Interviews with working professionals most affected by the world’s current state.
“My name is Katlyn Klimara, I am 27 years old.
Q. What do you do professionally, Katlyn?
I am an Early Childhood Special Education Teacher and my building’s Union Representative.
I teach in a self-contained classroom for children with autism and developmental delays in Romeoville, IL. I’ve been teaching for 5 years and am in graduate school to obtain my Masters of Special Education from Elmhurst College.
Q. How has your work been affected by the COVID-19 most recently?
We were told on March 13th that our schools would be shutting down until April 6th, and to take what we might need to work from home.
It’s been all hands on deck since the news broke.
We have been working diligently to provide the families and students with a sense of normalcy through social media, apps, links to videos of teachers reading aloud or demonstrating learning tasks you can do at home, at-home learning packets, materials distribution, food distribution.
Q. How have these changes affected you personally?
I thought that I would be okay with social distancing and working from home. I quickly found out by the second day of working from home that I thrive in my class setting, with my students, and with my co-workers.
The first week of it, I found it difficult to get out of bed and do anything other than sleep. I wasn’t able to effectively communicate with my family and friends unless it involved work and I didn’t help my husband around the apartment. I felt this unrelenting sense of dysregulation that was consuming all of my energy. I didn’t realize how much I rely on my routine, the schedule of my classroom, the conversations I have with my co-workers, and the love and teaching I provide for my students.
To add to that, my husband and I were mid-move when this all began so our apartment is not the comfortable safe place it once was because half of it is at the new place.
Additionally, my graduate school has moved to online classes only. While I’ve taken online courses before, I did not opt for that when I returned to school because I need that in-person connection and experience.
It’s been a struggle for me to manage my entire livelihood from a computer.
My husband finally kindly sat me down at the end of the week and said we have to get out of the bed and out of the house. Together we made a list of all the things we can do to ensure we are motivated, less stressed, and have a sense of normalcy in our own lives. We now take daily car rides with the windows down to get some fresh air and we exercise inside as much as we can so we’re not sitting all day.
With all that being said, overall I’m having a difficult time with self-care. I’m struggling to allow myself to feel the emotions of all of these changes because I know that I still have it really good. We’re both still employed and being paid. We still have a roof over our heads, and we have the food and medicine that we need. I’m extremely fortunate to be struggling the way that I am.
Q. When did the gravity of this situation hit you?
I think it truly hit after the news of a shutdown was given. Prior to that, we were all working under the assumption that they wouldn’t close schools. We didn’t think they’d close schools because of how difficult that could prove to be especially for preschool-aged children. For my students, and typically all students, regression in skills is a lingering fear during long breaks. Regression can be a scary thing for families when their child isn’t in a familiar routine and when the support they usually have is not as easily attainable. Regression can look like a change in skill performance, a change in behavior, a change in sleeping or eating habits, a change in toilet training, etc.
I knew I’d have to do something for my families the weekend before Monday (our final day with students before the school shut down) to delay that regression even a little bit. Knowing that my students would need hands-on activities to do at home rather than rely on videos and links for their families to try recreate school, I quickly created hands-on activities that I know they all can do.
I decided not to focus on providing each child with activities relative to their individual education plan (IEP) goals and skills where they were making progress because there just wasn’t enough time. I decided to create familiar activities that I know the students can demonstrate success in, and that require minimal adult support.
I wanted to be sure my families and students weren’t overwhelmed by the sudden role change from “Mom” or “Dad” to “Teacher”.
I created velcro identical matching activities for all 7 of my students that included color, shapes, and numbers and had them laminated. I provided families with a list of “motor imitations” so they can practice at home. I created a weekly schedule of the days of the week and visuals that showed if they were going to be at school or at home. I know that my students might not understand the “why” of not being able to come to school, but I wanted them to at least be able to know that they won’t be coming to school for a while using the visuals they are familiar with. I created laminated visuals that the families might need to communicate with their child beyond verbal communication such as “all done” and “eat”. I sent home crayons and play-dough.
I’ve created a Facebook page for my families to follow, I communicate with them using several apps but it still doesn’t feel like enough. I’m constantly wondering how we can expect families to work from home, deal with the stressors of potential income loss, stay well, and teach their child. It’s the work we put in throughout the year crammed into what is supposed to be 3 to 4 weeks.
Q. What resources do you know of (if any) in place to help people in your profession?
I will always suggest that teachers or anyone in this profession look toward their co-workers and peers first. It’s always helpful to have someone to vent with, share resources with, and lean on especially during stressful times such as this one. If you don’t try that first — you’ll feel the isolation of teaching quickly and it will burn you out. It’ll be amplified by the fact that you’re actually in isolation.
There are so many resources available to teachers. Since we’re all in the same situation, there have been so many new at-home resources being created and shared without copyright rules for sharing and copying as they usually have. I would suggest websites such as Teachers Pay Teachers, The Autism Helper, and Pocket of Pre-school. You can follow all of those websites on Facebook to find suggestions even in the comment sections of posts.
I follow families who have children or adults with autism on Facebook such as Fathering Autism and Finding Cooper’s Voice. They’ve provided me with ideas for my students from the family perspective that have been incredibly helpful.
Q. What are your predictions for work in the next 4-6 weeks? How about longer?
I know that my college has made the decision to be online only for the entirety of the Spring semester, which I think I’ve come to terms with.
Regarding work, my hope is to return to my students and my everyday routine. Watching the news and seeing the way schools in neighboring states are making decisions for their schools, I have to be open to the possibility that I’ll be teaching my students remotely for the rest of the school year or at least another 4 weeks.
Q. Any tips for quarantine for someone in education? Any ideas to help supplement income?
I always wanted to try creating activities and placing them on Teachers Pay Teachers to be purchased by other teachers or families. With the amount of extra work we’ve all been doing, I could see this alleviating some stress monetary wise.
Q. What advice would you give to people in your same boat? What has helped you manage anxiety and uncertainty?
The only bit of advice I can give would be to try and provide yourself with as much normalcy as possible. Try to avoid letting the changes consume your energy and your joy. Remind yourself of what makes you happy and what makes you a capable person. Reach out to your family, friends, and co-workers because they’re probably feeling the same way you are.
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