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From job loss, to balancing work from home to the isolation of following stay-at-home orders, coronavirus has changed our everyday lives. WUSF is giving you a voice to share those experiences.

The Pandemic Year: Teacher 'Keeps On Pushing On' Amid Job Stress And Personal Loss

Ashley Gaska, an English and reading teacher in Hillsborough County, has had to adapt to a changing education environment this year while also coping with grief.
Ashley Gaska, an English and reading teacher in Hillsborough County, has had to adapt to a changing education environment this year while also coping with grief.

The pandemic has been especially hard on Ashley Gaska. But she says it's also made her more resilient and determined to instill the values of her loved ones in her students.

Around this time last year, COVID-19 began forcing the nation to shut down. Just about everyone's life was disrupted. This week, we're listening to the voices of everyday Floridians who were impacted by the pandemic.

Today we hear from Ashley Gaska. She teaches middle and high school students at a nonprofit education center in Hillsborough County. Between family loss and going back to school after the shutdown, Gaska said it's been a tough year.

Now [when schools reopened] we had all of the added struggles of being in the classroom, like classroom management, making sure to redirect students to put their masks on and redirecting them to stay apart from one another. And then adding that to having to make sure that the students online were being engaged.

It's a lot of background work that I'm having to do on my own time, picking out what assignments I think would fit the situation the best and trying to get content created for the students and, you know, make the learning opportunities as well-rounded as I possibly could.

It was very stressful for me, because I always took COVID very seriously. Every single day, I have to tell people to put their masks on properly, multiple times a period.

Some days, I feel like I'm doing a really good job, and I feel happy about it. Other days, honestly, I feel like I'm cutting years off of my life with stress.

I lost my dad recently. He was about to be 77. He had Parkinson's syndrome. He was doing all right, he lived in North Georgia in the nursing home that my brother put him in. But then the Georgia governor decided that it was time to let people start coming into the nursing homes, and COVID started spreading in the nursing homes.

When he caught it, he caught it in November, and it was like this back and forth, back and forth between he's doing better, he's not doing great. He got to the point where he was testing negative for COVID. But it accelerated symptoms of his Parkinson's to the extent that he was rapidly approaching those end stages of Parkinson's.

He passed in January. I got a week off of work to go to the funeral. We had to have an outdoor-only funeral, we couldn't hug each other and mourn. And it was one of the most heartbreaking things of my life.

I was adopted, he had me ever since I was about eight months old. And he raised me as his own. It was like losing my best friend. I really wanted more years with him, more time.

And it made me so angry, so angry with the way things are. This is something that we should have been able to overcome much sooner if people would actually care about others besides themselves. If people could actually take the chance to just wear a little small piece of fabric on your face, and don't go too close to people you don't know.

We've lost like 530,000 Americans, and people want to act like it's not a big deal that we've lost half a million people. And these half a million people, yes, a lot of them are elderly, or yes, a lot of them had preexisting conditions, but they're still very real people that we care about, and that we shouldn't have had to lose so soon.

I'm getting through the stress of losing my dad and the stress of coping with everything at work by just reminding myself to take it a day at a time. And I also try to remind myself if I could carry on the things, the values my parents taught me, how I should treat other people and how to become my own person — if I could pass those things on to my students, then I could keep part of them alive.

I think what I've kind of been taught over this year is the resilience of the human spirit. It's something that isn't necessarily obvious until we face adversity. And I've seen the resilience of my own spirit. I’ve seen the resilience of my friends’ spirits. I've seen massive groups of people who are doing everything that they can to stay safe and try to keep others safe, doing our best to try to get back to a better world.

It's really encouraging that so many people come together and, you know, just keep on pushing on.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.
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