CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Maria Alvarado has been teaching for about 20 years. She’s currently a 4th grade bilingual teacher at Zavala Elementary School in Corpus Christi.
During pandemic closures, she had to teach virtually and said the student-teacher relationship changed because of that.
“They believe the internet before they believe us. Before it was the teacher was the one that knew things and now it’s like they question us,” Alvarado said about her students.
She said social media influencing students’ relationships is what’s making teaching a challenge because it’s harder to connect with them. She’s noticed it’s harder for them to connect with each other as well, because they rely on relationships they form online so much.
She also said what’s making teaching a challenge is meeting students’ needs outside the classroom, like making sure they aren’t hungry or cold.
“You try to meet those needs before you do academically, but yet we got to remember that we got a test on Friday so it’s like ok what do I do? Meet them this way or do I just forget about that and move on? So sometimes it’s overwhelming,” Alvarado said.
In order to help teachers de-stress, improve their mental health and forget issues they may be having in the classroom, the American Federation of Teachers donated $21,000 to Zavala Elementary School. The school set up a room with massage chairs, armchairs, dim lights, music, plants, and decorative wallpaper for the teachers to go to during breaks when they need to step away from their classroom.
Alvarado said because they put so much attention towards their students, sometimes teachers need to be taken care of first, so they can relax before entering the classroom. She said the room will help to ease teachers’ minds from mental struggles.
“Just to kind of decompress, kind of get ready for the day. Five minutes, 10 minutes, be in peace, and then move on,” she said.
Instructional coach Roxanne Pena said students at Zavala Elementary have traditionally struggled academically, but said catching up students on lessons they didn’t understand when they were learning virtually is still a challenge.
“The struggles are pretty much the same. It’s just closing those learning gaps from before the pandemic to now,” Pena said.
She said teachers work hard at Zavala Elementary and the room designated for teachers will help teachers’ mental health as well as help them de-stress.
“They work so hard to get the curriculum in order, to get their differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students, just being able to step into the room even if it’s for 15, 20 minutes is going make an extreme difference for their emotional health,” she said.
Nancy Vera, the president of the Corpus Christi Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said the room is intended to help teachers unwind. She said she’s working with the principal of Zavala Elementary so teachers can actually have time to be in the room.
She said she’s hoping the American Federation of Teachers will give other schools in the area grants for rooms like the one at Zavala Elementary. She said it could really help teachers step away from challenges they’re facing.
“We’ve experienced an exodus of teachers across the state and nation and even here in Corpus Christi, so we’re hoping that the teachers will take advantage of it,” Vera said.