It’s Teacher Appreciation Week during Remote Learning due to COVID-19, and many families have a new appreciation for their children’s teachers. We are seeing them rise to an unimagined challenge. Here at Autism Immersed, we want to share a tribute to our amazing immersion teachers of all grades.
Teaching in Academic and Social Immersion classrooms is not for everyone, but for the people who thrive in this setting, they truly can’t imagine being anywhere else. Julie, a 16 year veteran of the model, comments that “My favorite part of teaching immersion is bearing witness to the very natural interactions that occur between our ASD students and their neurotypical peers. I have seen students helping each other in so many ways, not just academically, but on an interpersonal level as well.” Many teachers echo this sentiment. As Monica, an elementary teacher, added “there is something special about seeing both the peers and kids on the spectrum benefit socially and academically from being in the same classroom.” Teachers who thrive in this model, like Courtney, enjoy a challenge: “one of my favorite parts is working through difficult behaviors so that my students with ASD can be fully immersed. I love to brainstorm different strategies that I can employ to help my students to self-monitor, control their behavior, and remain with the group.”
From preschool through high school, the same refrain is heard. Teachers love the interactions, the opportunities, and the connection with students and their families, as well as opportunities to build and foster relationships between all types of students. As high school teacher Sara says, a special pleasure that comes from “teaching immersion is the conversations between all the students and seeing the friendships and enjoyment these students have with being around each other and getting to interact with each other and their teachers.” Preschool teacher Michelle adds, “Another one of my favorite parts of teaching immersion is working with young children and their whole family. I enjoy being a supportive resource for not only my students but for their families as well.”
Teachers are trying hard to provide high quality instruction during Remote Learning for all of their students. For immersion teachers, this includes keeping core components of their programming the same to provide consistency and predictability for all students, but especially those with ASD. Vince teaches high school finance and he emphasizes, “The key in distance learning is laying out the requirements and establishing the rules of the road so to speak.” Once routines are established and students feel comfortable, teachers turn to ways to make the curriculum engaging as they teach. Julie added, “I try to keep the content alive right now by having Google Meet sessions so we can ‘see’ each other. I am also trying to provide interesting and fun material for the students to learn from- i.e. who doesn’t like to take a camera ride through the digestive system?! Thank you Youtube!” Lizeth has found that it is crucial with Remote Learning to “keep positive encouragement during live lessons and praise their work.” Even our youngest learners are staying engaged in school, thanks to committed and caring teachers. Michelle, who teaches toddlers in immersion commented, “I’m hosting a weekly Preschool 1 Meet and Greet on Google Meet so children have the opportunity to see each other while we all learn from home together. Our young learners become so excited when they see their friends and teachers on the screen and those smiles are contagious!” No matter what the content, Immersion teachers seem united in one thing: we teach CHILDREN.
These trying times are not without challenges for our immersion teachers. That being said, even their challenges reflect the love and commitment they have for students and families. “The immersion model is based on students with and without disabilities interacting. Since we can’t interact in person it has definitely been challenging to get the social interaction between the students. We are so lucky to have technology, Google classroom, and the internet during this time.” Monica shows how academics and social development are mutually included by our teachers as core components of the curriculum. One does not come without the other. Long time immersion teacher Kristen adds, “Though Google classroom is a tool to visually stay connected to the kids, I feel there is an element of excitement that is missing. I feel this element comes from the natural conversations and connections that are made in the classroom setting that are difficult to replicate in a virtual way.” Our teachers miss the in-person time spent with each child they teach.
Our teachers also keep in mind how challenging this type of learning is for all students, but they also look at those challenges as temporary obstacles that need to be dealt with, not permanent barriers. Courtney sums things up for many of our teachers by saying, “As hard as this is, I keep reminding myself that our students with ASD have had to overcome challenges for their entire lives. This is just one more. If my students who thrive on predictability and routine can get through this unpredictable and non-routine time, then so can I. I am so incredibly proud of how my students are handling this situation.” Similarly, we are incredibly proud of how our teachers have handled this as well.
Jan Moore, a veteran speech therapist who has worked in immersion settings for 12 years, may have said it best: “the most gratifying part I heard from students themselves. They want to go back. The virtual community has worked, but they want it all now. They miss the classes, activities, and friendships. They miss lunch and recess and field trips. They might not have realized they loved their school before, but they know it now. Many students with ASD say they don’t really want friends…not so here. Virtual learning has worked in this time of staying at home, but it’s a temporary solution. Oakstone has done virtual learning well…but it does real life learning even better. To a speech therapist that loves to address social competency, this is beautiful. Congratulations Oakstone. This is a testimony of who you are. We are all grateful.”
We are all grateful for our teacher, therapists, classroom assistants and staff who are keeping the spirit of Academic and Social Immersion alive, even in the most trying times. We appreciate you every day.