Fall 2020 wasn’t what Gering High School Spanish teacher Christopher Guadarrama had in mind for his first-semester at the front of the classroom.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Guadarrama told the Star-Herald in a recent interview.
But it’s what he got. Guadarrama finished his first semester teaching Spanish at Gering High School in December after an uncertain year. However, his presence in GHS classrooms is rooted in a period long before COVID-19.
He graduated from GHS in 2009 but not before his name and image graced the pages of the Star-Herald sports section a few times as a soccer player. Guadarrama enrolled in Western Nebraska Community College after graduation and continued playing soccer. He obtained an associate’s degree at WNCC. In 2016, Guadarrama earned another degree in exercise science at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“I wasn’t really going to school to be a teacher just yet. I was actually going to school for something more like physical therapy,” he said.
After UNO, Guadarrama moved down to Sealy, a small Texas town east of Houston. He worked as a personal trainer and exercise specialist until 2019.
“One day, it just kind of hit me,” Guadarrama said. “I want to teach, I want to become a teacher. I think the world needs more teachers, and I just had a change of heart and was like, ‘Yeah, this is something I want to get into’.”
Guadarrama said that he wanted to be a coach first and foremost. He said he didn’t anticipate being a Spanish teacher, but a paraprofessional position in Texas helped put him on the path to teaching Spanish. In Texas, Guadarrama taught English to Spanish speakers.
“Now I’m teaching Spanish to kids who want to learn the language,” Guadarrama said.
While that may be true, the number of students Guadarrama taught this year varied day-to-day. In one class that normally housed 14 students, Guadarrama said that, on some days, just six students were able to attend. His classroom, along with the rest of Gering schools, was hampered by quarantines and illness brought on by COVID-19.
By the end of the semester, Gering Public Schools reported via its COVID-dashboard that 165 students and staff had become infected over the semester, while hundreds of students and staff were sent into quarantine after exposure.
For Guadarrama, that meant unpredictable class sizes and lesson plans drawn out by repeated quarantines. Guadarrama described the process as a student getting sick then returning to school after the illness subsided, only for a family member to get sick and force the student back into quarantine for two weeks.
“The classroom has been up and down,” he said.
Guadarrama circumvented some of those struggles via Google Classroom, an online learning aid that’s become as ubiquitous as Zoom for students in 2020. But the online components can’t replicate the in-person learning, Guadarrama said. It’s just not the same.
“It’s the interaction with the kids that gets lost in translation,” he said.
Morale — for students as well as teachers — was also a struggle, Guadarrama said.
“I just think that the kids are really panicked and just overwhelmed and stressed,” he said. “Kind of like how some of us teachers are. We are all just trying to get our grades in and help out the best we can.”
For his part, Guadarrama did not have to quarantine this semester. He also did not get through all the class material he wanted to. He said by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, Gering High School had just three weeks left before winter break. That means starting the spring semester behind schedule, he said.
Nevertheless, the long semester hasn’t dampened Guadarrama’s passion for teaching. He said he was still trying to figure out the right track for teaching amid a global pandemic. But he knows he’s in the right place and he’s looking forward to returning to familiar grounds — the pitch. Starting next spring, Guadarrama will coach soccer at Gering after a decade-long hiatus from the program.
“They didn’t get a season last year. Everybody else before them got a season. So it’d be really interesting to find out how, how the boys and the girls respond and to that,” he said.