Duval County school teacher speaks on dealing with Covid-19

Brett Nweeia, Videographer

With the spread of coronavirus, many people have lost the ability to do their jobs regularly. Some people are doing  everything they can in order to keep their jobs and work remotely. Teachers are one such group that have struggled with adjusting to the current contactless world COVID-19 has created.

Spinnaker interviewed an 8th grade Reading Interventionist/English teacher at Arlington Middle School, Deborah Kootsouradis, on her views regarding the virus and how it has affected her ability as a teacher. 

Arlington Middle School crest. Credit Duval County Schools.

When asked what it has been like to not see her students in class at school physically, Kootsouradis said the transition has been emotional.

“The first week reminded me of coming back after we’ve been hit by a hurricane.”

According to Kootsouradis, Duval County was one of the first districts in the country to go online. They went virtual with around 130,000 students in a single week. Teachers spent Spring Break preparing lessons for remote instruction.

Kootsouradis shared that while she was excited to virtually see some of her students, she worried about those who did not attend the virtual lessons.

“I teach in an environment where a lot of our students are from low socioeconomic backgrounds. I couldn’t help but worry about the situations: Were they healthy; did they have to relocate; did they have computers and internet access; did they know how to access the online learning platform?” 

An effort was made to reach out to all students. In Kootsouradis’ class, all students were at least heard from by the end of week two of virtual instruction. 

Kootsouradis also shared what class is like now.

“I do “Live” sessions twice a week, and some students log on for that, and some just view the recording later. I like seeing their faces…I’m used to seeing these kids five days a week.”  

When asked about how transition to remote instruction has been for her personally, Kootsouradis shared that it was made easier by Duval County school leaders.

“They have prepared us and provided everything we need,” she said. “Of course there have been some technical difficulties, but we all know this is a new process for all of us, not just the students.” 

In Kootsouradis’ experience, the Duval County school system has been excellent in communicating and addressing any issues teachers experienced in the transition to remote instruction.

“The district has sent emails every day since we have gone live, addressing issues anyone may be having and the solutions to those issues,” she said.

On the other hand, Kootsourdis has struggled with not walking as much as she was used to, but she has made the best of her circumstances to find time to workout in the morning.

In a time of uncertainty and stress, Kootsouradis wants students and parents to not worry too much. 

In my opinion, one of the best things to come out of this is the state-mandated testing being cancelled. Those can be stressful.”

To limit stress for parents and students, school administrators are acknowledging the difficulty in some students’ homes when it comes to having time to complete school work. Deadlines are looser and recordings of class are left up.

“We are human, we understand this is a unique situation, and I think all of us are willing to do whatever we can to help students succeed through this process.”  

According to Kootsouradis, in order to prepare for something so impactful for something like this, the most important thing we should do is talk to them, listen to them, and discuss how they can be part of the solution. 

In Kootsouradis’ class, they are currently reading “The Diary of Anne Frank.” A student asked Kootsouradis about the difficulty people faced then, and Kootsouradis shared with her student that a powerful lesson can be found in the story of Anne Frank. “For me, it is to be a better human and stand up and speak out when I see discrimination.”

“I told her that we need to do the same and examine what lessons we will learn when this is over.”

Positivity is a focus in Kootsouradis’ classroom, now more than ever.

“Last week I gave an assignment in which they had to write an essay explaining one negative and two positive impacts of the pandemic, because we always focus more on the positive things. Some had mentioned negatives like parents losing jobs, not being able to see friends or go places, but the majority mentioned how happy they were spending more time with their family, playing board games, watching movies, learning about each other.” 

“I think if we take this time now to teach our kiddos to seek solutions and not problems, as well as focus on the positives in difficult times, we may end up with a powerful generation.”

It’s one thing to have teachers in the classroom and it’s another for them to be working hard remotely and doing whatever they can to prepare their students for success in the world of opportunity.


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