ArticleSeptember 20th, 2021
Educator Voice: Almost everything I know, I learned in a classroom — my ownCoronavirusEducationEducator VoiceOnline Learning
Editor’s note: Neyda Borges is the Language Arts Department chair at Miami Lakes Educational Center in Miami, Florida, and teaches English and journalism. Borges contributed the following excerpt to NewsHour’s Educator Voice in July 2020, discussing what teachers would like the 2020–2021 school year to look:
If we are truly in this together, if we abide by our social contract and take precautions including practicing social distancing, wearing our masks, quarantining if necessary, then we can stop the spread of this disease and we can open schools safely for our children and for the adults.
Perhaps some school districts have reached that level, but in South Florida, we have not. Schools house over 1,000 students. There is no realistic distancing that will prevent the spread of germs when the rate of infection is this high.
Borges recently wrote the following piece about taking a leave of absence this school year, which first appeared on her blog Word Count Miami.
by Neyda Borges
It was 16 years ago that I first stepped foot in that classroom. It was the result of an impulsive decision. I wanted to change the world, make it better.
Teaching changes how one views the world. Our very perception of time is altered; it’s faster, determined by the school calendar: quarters and semesters, progress reports, standardized tests. A teacher’s year isn’t twelve months long, it’s nine.
I always felt ready to do it all again: to teach literature and writing, yes, but also to push students to think critically, to look closer, to push them to achieve more than they thought they could, to dream and, more importantly, to believe in their ability to achieve those dreams – and then to dream bigger.
School is not a factory. Students don’t walk into class and simply absorb information. Over the last 18 months we’ve witnessed what teachers have always known: schools are much more than workspaces. Kids learn and thrive because of the human connections that they make with their friends and peers, with teachers, coaches and mentors.
We’ve learned that for many children, school is the only safe space they have because home is chaotic, or dangerous, or lonely. We’ve learned that so many families depend on their local school for their meals.
Over the last 18 months we’ve witnessed what teachers have always known: schools are much more than workspaces.
We’ve learned that technology is no substitute for human interaction. We’ve seen teachers go above and beyond to create meaningful lessons, to check on their students and even deliver supplies to their homes.
Our classrooms are part of the fabric of society. They are a testimony to what is possible when we work together to elevate the needs of our children. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of this social construct. If we are truly in this together, we need to move past politics and rhetoric. We need to do what is best for our children and for the teachers and caregivers that tend to them every day.
Through teaching I’ve learned about perseverance and tenacity, about team-building, about the impact of socio-economic disparities. I learned, and continue to learn, about pop culture and evolving language (slang and colloquialism are — after all — the evolution of our language). I’ve learned that we often underestimate young people, that we don’t spend enough time listening to them or acknowledging their viewpoints, but we do spend a lot of time projecting our own apprehensions and expectations on them. I’ve learned just how meaningful and impacting it can be to have someone in your corner, someone that believes in you. I’ve learned just how few kids have that.
I’ve learned that we often underestimate young people, that we don’t spend enough time listening to them or acknowledging their viewpoints, but we do spend a lot of time projecting our own apprehensions and expectations on them.
In short, I have learned every day.
Over the years, I’ve watched these kids grow up and thrive academically, personally, professionally. I’ve cheered them on as they achieve greater milestones. I’ve attended college graduations and weddings, proofread graduate school applications and resumes. We’ve built a team, an extended family.
That is, of course, the great irony. I wanted to change the world. I never anticipated how much my students would change me. They have inspired me.
Their energy is electrifying, even the cynicism that Gen Zers are so known for is not totally devoid of hope. On the contrary, they possess an astounding amount of optimism, a sincere belief that they can be agents of change, that we have the ability to fix our problems, that even in the absurdity of the present moment, there is joy.
Neyda Borges graduated from the University of Miami and then spent two years trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. She fell into teaching and is now the Language Arts Department chair at Miami Lakes Educational Center, teaching English and journalism. She was 2011 Region I Teacher of the Year, and district finalist. In 2015 she was one of 10 teachers honored by Univision as ‘Una Maestra Especial,’ and in 2019 she received the Yale Educator award. She reads, writes, and is still tying to figure out what she’s going to do when she grows up.
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