number is about double the number of resignations and retirements for the same period last year.

Forty-two instructional personnel were listed as resigning or retiring, according to four agendas from August through October 2019. There are 85 instructional teachers who are listed as resigning or retiring in the five agendas for the same time period this year.

Teachers across the U.S. say they are more likely to leave their jobs, according to a survey conducted by EdWeek, a news site focusing on education. Exact numbers of the national number of teachers who have resigned or retired are not available, but 21% of those surveyed by EdWeek said they were more likely to leave because of COVID-19. 

A different poll by the National Education Association found similar results. About 30% of respondents said the pandemic has made them more likely to retire or leave teaching.

The trend in Alachua County mirrors these findings. For some teachers, the decision to quit comes from personal concerns. For others, they must look out for family members who are more susceptible to the virus.

Baez said he decided to resign because his wife is immunocompromised. 

“I had to make a choice between my career and my family,” he said.

eric baez teacher

Eric Baez (center in the tie) stands with his digital media students and Martha Ferra, a computer science teacher who was visiting from Mexico. “I was happy I got to share in these students’ journey and provide them exposure to a skill that can turn into a career,” he said.

He said he feels like he let his students, former colleagues and profession down.

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Despite taking professional development courses over the summer, he made the difficult decision to resign after he found out he couldn’t teach virtually. State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran released an emergency order requiring schools to operate outside of a strictly digital fashion.

Baez said Eastside didn’t have many remote positions available.

He now spends his days teaching his elementary-aged children, who are taking classes through Alachua eSchool. His 9-year-old son is entering fourth grade, and his 5-year-old twins are entering kindergarten. His fourth grader switched over to Digital Academy because he missed seeing his friends.

Baez said he wants to return to the classroom because he only taught for a year. He said he thought he found his career and niche.

He was approved as an ACPS volunteer and hopes to begin virtual computer science projects soon.

While Baez has heard of teachers retiring, he said there’s a larger issue.

“What's not really spoken about are the teachers that are not going to be coming back to the classroom, like myself, who are just beginning their career,” he said.

Victoria Holmes was also a former teacher at Eastside.

The 39-year-old, who has been teaching English since 2009, began working at Eastside two years ago. Before that, she taught at Lincoln Middle School and other schools across the state. Now, she resigned and is away from the classroom.

Holmes lives with her mother who has medical conditions that make her more susceptible to COVID-19.

She reached out to Eastside about a digital position but was also told there weren’t many.

Holmes misses being there to see her students realize they are good writers.

victoria holmes

English teacher Victoria Holmes always loved words. She said she left Eastside because she was not comfortable with putting her mother at risk.

One of her favorite lessons was having students develop a creative writing portfolio. Students could write poetry, short stories or biographies.

“I think those are the most intriguing to me because they realize not only that words are powerful, but they were impactful,” she said. “They were healing. They were liberating.”

Holmes also focused lessons on Black history, showcasing a variety of Black journalists, poets and composers.

Holmes said it was sad to leave her students. She’s still trying to stay in touch with them, even writing recommendation letters or coaching them through their college application essays.

While out of the classroom, Holmes has been working more at her businesses, Literary Impressions, an editing firm, and More Than Expected Publishing, a boutique that helps writers get their stories to the marketplace.

Holmes said she isn’t sure if she will return to the classroom.

“When it comes to the safety and health of anyone, I think that’s the most important,” she said. And I don’t think you should be forced to jeopardize that for anything.”

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