Disconnected: Special Ed Instructors Struggling with Online Learning

Disconnected: Special Ed Instructors Struggling with Online Learning (Photo: Getty Images)

With schools closed for the rest of the school year, teachers and students are still grappling with online learning. According to Bloomberg, Google Classroom doubled its users to more than 100 million since March. However, while some students have had no trouble with this transition, those in special education have faced quite the challenge. Students with special needs lean heavily on the assistance of teachers to complete their tasks.

YR Media's Adan Barrera's mom Rosaura Barrera is a special education teacher, navigating some tough new realities. He spoke with her about the challenges she faces with remote learning, her concerns for the next school year and how she's remaining positive through it all.


Adan Barrera: What did a normal workday look like before COVID-19?

Rosaura Barrera: My normal day would start at 7:30. I would go get breakfast for my student and take it to the learning center, which is a classroom where students who can't handle the cafeteria will go and have breakfast. We'll have a one-on-one check-in, then he'll start doing his reading with a reading specialist. The plan is to work for 15 minutes and then take a break. During PE and recess, I usually sit on the side watching him. He often gets into problems with others, so I have to be looking out for that.

AB: What does a normal day look like now?

RB: So everybody has to be logged on by 9:00. The teacher will start by 9:05. I’m in there too, observing everybody. It's funny to see how kids are. Some are really focused: they're sitting up and doing their work. While some of them like making faces or pretend that they're singing. My main student has not done any work at all. He doesn’t want to do work. We can’t access him because he doesn't answer the phone. There’s no way to support him. We gave him a computer and he broke it. Without a computer, you can’t do anything. My other kid is in the morning meeting and I communicate with her through text.

AB: Has distance learning gotten easier for you and your students?

RB: It was hard because the first thing you think about are the kids. They need that extra support. [I thought], "How was [my student] going to react when he goes home?" He has other five siblings at home, so he wasn't going to get that one-on-one attention. It's getting easier, little by little. My main student is very good when it comes to computers, but my other student is very behind. When I’m sitting at the computer and looking at the kids, I’m thinking a lot of parents have to work, so the kids are left alone. You have to ask yourself, "Are they really learning?" You have to think about what’s going on behind the camera. The first couple of times I talked to my main student, the house sounded crazy. A lot of people were screaming and making noises — I can tell the environment was affecting him. 

AB: Is there anything specific you do to try and get your students to participate?

RB: Incentives. I came up with some and my supervisor came up with others. In the beginning, we were expecting [my student] to complete 20% of the school work, while everyone else had to do 100%, but we couldn’t even get him to do that. We asked him what he would like for doing the work and he said Pokemon cards, but we haven’t seen any work, so I can’t give him anything. You have to accommodate a different schedule because I can’t be sitting next to my student anymore and helping him. It would be good to see both of my students participate in the classroom meetings, but one has not attempted to sign in.

AB: What do you think the situation will look like when you get back to school? Do you think any progress will be lost? 

RB: Yes, a lot. When [my student] started kindergarten, he would walk out three times a day. He would say, “Okay, I’m leaving,” then walk out onto the street and start climbing the fence. The next year, he moved to second grade. The teacher worked her magic and somehow we were able to stay longer in the classroom and do work. When we get back, we’re going to have to take it really slow. 

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