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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.

Some Tampa Bay teachers say students' behavior and mental health are struggling

Woman smiling, standing in front of trees
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Rebekah Kershaw is a teacher at Dunedin High School

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

The shift to at-home learning was one of the biggest shifts to daily life brought by the coronavirus pandemic.

More than two years after it began, students — and their teachers — are still dealing with impacts.

This month, WUSF is airing Tampa Bay's teachers' voices, in their own words, about what they see as their main challenges.

Here's what some told us about students' mental health and behavior:

"My name is Rebekah Kershaw. I teach at Dunedin High School in Pinellas County.

"Most students, when I send an email home to mom and dad, or I give a phone call, things will straighten up. But there are some where it's just, you know what, 'I run the school, I do my rules, I go by what I want to go,' because when they were home, mom might not have been home or dad, they might have been at work while they were working at school, and they've just decided it's going to be their way and they're not going to do what anyone tells them to do. And that just makes it tough.

"This year is even harder than last year. And last year, I taught seven (periods) out of seven. And every single one of my classes was dual, where I had kids at home and face to face the whole time.

"And this year is even rougher with them all face to face, because it's just like I said, they're off the charts. I'm not even sure how to describe it.

"I think they're just now starting to turn the corner and get it. Because some of them, unfortunately, have dug themselves in such a big hole that graduating is going to be a struggle. You know, when the classes count at this point, I'm starting to see them realize, 'Oh, I really do need to do this. Let's get this done.'

"I know at my school, we have tutoring every Tuesday and Thursday, and we have Saturday school. And it's usually pretty packed, as the kids are now trying to scramble to make up what they missed...knowing how many students are going to the tutoring and taking advantage of it makes me hopeful that next year will be better."

Read more from WUSF's Teacher Voicesseries

"My name is Oren Shahar. I work at classical preparatory school in Spring Hill in Pasco County and I teach seventh and eighth grade science.

"Some of the students came back and were just a lot more socially awkward with each other. Some of them were more withdrawn and didn't really know how to approach their friends anymore. They had spent such a long time lying in their bed with their tablet in front of them, and not interacting with other people. They weren't sure how to go about being funny and spending time with their friends. And they just literally didn't know. It was really sad to watch.

"Some of these students just don't do work, they'll literally sit there and do nothing and then not understand why it's hard for them when they have to try something. And like I'm hoping this is just a 'I'm in middle school thing,' or 'I don't know how to respond to this being difficult because I've been out of school for over a year thing.' But if this is how they're acting (as) a regular basis, that really concerns me for their future.

"One of the things I've seen with my students in regards to their mental health is that they're struggling, they're very stressed. They're very anxious, they don't necessarily know how to react and respond to things. And it's causing them to not be able to focus on their schoolwork."

READ MORE: Tampa Bay teachers say bulging class sizes cause strain

"I'm Ashlee Highfill. I teach middle school social studies in Tampa at a magnet school.

"We don't have enough mental health and advocacy support on campuses. For middle schoolers, we don't have the sufficient structures or resources or time to devote to their social emotional needs, and supporting them as a whole person, not just academically.

"If I could change anything, it would be to make Florida focus on middle level learners, middle level education, and ensuring that not only other people were putting in schools adequately prepared to work with that age group in developmentally appropriate ways, but also that our school systems structures are drastically changed to meet their needs based on 30-plus years of research that have proven these things are necessary for middle schoolers."

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.