Nandi Riley: Looking forward to the new normal, and expecting change
March 8, 2021
So much has changed in the past year that it’s good to hang onto what hasn’t. As always, we remain committed to Florida’s students, our colleagues and public education. Our unions remain committed to us. Together, we mourn those we’ve lost and work toward better days. Adversity makes us stronger and ever more determined to tackle the many challenges ahead.
At the start of 2020, I was doing what I had done for 16 years, teaching English at Florida A&M University (FAMU). Then in March, for all of us in public education, our worlds made a 360-degree turn. We left for spring break teaching face to face and returned with the requirement of teaching 100 percent online. Because I was using electronic resources for my courses, I was prepared to move to the online format without much stress. That was not true for most of the people around me. In the PreK-12 world, as well as in higher education, educators were struggling to turn around in a matter of days.
At our local public schools and our colleges and universities, we always thought of online instruction as an option, not a requirement. Traditional classrooms allowed many Americans to be unaware of the day-to-day struggles that encompass public education.
So many people now value the previous experience of being able to drop off their children at school and not think about the details of the day.
Those days are gone. The past year reminded me of being a young single mother, juggling full-time employment, school and parenting. In 2020, many families had the experience of working from home and home-schooling their children at the same time. 2020 will always be remembered as the year of flexibility and change. Covid-19 brought with it so many unknown variables and created fear in many of our lives. We have seen an unprecedented number of extended leaves, early retirements, school closures, sickness and, unfortunately, death.
I keep hearing people say that they are looking forward to things getting back to normal. Well, the normal we once knew is no longer. Our new normal will be much different than the world we once knew. If 2020 has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to expect to do things differently.
For me personally, a new role is part of the past year’s momentous change. I began 2020 teaching English at FAMU. I had worked full-time clerical positions while attending the university, then after graduation started teaching professionally in the fall of 1999, at a Gadsden County high school. In 2001, I was recruited to return to FAMU as an advisor/counselor/instructor in the College of Education. In 2004, I moved to a full-time instructor position in the English Department and remained in that position until September 2020, when I was honored to become secretary-treasurer of this great union, the Florida Education Association.
Just the first few days of 2021 showed me that we have so much more work to do! Education needs us to be the beacon of hope that continues to shine for our students. Thank you for all that you do each day on behalf of our students. Be sure to take care of yourself as you focus on taking care of others.