DISTANCE LEARNING: Special education teachers reconnect virtually with students for the current academic year

The transition to distance learning has been difficult for many SCHS students and staff, with technical difficulties to overcome and barriers of interaction between one another. Special education students and staff, however, face additional challenges. Nevertheless, Special Education Department Chair Adolfo McGovert remains optimistic.

“With special education, it is part of our nature to adapt,” McGovert said. 

The Special Education Department consists of three sub-departments: the Therapeutic Program, the Resource Program and the Life Skills Program. Special education teacher Ana Alcoriza was initially anxious when she learned the school year would start in distance learning due to obstacles her students in the Life Skills Program face accessing education. 

“I worry about how they are going to do online schooling with the challenges in technology, the changes in routine and their schedule,” Alcoriza said.

When SCUSD closed the schools in March, Alcoriza and the rest of her department came together to plan solutions for the forthcoming complications the next months would bring, starting with teaching parents over the phone how to assist their child. Students were additionally given instruction when school resumed in the form of distance learning on March 25.

“For the whole week, we were just practicing and practicing how to use the Google Classroom, Google Meet, and all the other tech tools,” Alcoriza said. “So now, it’s a piece of cake.”

According to McGovert, some students learn better in a small classroom environment. Whether their learning style is audio, visual, kinesthetic or another, the smaller classroom structure allows the teacher to get to know their students better and modify the material.

“Teaching is like finding the right filter to put the oil in the tank,” McGovert said. “There’s information, and we present it in a way that it works.”

Many teachers need one-on-one interactions with their students. In addition to issues with technology and student motivation this semester, the online format makes it difficult for teachers to assess their students’ work and writing.

“Being able to do that (to closely examine students) was the key to being in the classroom. Now that is kind of difficult to do,” McGovert said. “The (lack of) physical presence throws things off.”

New special education resource teacher Radhika Rao values emotional connections with her students, but she has only met them behind the screen and misses the personal touch of in-person learning. Rao faced the additional strain of entering the online classroom two months after the school year began. A substitute teacher taught Rao’s class before she was hired at SCHS.

“It was very bleak and inconsistent for them. I was very shocked to see that a lot of them were getting failing grades,” Rao said. “Now, they are showing steady progress, and kids who were not present are now more regular.”

For many special education teachers, the experience of helping their students succeed is both fulfilling and rewarding. Whether it is online or in-person, teachers like Alcoriza find joy in what they do everyday for their students.

“There is nothing more priceless than seeing them get a job and achieve their dreams, no matter what that dream is,” Alcoriza said. “That’s why I teach Special Ed. It’s more work, more challenging, but it’s all worth it.”