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An elementary school boy sits in front of a computer in his special education school while holding up a page of autographs.

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A Remote Learning Survival Guide for Teachers

Young student works on assignment at special education school

I’m sitting on a Skype call, staring at my same boring face in the upper-left panel for the fourth time today. I’ve just consumed my THIRD cinnamon roll. My neighbor is listening to Mandy Moore on a volume that’s completely absurd. While I’m attempting to discuss the 2019-20 budget with my boss, my cat decides it’s a great time to start scratching my couch.

Welcome to your new job – educating from home! It’s a wonderful experience where your internet connection will falter at the worst possible time, your children are your co-workers, and the only thing that will go up more than your blood pressure will be your waistline. Are you good with computers? Me neither. Have you filled out more IT tickets over the past month than you’ve filled out raffle tickets in your entire life? Me too. Has attempting to get your students’ accounts up and running made you wish you had a “break” card or a de-escalation area inside your bedroom? You and me both.

At New Story, we follow the STARS Model, but lately, my STARS model has been:

S – Sleep
T – Technical Issues
A – Anxiety
R – Really? I’m eating again?
S – Screaming Children

That said, there are some ways that teaching from home can be a positive experience (really, I promise)! Here are some ideas:

Accept That Things Are Changing!

Working from home leaves us feeling like we are no longer in control. You may find a time when you’re in the middle of explaining how X = 2 in the equation of 2X + 4 = 8 and your son/daughter enters the room in their SpongeBob pajamas crying because they dropped their Strawberry Swirl Pop-Tart on the floor. While this isn’t something that (I would hope) would occur in the school setting, you need to give yourself some grace. This is what life is like for everybody now, not just teachers.

Often times, and this is the case with most people, we stick to what we know. Change is intimidating and routine is comfortable, but what the use of virtual instruction has shown me, and I’m sure many of you, is that there is SO much more out there! When this is all over and we are back in the classrooms, we will all be so much more than the educators we were before. The tools that are at your disposal at this time can be combined with the tools that you tend to use each and every day – thus making you an unstoppable educator; like if Thor were a math teacher and his hammer was a ruler. (Side note: Please understand that I know this film would be Far less successful than any Avengers movie to date.)

Self Care

Yeah, I know we’re all saying it, but what does it mean? One of the most important things you can do during these trying times is to make sure that you take care of yourself. Make sure that you are still getting enough sleep, eating well, and making sure to preserve some “me” time (or time with your children for those of you who are parents and the meaning of “me time” was lost years ago). I don’t know about you, but I’ve had zero problems with the whole sleep thing. In fact, I’ve become such good friends with my bed that you can almost see the pattern of my argyle sheets imprinted on my skin. But, a good night’s sleep is still very important.

Use What You Know!

In terms of “me time”, this is a great opportunity to implement one of our favorite strategies on ourselves – the “First/Then.” Set yourself a goal or target (i.e. for every five logs I complete, I can watch 15 minutes of my favorite show). This way, you get done what you need to, and then that behavior is being reinforced by the positive consequences that follow. We set this expectation for our students quite often, but I can assure you that it can work for us also!

When it comes to eating well, I’m basically the last person who should be commenting on this. The first weekend after this all started, I feel like I went on something called “Food Tinder” and matched with my fridge. I mean, we’re already living together. Weight gain (or loss) can be common during difficult times. If you find yourself struggling with this, a great thing to utilize can be a behavior contract. This might look like: If I were to eat well for five days in a row, on the sixth day, I can order Red Lobster. Or something like, if I were to work out for four out of seven days this week, I get to spend $20 on a new shirt. While this hasn’t worked for me necessarily and I’ve been practically using a token-economy system where I give myself Smarties every seven minutes, it just might work for you!

Cut Yourself Some Slack!

Believe me when I tell you that you’re allowed to make a mistake, you’re allowed to have your internet go out in the middle of a call, or you’re allowed to upload a document to the wrong page. By continuing to show up and attempting to work through this difficult time, you’re letting our students know just how much they are loved and cared for. While we’re in a time where people have to be apart, you are the ones holding us all together. I, and I’m sure all of our students, would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Hopefully this helps you a bit as we all navigate this trying time. At the least, I hope I’ve given you some ideas on how to set up a Smarties black market.

Want some more ideas for special education teachers? Make sure you follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/newstoryschools