“At my site, I felt like a valued, experienced member, not a new, inexperienced teacher.”
—Miyuki Manzanedo, Davis Teachers Association
Take the memorable difficulty of an educator’s first year of teaching, add in an unprecedented pandemic, and finish it off with a master’s program all at the same time, and you have an idea of what the past year has been like for educators Miyuki Manzanedo and Irene Amezcua.
“I don’t know how I did it,” says Amezcua. “It was very stressful.”
Manzanedo taught a bilingual second grade class (80 percent in Spanish) in Davis Joint Unified School District while completing a joint credential and master’s program at UC Davis. She was hired in March 2020, the month school buildings statewide were closed to prevent spread of COVID-19, and started the school year in distance learning.
“I was meeting these kids over a camera. I felt like I was being robbed of the experiences first-year teachers get to have,” says Manzanedo, who taught virtually from her classroom because she shares a studio apartment with her husband, who was also a first-year teacher. “I didn’t know anyone at the school. Even staff meeting Zooms had black boxes!”
Her initial frustration turned into an opportunity for her, having completed her credential in distance learning and being familiar with current instructional technology. This made Manzanedo popular with some of her more seasoned educator colleagues, who sought her out for tech tips and assistance.
“At my site, I felt like a valued, experienced member, not a new, inexperienced teacher,” says Manzanedo, a member of Davis Teachers Association. “In many ways, my colleagues were also first-year teachers again.”
Amezcua spent her first year teaching as a mild/moderate resource specialist in San Pasqual Union School District, with a caseload of 25 students. While the school year started in distance learning, Amezcua began seeing students in person around Labor Day a couple of times every week when special education cohorts returned to campus. Steadily, more and more students began coming back to campus for longer periods of time, until all students were on campus for full days after spring break.
The workload was strenuous, with the added stress of statewide assessments and IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) on the job and studying and assignments for her master’s program at CSU San Marcos after hours. Unlike Manzanedo, Amezcua didn’t feel supported by her colleagues, which she says was a tough place as she tried to survive the year.
“I was really lucky my students were amazing,” says Amezcua, explaining that the resilience of students with special needs was especially inspiring. “I learned to believe in my students a lot more and what they’re capable of doing. A lot of them grew up this year and they really didn’t have a choice.”
Erin Githens was hitting her stride in her first year of teaching in March 2020 when the pandemic closed schools statewide. She says the sudden move to distance learning shifted her focus to the social-emotional health of her students and how she could best support their unique needs when distance learning resumed in the fall.
“It was an asset that I had only taught a year, because I wasn’t attached to the way anything was done before,” says Githens, a member of United Teachers Los Angeles.
Learning to be empathetic to her students was a big lesson Manzanedo learned from her master’s instructor, who walked the cohort through how she was changing their syllabus as a result of the pandemic.
“She showed us such grace but still held us to high standards,” Manzanedo says. “She reaffirmed that over a computer you can hold your students to high standards while remaining flexible — and it reminds me to approach my students the same way.”
Amezcua, soon to be a member of Escondido Secondary Teachers Association, is looking forward to creating a culture and building relationships in her own classroom this fall in a new environment: a moderate/severe special day class at Escondido High School. Manzanedo hopes she can recreate the relationships she was able to build with her first-year class as she and they went through the strangest year ever together.
“There was a way we got close to each other,” she says. “I’m excited for next year, but I’m also kind of scared because I’ll feel like a first-year teacher again.”