Extra supports for new special ed teachers

With school closures forcing teacher preparation programs to educate online and cancel in-person student teaching experiences, these new educators will need more support than ever
By: | June 2, 2020
gettyimages.com: Thomas Tolstrupgettyimages.com: Thomas Tolstrup

Like much in education this spring, the coronavirus outbreak has upended special education teacher preparation programs and hiring activities.

The virus has forced teacher preparation programs to adapt to online offerings and cancel in-person student teaching experiences. States had to consider waiving some teacher preparation testing and course completion requirements, as well as alter some teacher licensure requirements. Because of those adjustments, districts need to think about how to strengthen new special education teacher supports for the 2020-21 school year.

“Usually beginning teachers need more support anyhow and so figuring out how to provide even additional supports is even more important now than in any other time,” says Meg Kamman, codirector of the CEEDAR Center at the University of Florida, which supports students with disabilities in achieving college- and career-ready standards by helping states to prepare teachers.

And like many activities in the education field, teacher preparation programs and school districts are working through the challenges and even discovering silver linings to the chaos the pandemic has caused. For example, new cross-country collaborations have formed because everyone has the same challenges and are sharing solutions. Appreciation for teachers also has been renewed, which may help increase the number of people interested in careers in special education, Kamman says.

“People are thinking about how these challenging times are also opportunities for us,” Kamman said.

Here, Kamman and Lynn Holdheide, senior advisor for the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, provide advice on how teacher preparation programs and school districts can build on these newly discovered alliances to prepare teachers for the next school year:

· Strengthen induction and mentoring programs: While induction and mentoring activities have always been important supports for new educators, this fall they will be particularly valuable to novice teachers who may be less than prepared to teach students with disabilities, Kamman and Holdheide say. They said it’s important to understand the roles of leaders at the state, local, and building levels in helping new teachers succeed.

“I think everyone’s focus on, ‘What do we do so that when these teachers do enter the classroom—whether they’re virtual or in person—in the fall, how do we support them to make sure we keep them and that they can adequately support students with disabilities?'” says Holdheide, who is also the director of strategy and operations for CEEDAR.

· Help teachers learn the skills they may lack: The pandemic caused disruptions to teacher preparation practices which means some new teachers may have not taken a certification exam or may have an emergency license. Districts should work with the new teachers and teacher preparation programs to understand what professional development new educators may need when the new school year begins. Collaborative efforts can help identify resources to support new teachers, including training for providing distance instruction and interventions to students, Holdheide says.

· Emphasize inclusive opportunities for students: It’s important to help new teachers understand the importance of inclusive classrooms for all students and how to apply those practices through remote learning activities, Kamman says. “We need to make sure our students with disabilities are not segregated even virtually and providing those opportunities for them to be getting core instruction and have an opportunity to be with their peers,” Kamman says. “We have to be careful about preserving the systems and structures we set up for inclusive classrooms.”

· Seek stronger collaborations with parents: A lot of parents are now helping support their child’s remote instruction with coaching from teachers. “We can’t forget about the parents,” Kamman says. CEEDAR and the Center for Parent Information and Resources is developing a document for parents on high-leverage practices for special education and how those best practices for instruction and behavior management can be applied to home settings.

· Offer emotional supports. New teachers will likely need support on how to cope with the stress and emotions of educating students with disabilities during a pandemic. “Teachers are really struggling right now,” Holdheide says. “They are worried about their students.”

Teachers will also need training on helping students deal with stress and the transition back to in-person learning, she adds.

Kara Arundel covers special education for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.