Alumni Spotlight

Thriving as a first-time teacher during a pandemic

–By Ayleen Barbel Fattal for FIU News

A new teacher will never forget her first class — especially if she was teaching during a pandemic.

For first-time teacher Vivianna Caballero, the 2019-2020 school year would turn out to be particularly challenging. Not because it was the first time she would be teaching a class of her own, but because she would have to find ways to teach during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Caballero stepped off the FIU commencement stage in the spring of 2019 along with the other special education graduates. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in exceptional student education with reading and ESOL endorsements, she was ready to teach. In August of that year, her first classroom and her first 10 special education students awaited at John I. Smith K-8 Center in Doral.

Caballero understood her students thrived on routine, set schedules and knowing what comes next. COVID-19 shattered the routine.

Her students each had individualized education plans tailored for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, speech delays or autism. Each needed specialized classroom interventions. Each had their own way of navigating the world around them. Each had a different view of the world. How would they each adjust from daily sessions to weekly virtual meetings?

“I strived to make my classroom a safe place for my students,” Caballero said. “A place of growing, making mistakes and learning from them.”

In the post COVID-19 world, Caballero’s goal was to maximize resources and set her students up for success. She was determined to find the best combination of tools to keep her students engaged during distance learning.

Caballero leading a Zoom session with her fifth grade class.Although her special education curriculum did not include specific courses on how to teach during a pandemic, it did include educational technology courses which Caballero called her bag of tricks during this transition. Taught by Associate Professor Patricia Barbetta in the Department of Teaching and Learning, the educational technology courses cover a range of online platforms that can be implemented in the virtual classroom.

“Although there was uncertainty about how things would go, I was not scared,” Caballero said. “I felt FIU had prepared me for this situation by exposing me to multiple means of online platforms.”

She found ways to bring the in-person lessons into a virtual environment. To stay connected to her students and their parents, Caballero has relied on Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Edmodo — an educational website that takes the functions of a social network and applies them to the classroom environment.

Caballero’s dedication to her students and her commitment to optimizing their learning environment earned her the distinction of Rookie Teacher of the Year at her school.

“When I began to complete my field hours, I fell in love with being in the classroom,” Caballero said. “After my first year, I am still in love with being in the classroom even if it’s virtual.”

Her message to other first-year teachers navigating this pandemic is to foster and nurture the relationships with their students because they will always remember how special you made them feel.

Caballero is currently enrolled in the fully online Master’s in Special Education with Autism Endorsement at FIU.

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