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A tale from Robin Kaplan, speech teacher

P811 in District 75, the Mickey Mantle School,
West Harlem
New York Teacher

I work with pre-K through 3rd-grade students five days a week in school. I also provide services to remote students from inside the school building. This year has challenged me professionally and personally, but it also has been very rewarding.

In a regular school year, I spoke with my students’ parents a few times a year. Now we speak multiple times a week. We have seen a carryover of skills from school to home. Parents have opened up to me about school and about their own lives in a way they never would have before.

I noticed that my relationships with colleagues deepened, too. We check in with each other every week.

In school, staff all wear masks, but due to their special needs, our students may not always, though we encourage it. I have used clear masks, shields, tactile cues and videos so my students can still be exposed to the correct manner and placement of my lips, tongue and teeth.

I needed to find a way to make the teletherapy as engaging for my special needs students who are remote as it is in an in-person speech session. That means making it hands-on. I took an inventory of what toys the students had in their houses and then sent picture symbols to go with those toys. At the beginning of a session, I can text the parent, “Please have the Mr. Potato Head ready!”

I also use a green screen, which allows me to broadcast a favorite picture or TV show behind me. I can use a character like Cookie Monster, or for older students, their favorite video game or TV characters. Once I started doing that, I noticed a significant increase in student engagement.

Our school has had positive COVID cases where we’ve been shut for 24 hours and for 10 days. One of my parents told me that her son, who I normally see in person, tries to click on my picture on screen and waves at me when I’m not there.

There’s nothing that compares to in-person learning, but I’m putting the same amount of energy and love into every session I create, whether in person or remote.

As told to reporter Cara Metz