By Dr. Tara Gensler
Adjunct Professor
Programs in Special Education

Dr. Tara Gensler

Living through the past two years amidst a pandemic that for some reason does not want to relent has taught us all many important lessons.

The trajectory that we had initially thought our previous being was on and would continue to go was completely altered. This impacted every aspect of our daily lives, forcing us to rethink how we engaged in basic daily tasks. Not only has this changed affected us as adults, but it has also touched our children in a multiple of ways.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic came a major shift in the way we educated students. Where technology was once used by a small group of students, it now was being used by a significantly larger population. Going to school on Zoom, interactions via Licensing Management Systems (LMS), and engaging with teachers via chat/email features became the norm.

With this groundbreaking change came a lot of discussions about the effectiveness of this change. This is particularly true for students with exceptionalities. Most people had an opinion on this shift in education to online platform and were eager to share their thoughts based on the different role and or titles that they held. This included politicians, parents, educators, caregivers, support service providers, grandparents and yes, even students. They turned to different means to share their opinions: television, radio, social media, emails and daily phone conversations. Some of these opinions were well researched and formulated while others were based on personal anecdotal information.

A concerning issue that kept on arising was would the students meet the rigorous standards that were established prior to the onset of the pandemic: “Will my child meet grade level expectations?” “Will he/she loose the skills learned?” “What can I do to help my child succeed?” These were very real and pressing concerns for parents about their own children, for teachers about their classes, and politicians and leaders about the general welfare of the state of education.  With the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, there has been a greater push towards a rigorous education. There has been a requirement for highly-qualified teachers who implement evidence-based practices in their classrooms. Student results on both formal and informal measurements are one of the many ways that teachers assess the progress towards these goals.

As special education teachers, it is our professional responsibility to provide these rigorous educational programing to all our students and scaffold the skills for them to achieve success. While the platform for educating students may have changed, the goals and the standards have not. All parents want their children to achieve success and meet high expectations. Using multiple methods of differentiated instruction, Universal Design for Learning, and other teaching strategies coupled with evidence-based practice, we can continue to work with all our students towards reaching their goals in both the traditional face-to-face instruction and via online.

During this challenging time, we might need to delve a little deeper into our creative juices and the emerging research to figure out how to reach each child and help him/her meet their goals. We need to rethink the way we approach education, and while the hope is that COVID-19 will eventually disappear, we now have a new opportunities. The silver lining is the amount of educational innovation that has been created and is continuing to develop, in particular in the field of special education. As emerging special education teachers, you are on the frontlines of helping to shape the future and create positive changes for all learners.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. pointedly stated, “A man’s mind, stretched by new ideas, may never return to its original dimensions.” Let’s stretch our minds, make those changes and positively impact the field of special education, our families, and our students! 

For more information about Programs in Special Education, please contact Dr. Joan Rosenberg, Director, Programs in Special Education: Joan.Rosenberg@yu.edu, 917.783.8169

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