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Between the coronavirus pandemic, staffing shortages, and legislative initiatives, it has been a particularly difficult time for some teachers. We asked some about their biggest challenges, and we're sharing what they had to say, in their own words.

Tampa Bay educators weigh in on legislation changing the discussion of race in schools

woman stands in front of trees with her arms crossed.
Victoria Crosdale
Aline Loges teaches at Robinson High School in Hillsborough County.

Throughout the month of May, WUSF will feature the voices of local teachers, as they describe the challenges they face, in their own words.

This legislative session, Florida lawmakers passed an array of laws targeting education. The impacts range from stifling the mention of gender identity in primary grades to imposing school board term limits.

The Individual Freedom law, also known as "Stop Woke Act," limits the way race-related issues can be instructed in schools and workplace training.

WUSF recently asked teachers if these laws help or hurt their efforts in the classroom, what their current challenges are, and why some are leaving the profession.

Here's what some told us about the law and legislators targeting critical race theory, starting with Ashlee Highfill, who teaches middle school social studies at a Tampa magnet school.

"I teach social studies — racial tensions are part of American history. I don't understand. I really can't wrap my head around it, because critical race theory is not something that is taught in schools. But the way that they seem to be wording it, the narrative they're they're presenting is that critical race theory is being taught in schools, but what it actually is, is the racial tensions and struggles in our American history that are painfully obvious and have been a part of state curriculum for even when I was in school and before."

"And diversity, it seems like they're spinning the use of diverse things as critical race theory, which is very much what it is not. So a lot of that really confuses me. I don't understand what the intention is. I mean, racial tensions are still a problem. Today, I don't know how anyone could disagree with that."

Read more from WUSF's Teacher Voicesseries

"My name is Aline Loges, I teach 11th and 12th grade and also freshman at Robinson High School in Hillsborough County."

"I don't think they're focusing on what matters to teachers. If I'm being honest, it feels like they're pandering to a particular group of people. And I don't think that they have teachers or students' best interests at heart. I think they have their best interests at heart."

"The implicit issue here is that we have to censor how we talk about certain things that up till now in my life, I've thought were objectively bad things, like slavery. Should we be talking about slavery in a way that is objective that doesn't condemn it? That's what it seems like to me."

"If we're stopping woke, that implies to me that we can't talk about race relations, as they are. Like, we can't talk about them in like, as a negative thing for there to be racism, as a negative for slavery to have been a negative thing that white people did. Like, it seems like we're trying to change how we teach history in a way that isn't true to what happened."

"From my perspective, as a teacher, it makes me stop and say, 'What am I teaching now, that could get me in trouble later?'"

Read more: New Florida education laws about gender identity put teachers in a tough spot

"My name is Steve Conover. I teach algebra at a public charter school in Hillsborough County."

"A lot of this stuff is they're doing it for talking points in my opinion. I don't like doublespeak. And the fact that they're trying to say that these math books are banned because they're teaching critical race theory."

"Show me a math book that had that, because there was no actual 'this is the book that was the problem'. So it's like they threw the phrase out there to appeal to a population demographic without actually having proof of that. That's where I'm standing right now on that issue. Because math textbooks is like, I thought we were the safe department. We don't talk about any of the stuff happening in the world. We're numbers."

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.
I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.
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