San Antonio educators came together virtually Tuesday for the fifth annual San Antonio Regional Public PK-12 Education Forum, where they examined what it’s been like teaching through the coronavirus pandemic.

Calling this year nothing short of a “baptism by fire” for many educators, San Antonio Report Publisher and Editor Robert Rivard moderated the panel discussion featuring five educators. The conversation highlighted the difficulties local teachers have faced since the coronavirus pandemic came to the U.S., hitting on topics such as mental health, work-life balance, and working with coronavirus precautions in place. 

Coming from different locations around San Antonio from different backgrounds, the educators talked about what a strange year 2020 had been academically – for themselves, their students, and the students’ parents. 

Even before the pandemic, teachers often were working overtime to get all their work finished, Young Women’s Leadership Academy Head of Schools Delia McLerran said. Now teachers are working almost around the clock to address the needs of online students, in-class students, parents, and their own families. It’s taking a toll on educators, she noted.

“I can guarantee you every teacher is giving it their all,” she said. “My biggest concern has been [that our] strongest teachers are in essence burning the candle at both ends.”

For Harlandale Middle School teacher Kellie George, the hardest part of this school year has been not seeing her students in person. She said she’s had to work with struggling students who are affected by the digital divide – the lack of internet access one in four families in San Antonio face, with most affected families living in the South or West sides. 

“I’d say the biggest issue is not the [lack of an] internet connection, it’s the personal connection that we don’t have with the kids that they need, and it’s such a big part of what we do,” George said. 

As a gifted and talented teacher in Northside Independent School District’s Leon Springs Elementary School, Lacy Greco recognized that while most of her students have internet access, they have other needs that are difficult to meet right now due to the pandemic. About half her students are in the classroom and half are learning from home, she said. Greco added that she hopes teachers and kids both come out of the pandemic stronger, more innovative, and more resilient. 

Southwest Legacy High School Assistant Principal Denisse Hernandez pointed out the difficulties educators face trying to negotiate when work finishes and home life begins. A mother of a 12-year-old daughter, Hernandez acknowledged it’s been hard trying to help her students, teachers, parents, and her own family. 

“Honestly, I don’t know how parents have multiple children do it,” Hernandez said. “I only have one kid. I cannot imagine families that have multiple children.”

Pedro Noguera, dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, commended his fellow educators for their dedication to helping their students and for their hard work. He suggested teachers take care of themselves first and remember that these measures are only temporary. 

Pedro Noguera, dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, gave a keynote address. Credit: San Antonio Report

“We’ll get through this, and hopefully we’ll come through it better than we were before,” he said.

Noguera also delivered a keynote address during the forum in which he discussed how addressing the country’s equity needs begins with addressing children. Education is critical for preparing kids to participate in a democracy as adults, he said.

By giving more children the tools to become lifelong learners, educators are advancing equity as well, Noguera said. Children are naturally curious and naturally creative, which are attributes teachers should support, he added.

“I would say it starts with encouraging and promoting critical thinking among our students, that [it] is not good enough to memorize information,” Noguera said. “Our kids need to be able to process and apply what they’ve learned.”

The forum included the announcement of this year’s 20 forum grant recipients and the 2020 Education Champion Award winners.

San Antonio ISD board President Patti Radle and SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez were joint recipients of the Education Champion Award for what presenter Alejandra Barraza described as the educators’ visionary leadership over the past five years.

“Mrs. Radle and I have talked about this – we’ve never been alone,” Martinez said. “Between our board, our leadership team, and our partners, we have an amazing team and a lot of talent. What brings us all together is passion for children.”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.