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Administrator Chris Pombonyo Says Appreciating Teachers This Year is About Celebrating the Victories, Checking In During the Hard Times


In a study by the RAND Corporation, about half of all public school teachers who quit their job post March 2020 left the profession because of the pandemic. 

WMFE spoke with Midway Elementary School Administrator Chris Pombonyo (UCF Masters in Educational Leadership '21) about how he’s appreciating his teachers this year by showing them support in new ways.

Read the full interview here. 

Danielle: Chris, let's start by talking about teacher safety. I know at the start of the pandemic, it was hard for teachers and administrators like yourself to even get vaccinated. So where's your school at now in terms of getting staff vaccinated?

Chris: Yeah, for sure. So at the beginning, you're right. It was like getting concert tickets online, we would all get to school really early, open our computers and try to get an appointment to get a vaccine. But now almost everyone on our campus who teachers who wanted to get a vaccine has been able to. Our district in Seminole County Public Schools, was great about publishing where people can get vaccines. We, a lot of us went to Publix and CVS, and those are great organizations that were offering those appointments kind of ahead of time for teachers. So almost everyone who wanted a vaccine has gotten it.

Danielle: In a Horace Mann survey of teachers last December 27% said they were considering quitting just because of the pandemic. Have you lost a lot of your teachers? And how are you coping with this loss?

Chris: So obviously, every school year we have, every school has turnover of teachers. This year, I know a lot of schools are struggling with that more, but we still have a lot a lot of teachers in our district in our school that are here for the kids and just gonna push through. And obviously, the first thing we always tell teachers is you come first, right? If you can't take care of yourself, if your mental health isn't priority, then you're not going to be able to support your students. So I understand what teachers have to do what they have to do, just like in any profession. And there's kind of this teacher guilt that some teachers feel if teachers are leaving at the end of a school year or turnover, but I think mental health is the most important thing. So I agree anyone has to do what they have to do. And no hard feelings for that.

Danielle: You know, considering the pandemic, the economic recession, racial unrest, there's just a lot of stressors on teachers right now, as an administrator, how are you supporting them?

Chris: Obviously, this year looks very different. So we're not going in, in an evaluative way, we just want to make sure that they are as successful as possible with what they're doing in their classrooms. So co-teaching has been something that I've loved doing. And now thanks to masks and social distancing, we can still do it safely. So going into a classroom and observing first but then co-teaching with them and being able to bounce ideas off each other and be there to model different strategies for them has been something that I've loved doing in the past and have just started continuing doing in classrooms.

Danielle: What advice are you giving to your new teachers on your campus, but also to the education students you teach at UCF? You know, the turnover rate for new teachers was already 44% in the first five years, and that was well before the pandemic.

Chris: That's something that I've heard a lot like, how do I go into teaching first year, first of all, this is not normal, right? And just understanding that that even though some people say this is the new normal, this is not a normal school year, things will go back to how they were, they might look a little different, but this is not normal. And if you can get through this year, you can you can probably get through any year of teaching, but just finding that joy and taking time for you. It's really important to disconnect when you need to disconnect. It's so easy as a teacher to pour every single second of every day into your job because teachers are some of the most passionate people I know and they just love pouring into their students and their school. But especially now, like we talked about mental health and taking care of yourself is so important. So making sure that you disconnect, just to give everything we have when we're here at school, and then take time for us to reset and refresh at home. And then find that joy find those moments that you can still do things that you want to do and integrate them into your classroom as much as possible in a safe way.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.