Special Education Teacher
Watkins Mill High School
Montgomery County Public Schools
“We’re going to get through this together. I just want to give my students some reassurance and peace of mind right now.”
How are you moving to a remote learning model?
Well I already had Google Classroom in place to use for my Resource classes. When we were in school, Mondays and Fridays were usually mental health check-in days to see how they were doing, how they were feeling, and if there was anything I could help them with (personally or academically). Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays were the days when we’d practice writing CERs and review their grades to construct a game plan on how to complete missing assignments. As part of their Weekly Reflection, they’d write a sentence using the SAT Word of the Day to demonstrate their understanding of the word. I liked using Google Classroom to provide students the opportunities to work on these assignments from home, in case they had other assignments to work on during our time together that they needed 1:1 support from me, or if they just needed a mental break on one of those days. Now with remote learning, I’m not so worried about those things. I don’t need them to be worried about the Word of the Day or writing their CERs because I know there’s a lot going on in their other classes, and it’s overwhelming for them. I’m more here to be a mental health outlet for them now.
Some of my students are loving remote learning, but you know, we’re kind of just getting into this. We just finished marking period 3, so it’s been relaxed, and our school developed a schedule where their day isn’t really starting until 12:45. We have ‘A’ and ‘B’ days each including 4-half-hour classes scheduled daily so that students can check-in and ask their questions and get answers during those “office hours.” Then at the end of the day during “Village Time,” anyone, regardless of which class they need help with, they can email, call, or text to talk to their teacher for immediate help. Our staff has been so wonderful being accessible to students around the clock.
What have been some of the biggest challenges?
Initially, a big challenge was just making sure that learning was as equitable as it could be. Not all of our families have access to the internet or have the devices they need at home. Special education case managers, counselors, teachers, and Administration called all of our students to make sure they had technology at home—and if they didn’t, the school provided pickups for Chromebooks. Then there was an issue with internet access. A lot of businesses were offering free internet services, but we quickly found out that it was only free for a short while if you became a customer. Thankfully the county was able to start issuing hotspots, or MiFi, to families who needed them.
Communication has also been a really big challenge. I will post a Zoom meeting and sometimes only one or two students will show up. I speak with several students and parents a day, but it’s the students who I haven’t really heard from that worry me the most. I work in a very diverse school and several of the parents don’t speak much English. We have access to a Language Line which has been extremely helpful, and the county thankfully provides information in different languages that we can send home, but there’s still difficulty reaching every single student.
How are you able to check in with students remotely? Are you able to stay connected?
I post announcements and reminders daily and send out surveys once a week with about 5-10 questions just checking in on them. I’ll ask them how they are doing and feeling and remind them not to forget to take time for themselves. I frequently post ideas to help with stress and anxiety, such as mindfulness breaks, like breathing exercises. Or I provide suggestions, like Watch a YouTube video and learn how to make an origami bracelet, Challenge your sibling to a sock basketball shootout, or Find exercise videos to keep you busy and in-shape. I framed a question asking them on a scale of 1 to 5, how are they enjoying this remote learning. 1 representing “I don’t like this at all and can’t wait to get back to school,” and 5 representing “I am loving this and could get used to remote learning!” All but one of my students rated it between a 3 and 5, which I thought was a good sign. When we are in the classroom, I include my Bitmoji on posters and assignments so I’ve made sure to include my Bitmoji in silly ways when I send out the surveys to my students. If it makes even one student smile, then it’s worth it to me.
I think a terrific advantage with students being provided Chromebooks (and hot spots) is their ability to stay connected. Students can meet with their teacher and classmates on Zoom, or use Google Hangouts to reach me, and I also have parents text me or call me—sometimes around the clock. And although I’ll send out those surveys to my students I still want to personally put eyes on every student and see that they are okay, and I want them to see me and know that I’m okay. I want to let them know that we are going to get through this, we’re gonna get through this together. I just want to give them some reassurance and peace of mind.
Have you noticed any surprising silver linings during this time of remote learning?
I think I speak for everyone when I say how much our technology awareness and skills have improved or will improve, so there’s a silver lining. For teachers, it’s been nice because there have been a lot of training and professional development opportunities to prepare us. But as far as the students being home, I hope that spending more time with their families is an actual bonus. I’ve also heard kids saying that now they have more time to do things like reading and cooking, which is really awesome. And maybe the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” will make the students more excited to come back now that they’ve seen this other side. I know I will be excited to return to school and see everyone.
Is there any advice you have for other educators?
Personally, I feel that the best advice I can give is to not forget about what the kids are going through and the challenges that they are facing at home. I’d encourage educators to be a little more relaxed and understanding—for students and each other—as we’re all learning to get through this. And I know it’s said over and over again, but we will all get through this together.
Would you like to share a message to your students?
I miss your faces so much!
I miss everything about you. I miss your stories, I miss being there to help problem-solve, and I miss celebrating your successes with you. I won’t take it for granted anymore: getting up early and driving to work, because now I would love to be there for you.
This article also appeared on eSchool News.
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