As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, almost overnight, educators throughout the country were asked to transform their entire learning environments to a virtual one. Some school districts have managed to conduct online learning in a fairly seamless transition, many others, however, are struggling simply to connect with students and families to ensure their basic needs are being met.
As the new school year approaches, we reached out to several teachers in the San Bernardino Unified School District to get a firsthand understanding of what it is like to be a special education teacher during a pandemic. Though varied, all of the feedback we received illuminates teachers’ commitment to their professions and to the students they serve, who also happen to be our clients. In this blog, we share the responses we received via email, edited for clarity and length.
1st – 3rd Grade
Special Education Teacher, SDC M/M
Newmark Elementary School, San Bernardino, Ca.
“As a Special Education Teacher, I have found that relationships matter. Ensuring that my students and I have a connection is vital to being able to educate them effectively.” That is one of the areas I have found success in when teaching in the classroom and with distance learning. “I believe it is the relationships I have developed with my students that have increased student engagement during the home learning transition.”
“One of the greatest struggles I have experienced in teaching is the belief people hold that children “can’t” do distance learning. A belief that I hold firmly is that we can do anything we set our minds to educationally. I have heard “distance learning is not for our family” or a child “can’t do online learning,” which I disagree. Like learning the ABC’s or counting, we can teach children how to participate/learn online. So please know that children can do anything they set their minds to, given the proper support.”
1st – 3rd grade
Special Education Teacher – Emotionally Disturbed
Wilson Elementary School, San Bernardino, Ca.
“When our schools suddenly had to transition to distance learning, I was in shock and concerned for my students. I had some parents struggling to access our classroom site, but I was fortunate enough to have parents that would communicate with me on a regular basis and I would help them the best that I could.
The most frustrating part was not being able to see what my students were writing down because the camera only shows their face. In a traditional setting, I am able to easily see how students are progressing and if they need guidance. Due to my students being in special education, I also knew that they required more from me in order to meet their social emotional needs. Fulfilling that need had to be done completely different than in the classroom.
I made sure that my instructional aide and I would meet with all the students every Friday and have a “Show and Tell”. Our students could bring an appropriate item to share with their classmate and then their classmates could ask questions about their item. At the end of the day, I felt that our Fridays were so important because it was a check-in to see how my students were doing. It wasn’t a time to worry about academics but rather their well-being and that is exactly why I wanted to become a teacher.”
Kindergarten – 5th Grade
Special Education Teacher, Resource Specialist
Mojave Vista School of Cultural Arts, Victorville, Ca.
“I work with students from kindergarten through fifth grade based on their designated IEP services and goals, both in their regular education classes and in small groups in my classroom. That service model suddenly ended last March with COVID-19 and I had to begin teaching in a new way.
The greatest joy from all this is I have loved getting to know all my students’ parents better. Talking to parents weekly has been so rewarding. Parents are learning more about how their kids learn and they are becoming much more aware of their kids’ strengths and areas of need as they assist their kids each day. Every parent cares about their children and wants them to do well and they are each helping their kids the best they can.
Getting kids to focus and do their work is an ongoing struggle. Internet connection, logging on incorrectly, missing scheduled Zoom meetings, not logging on to Google Classroom and not completing assignments has been a challenge for many. I hope this improves as we move into the new school year. I know this is so hard. I miss my students very much and I can’t wait until I can teach in person again. Until that point, I will meet with my kids and their parents online and on the phone and we will continue to learn as much as we can!”
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