(NEW YORK, Ny.)
The last year and a half has affected everyone in extremely different ways, and without a doubt it has changed the “traditional” educational experience for parents, students, and teachers. Overnight, educators across the country had to adapt their curriculums to online platforms and reimagine teaching: Zoom and Google classrooms, online forums, virtual testing, etc. But virtual learning also exacerbated some of the challenges many public school educators have been experiencing long before the pandemic ever occurred.
Educators, such Isvette Filpo––a teacher in Inwood, New York––know the hardships of teaching within the NYC public school system, before and during COVID-19. After emigrating from the Dominican Republic and completing a B.A. at City College, Ms. Filpo began teaching special education at a highschool in the Bronx. 22 years later she is teaching 7th graders her favorite subject, math, at Washington Heights Academy. “I love math because it’s practical, it’s about numbers and rules and everything is interconnected,” Ms. Filpo said.
Her favorite topics to teach are percentages and unit rates because they are relatable, especially for middle schoolers as they start seeing these concepts manifest in their everyday lives. Before the pandemic, Ms. Filpo conducted an annual project where students would go to the grocery store and find the unit rate of certain items.
When asked what her favorite thing about teaching is, she responded that she loves helping students improve their skills and seeing them succeed. Ms. Filpo is a big advocate for fostering in students a positive growth mindset, pushing them to be open to learning, growing, and changing even when it’s difficult. “But ultimately, I love teaching because I know I’m building future professionals, future leaders,” she said.
COVID-19 has brought many challenges for educators. Ms. Filpo stressed that it’s difficult to gauge what students are understanding online, and it’s even more difficult to track their work. A lot of her students have expressed how difficult it is to concentrate at home due to WiFi issues, living in small spaces, language barriers, having to care for siblings––issues relatable for anyone working from home the last year. For Ms. Filpo, it’s been important to empathize with and show up for her students, even if she cannot directly alleviate their situations.
Being at home has allowed us to recognize each other’s humanity but it’s also blurred the boundaries between work or school life and home life, and my students have been very honest with me about that.
If there’s anything the last year has highlighted for her, it is that flexibility, empathy, and earning a student’s trust should be any teacher’s first priorities so students feel supported and heard.
But like many educators, COVID-19 hasn’t been the first or biggest challenge she’s faced. A lack of resources, funding, and support for public education exacerbates the city’s notoriety for having one of the most segregated public school systems. As a teacher in a predominantly low-income, Latinx neighborhood, Ms. Filpo knows first-hand the burden such segregation places on schools, students, and educators.
Ms. Filpo cites the cause of many challenges she faces to a lack of support from the Board of Education. She believes the city needs to develop a more robust system to support educators and consult them on how to create learning environments that will best help students succeed. The lack of support and city funding means that being a public school educator in NYC isn’t just about teaching, but also mentorship, guidance, and support for students.
“We absolutely need smaller classrooms. I currently have 32 students per class, and 64 students total. In one class I have 11 kids in IEP (Individualized Education Program), who need more guidance and attention. But with such a big class size, I cannot address all students' needs.”
With the transition to in-person schooling, time will tell if the city’s Board of Ed listens to and values the opinion of one of its most important assets –– teachers.