Kathleen Pursel ’14 overcomes challenges to educate Reading youth during pandemic
by Sidney Goodman '21
COVID-19 has greatly impacted education. Teachers rapidly adapted to online learning and, as always, have gone above and beyond for their students. While this shift was challenging enough for teachers with set weekly routines, special education teachers had to adapt an unconventional curriculum to online learning.
Kathleen Pursel ’14, a special education teacher in the Reading school district, had to shift her classroom and curriculum to an online setting within a short period of time. She had to consider her students’ reading levels, the technology they had access to at home, and how she would present information to fit her students’ different needs without having her usual resources.
“Every person affected had to make changes for there to be successes,” she said. “The school district guided us through the transition period, as well as providing teachers with the resources necessary to learn how to use the plethora of digital tools available to educators.”
Having taken the majority of her master’s program at Alvernia online, Pursel found herself more prepared for online teaching than she thought.
“Having to take courses online myself helped me adapt to what my students needed because I have been on the receiving end of instruction digitally,” she said. “Being an online learner also helped me realize that having a connection with the teacher is so essential for reaching your potential in this learning environment.”
To keep her class on track academically, Pursel created a home mentoring class to reinforce the necessary academic skills her students would need to complete their assignments. Pursel also held virtual office hours so her students could reach her outside of class if they had any questions.
“Being a special education teacher in the classroom has its challenges and rewards. Performing the same job tasks digitally made those challenges and rewards even more emphasized,” Pursel said.
Navigating an unconventional classroom was not the only challenge that Pursel faced. Many of her students use individualized education plans, which had to be adapted to an online setting. Being unable to meet in person meant that Pursel could not fully assess their learning levels, but she was impressed by the dedication that her students showed in committing to their studies.
“One of the greatest rewards of attempting to deliver special education during this pandemic has been the resilience of the students,” said Pursel. “They really want to learn, educate themselves and above all else, they really miss school. School is a safety net for a lot of students, a safe haven, especially for students who are in special education.”
Being apart from her students has been difficult for Pursel. Even though they can connect online, some milestones could not be replicated over a screen.
“Among all of this great period of growth, the most difficult part for me was not being able to close out the school year with my eighth-grade students, who I had taught since their sixth-grade year, which broke my heart,” she said.
Despite the distance from her students and the uncertainty in education throughout the year, Pursel has overcome the challenges and is looking forward to implementing her newly gained knowledge when classes resume.
“I hope to expand upon what I have learned during distance learning this past spring and from what I will be learning over the summer to help better myself to be a more rounded educator for my future students,” she said.