It is difficult to determine when or how a tutor can help if you're a student or parent of a K12 student. The decision is made increasingly complicated when your child has an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). Now that students have been virtual for most of a year and districts are emerging into uncertain territory, there are more questions and uncertainty than ever.
We interviewed Tiffany Evans, an educator in a prominent San Diego County school district in special education and asked her about the effects of virtual learning on students with IEPs during the pandemic and the positive impact tutoring can play in their education.
Hello Tiffany, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? How are you involved in Special Education (SPED) instruction?
I am a Poway Unified School District (PUSD) graduate (Go Titans!) and parent of two kids that also attend PUSD schools. Teaching Special Education was a second career for me. I always wanted to be a teacher growing up, but I sort of fell into writing as a full-time career. After my girls were born, I began volunteering in some of the Special Education classrooms at their school and fell in love with the students. I went back to school and changed careers because I wanted to do something that would never feel like a "job" to me, and helping support students with learning differences never feels like a job. I co-teach language arts in seventh and eighth-grade classrooms as well as a self-contained language arts class. I manage a full caseload and also teach a study skills/learning strategies course.
Since COVID hit and students went virtual, how has it impacted students with IEPs/special needs?
COVID has been devastating for so many, and it's been a bit of a mixed bag for our students with IEPs. In general, it has been extremely difficult for students with executive functioning needs to organize the many different platforms and types of assignments that they have to stay on top of each day. Also, for students who may already struggle with focus and attention, engaging in online lessons was incredibly difficult. I struggle to focus in a two-hour meeting if I'm not leading it, so I truly feel for our students who have had to engage like this day after day.
How has virtual instruction affected delivery of services to students (and families) with IEPs/special needs?
Delivery of services was difficult to figure out in the beginning, but eventually, we all fell into a rhythm. At some point, we found that some services were easier to deliver via the virtual model. There is flexibility in scheduling which we do not have when delivering services in person. On the other hand, some students really need to be face to face with someone in order to benefit from certain services like Occupational Therapy. I believe our more profoundly affected students, like those in critical skills classrooms, were far more affected by this than the students I serve in the Resource Specialist Program (RSP) setting.
What changes have you noticed in the mental health of students (and families) with IEPs/special needs?
Mental health needs will be the number one issue moving forward, and not just for students with IEPs, but for all of our kids. There were months of isolation, worry, fear, illness, and profound uncertainty. When we all needed human connection the most, we were kept apart. For those who were able to come back, being back on campus has been a huge boost to student morale, but it is not the answer to all that they are battling. I know that many students are fighting and will continue to fight the effects of this last year, and I hope that the adults can step up and ensure we provide the needed resources to ensure they can develop the skills needed to process what has taken place over the last year.
What resources do families with students with IEPs/special needs students need now that they did not need a year ago?
I definitely work a lot more closely with parents than I did before. There was a lot of parent education in the beginning; showing them how to navigate Canvas, how to see if your child actually turned that one assignment in, etc. There's also been a lot more emotional support. I always joke that I am also a part-time therapist, because, let's face it, no one was equipped to spend this much time with their children at home! As a parent of a kid with an IEP, one in middle school and one in elementary, I get it! With all of the summer learning opportunities starting to show up, I think it would be helpful if parents had a better idea of whether or not they should sign their kids up for these classes. While I am sure there has been some academic "learning loss," I also think the kids need a break and an as-normal-as-possible summer; they've earned it.
How has virtual learning been beneficial for students with IEPs/special needs? What are specific examples of the benefits you have seen?
There have been several positives, with one being that for many students with social/emotional needs, being online has taken some of the stress out of attending school. Of course, this also means that these students are not able to work on some social skills, but overall, many have actually reported feeling less stressed by being able to stay home. Another positive is that teachers are now very good at ensuring instructions are clear, posted, and easily accessible. It's taken the guesswork out of how I support my students as I no longer have to spend as much time trying to figure out what an assignment is or how it needs to be submitted. Also, students who benefit from visual support are getting a ton, as the virtual model practically requires that teachers consider the visual aspects of their lesson presentation.
How can tutoring support students with IEPs/special needs and students in general?
Tutoring for your student with special needs is a great idea if your child needs a little extra help in a few areas, but not so much so that they qualify for Extended School Year. It's also an opportunity for your child to get one on one attention from a dedicated, educated professional who is skilled with delivering content to students who need it presented in a way that works for them.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the TutorBloom community?
Tutoring can make all the difference for many students, not just those with IEPs. As I tell my students, a writer needs their editor, a chef needs their sous, and a captain needs his first mate; no one goes it alone around here.
Need a special education tutor? Check out Tiffany's TutorBloom profile and drop her a message!