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Thursday, June 24, 2021

ACPS teachers work hard to succeed within the classroom, despite a global pandemic

Teachers from Alachua County Public Schools have struggled with adapting to new HyFlex teaching formats but have ended the year successfully

Graphic by Alex Brown
Graphic by Alex Brown

When Maryse Alexis first stepped foot into her classroom, she was not met with a large group of hyper children ready to learn and have fun. Instead, she was the only person in the room.

Alexis was hired as a new fourth grade teacher at Lake Forest Elementary School this year, and HyFlex has been her only experience in the classroom.

“When I got hired, there was no one in the room but me,” she said. “I began teaching on Zoom and then students have slowly started coming back, so I have two in-person students.”

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March disrupted daily in-person classes and introduced new safety regulations such as temperature screenings and mask mandates in Alachua County Public Schools. ACPS teachers adjusted to smaller class sizes, instructing on Zoom and changing mask mandates all while trying to ensure students were still learning.

While it’s not the traditional teaching experience, Alexis said she feels comfortable knowing she impacts the lives of her students, whether in person or online.

“This year has just been a learning experience,” she said. “It has really taught me the definition of flexibility and being open to learning and change because things are changing.”

HyFlex classes offer students flexibility in how they choose to learn, but many teachers had to overcome the hurdles of this new style of teaching. Chelsea Bowlin, a first grade teacher at Lake Forest Elementary School, said adjusting to the digital aspect of HyFlex teaching was very difficult.

“I am glad parents have the opportunity to do that and feel safe, but it was still the most challenging part of this year,” she said.

While some teachers were provided two weeks of paid training that taught them how to use the new online format and platforms, Bowlin said the real difficulties of HyFlex classes came from the additional planning and effort required of teachers every day. 

Teachers like Bowlin put in additional unpaid overtime to learn the ins and outs of the technology their students would depend on, including creating Zoom sessions, uploading assignments to Canvas and interacting with parents through ClassDojo, she said.

“I do a lot of work after school. Sometimes in the evenings, sometimes one day on the weekends,” she said.

Bowlin said her coworkers frequently work Wednesday afternoons because school gets out about an hour earlier and they have more time. While teachers normally work unpaid overtime, some have had to do additional overtime because of the HyFlex teaching.

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However, this extra unpaid work has not deterred all teachers. Nancy Selph, a second grade teacher at Lake Forest Elementary, is still passionate about her career.

“I will continue to teach because I love teaching,” she said. “As teachers, we have always had to be flexible, so we know how to deal with what comes our way.”

Kirk Tapley, a sixth grade teacher at Howard Bishop Middle School who has been teaching since 2016, shares Selph’s optimism.

Tapley said he is extremely impressed with the county’s efforts to listen to teachers’ concerns about HyFlex teaching and provide everyone with the proper protection and equipment to feel safe.

“My job has changed in a positive way from the standpoint that I knew I was always surrounded by resilient, amazing, creative individuals within my faculty and staff, but then seeing the way that they have adapted to this and made their classrooms much more user-friendly has been so cool to watch,” he said.

Contact Maya Erwin at merwin@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @MayaErwin3.

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