Most people, even those in the online education community, are surprised when they hear that I’m an online special education teacher at Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy (MGLVA). They question the efficacy of teaching special education students online, many of whom function several years below their chronological grade level. My message on this Teacher Appreciation Day is the online environment is the best environment for special education students!
In a brick and mortar setting, special education goes something like this – students are taken in and out of their main classrooms causing them to miss lessons. This forces special education teachers to become glorified tutors, trying to get their students up to speed on the curriculum rather than the basic functions they are supposed to be learning. This lack of time for basic skill lessons makes it even more challenging for these students to cope in their regular classrooms, causing an unfortunate downward spiral. At MGLVA, there aren’t these challenges, as we schedule basic skills sessions that don’t conflict with lessons.
Additionally, many of my special education students come from brick and mortar schools where they encountered severe bullying. Bullying crushes a special education student’s confidence in the classroom and makes them not want to go to school. In virtual schooling, special education students are able to interface seamlessly with their nondisabled peers. Many of my special education students are so low functioning – I teach 5-8th graders that function at a cognitive level of a student in Kindergarten-5th grade – that it can be difficult to be in a classroom setting. Online they feel comfortable.
All year students on my special education caseload have been working on building reading, writing, and math skills, but recently I shifted the focus to making inferences using reading, charts, graphs, and other resources. I was so amazed by their ability to reason at such a high level, especially when their academic skills are at such a low level. The students are really engaged in the work, which is amazing to see.