a guest blog post by Allyson Schwartzman
Last week when I was watching the news and I saw that all schools would be shut down, I felt my heart sink into my stomach. As a special education teacher, I am always up for the challenge of how I need to design my instruction to teach my students. However, now that we have turned to remote learning during the COVID19 pandemic, this is a challenge that I and other special education teachers have never imagined having to face, particularly in the time frame of a week!
From the perspective of a special education teacher, remote learning seems complex since we have to differentiate all of our instruction to align with our students individualized education plan (IEP) goals. Before I delve into the issues of remote learning, the first thing I have been worried about is how my students and families are doing emotionally. Are my students and their families able to adapt and deal with this change in their life? Are my students feeling overwhelmed, anxious and scared being stuck in their house? As a special education teacher, I not only care about teaching academics, I care about their emotional well-being which is paramount during this global pandemic. The first step I took was to reach out to my students’ families to check in on them and to let them know I am here for them. I told my families that even though we are not together in the classroom, we are in this new learning journey together.
Since my twin brother has autism, I know from personal experience what it is like to live with someone who has special needs. It takes an army of incredible people to raise a child with any type of disability. From the lens of someone who has personal experience and work experience with children with special needs, I want to make sure my students’ families understand that even though the army of people from school (school therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist and more) are not physically present, we are still here for you.
There are many questions in my mind about remote learning. The main question is how am I supposed to meet my students’ goals when we are not together in person to work on them? The answer that I have and that I believe most special education teachers will agree on is that I WILL DO THE BEST I CAN to create strategies to meet students’ individual goals. I know this is a generic answer, but I hope people can understand that during an emergency situation like this one, sometimes we do not have a clear answer right away. It is going to take a lot of trial and error through a computer during the next few weeks to figure out what works and what does not work.
We are very fortunate for the academic technology we have access to such as google classroom, video services and different academic websites. However, I understand along with other teachers and families that this might not be enough especially for children with disabilities who struggle working on a computer. What I hope for is that as time goes on teachers will figure out the best way to teach and reach their students. It is going to be very hard and challenging for everyone, but we all have to continue to work as a team through this experience. The U.S. Department of Education has a lot of equity concerns and logistical hurdles that need to be dealt with, but I want everyone to understand that we need to stay positive during this very difficult time and teachers are going to do the best they can to service all children with special needs.