‘It was a struggle:’ Orlando-area teachers reflect on teaching during pandemic

Educators say school year was challenging

As Orange County students finished the school year earlier this week, educators are reflecting on the obstacles they overcame as they taught during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As Orange County students finished the school year earlier this week, educators are reflecting on the obstacles they overcame as they taught during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Orange County teachers Stewart Parker and Jessica Osborne said it was a challenging year.

“It was a struggle,” Parker said.

“It’s been tough,” Osborne said.

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Parker taught Advanced Placement human geography to ninth grade students at Winter Park High School. He said his lessons were split between students learning virtually at home and in the classroom.

“You had to make sure I was doing things to engage students in the classroom as well as the lessons and activities would engage the students at home at the same level,” Parker said.

Osborne taught physical education in person and virtually at Rolling Hills Elementary School. She said it was hard getting children active while at home.

“You can imagine doing PE virtually. It was a challenge, but you have to get really creative this school year,” she said.

She said one challenge was figuring out how her students learning at home could participate in the activities.

“Whether it was with things in your house like sock balls. If we wanted to practice throwing or catching drills, we used sock balls,” Osborne said.

Parker said despite the difficulties, he never questioned his passion for teaching. But he said for the first time in his 19 years on the job, he wondered if he was doing enough for his students.

“And questioning that really weighed on our social, emotional needs as well because as teachers we really thrive on seeing our students being successful and that’s our goal and this year was really challenging for that,” he said.

He adds the year was mentally tough on teachers.

“Since August ‘til now we have been thinking every single day about how are going to do this? How are we going to keep our kids safe? How are we going to keep them educated? How are they going to feel loved and how are we going to connect with them?” Parker said. “Those have been the thoughts constantly we’ve had all year and it’s really mentally exhausting.”

Osborne said she took it day by day.

“You look back on everything that you have accomplished throughout the school year and you’re like, ‘We did it,’” she said. “We did not fail. We succeeded. We did not let COVID-19 defeat us.”

Both teachers said educators need the summer break more than ever this year.

“I love my students. I love my school. I love my colleagues, but I’m very happy to have some time to rest and relax and kinda refill my spirit and my soul to get back to that place of where I want to be and how I can be a better teacher,” Parker said.

Osborne said she will relax when she can as she prepares to teach students during summer school.

“Everybody needs to relax, reboot, recharge. Just taking some time to myself, whether it’s just the weekend although I’m working summer school. Whether it’s a day or two sitting back and relaxing and not thinking about anything. I think that’s what we all need to come back stronger,” she said.

Osborne adds she is already looking forward to seeing her students return next school year.

“I am hopeful to see all the ones that I have been seeing on the computer screen to see them next year and pushing forward, overcoming the pandemic,” she said.