Patrick and Stephanie met at Florida Christian College (now Johnson University Florida) as undergraduate students, discovering a love for each other and a shared love of education. When the teacher shortage hit Florida in 2000, they began their careers in two local elementary schools.

“I started as a third-grade teacher for one semester,” Patrick says. “A fifth-grade teacher retired at Christmas break. I got moved to fifth grade that January, and I continued to teach fifth grade for the next ten years.” Patrick has also taught first and second grade, served as a math and science coach, and worked as a learning resource specialist. He now teaches third grade at East Lake Elementary in Kissimmee, Florida.

Meanwhile, Stephanie also worked in elementary schools where she, too, taught across a variety of primary school grade levels.

“For thirteen years I taught third and fourth grades with an emphasis on math and science, and I started to feel like I needed to push out of my comfort zone and do something different,” she says. “Teaching reading terrified me, but I got my reading endorsement and moved to a different elementary school where I taught third-grade reading. I fell in love with it and worked as a reading specialist and MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) coach.”

Today Stephanie is once again stretching herself in her new role as a literacy coach at Neptune Elementary in St. Cloud, Florida. Both she and Patrick have experienced the impact of COVID on elementary education.

“Being elementary educators is our mission field, and it’s more important now than ever,” Stephanie says. “The social and emotional impact of the pandemic on the kids, their families, and our teachers has been profound. People feel drained and defeated, even while everyone is working so hard.”

“Many teachers are leaving the profession, and we’re desperate for good teachers!” Patrick says. “I love having interns and student teachers from our local universities, including Johnson, and I enjoy helping people who want to teach.”

The Blakes continue to encourage their colleagues, and each other, as the pandemic continues to affect their classrooms.

“Kids are behind in their development and learning, and teachers are discouraged,” Patrick says. “There’s a lot of hurt, which means there are also many opportunities to be a light.”