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When COVID-19 Broke Out, I Was Fired, Had a Child, and Started Pursuing My Degree in Special Ed Online

By Camille Comet
August 24, 2021

Due to COVID-19, 2.4 million women have left the job force nationwide and the labor participation of women in the workforce has dropped to its lowest level since 1988. The pandemic exacerbated many issues that already existed as women were disproportionately affected this past year compared to their male counterparts. With the spread of the Delta variant, it remains to be seen how long this trend will continue.

I became one of those 2.4 million women when I lost my job unexpectedly. This occurred as I was preparing to have my first child, and unfortunately I was unable to continue my education degree under the circumstances. While I was incredibly grateful for my growing family, I also felt an unbearable weight on my shoulders as I was facing the harsh reality that my role in the workforce was not valued.

Women Left the Workforce in Record Numbers at the Outset of COVID-19

With that being said, it is critical that we address the undeniable truth that we need women in the workforce. Women need options and support as they recover from the pandemic. Getting an education is something that can provide stability, routine, and structure for a family – and this is what I wanted for my own family during that time of challenging circumstances.

It wasn’t too long after losing my job that I enrolled at Western Governors University (WGU) Indiana in a flexible, affordable online program. I was given a scholarship that supported me on a new path to pursuing my elementary education and special education degree. This kind of learning model allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom and student while pursuing my dream career.

While I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher early on, this passion has grown immensely over the years. When I was younger and in grade school, I often would bounce around to a lot of tables during lunchtime, sitting with different groups of students. It was then that I realized there are so many unique people out there that I want to meet, understand, teach, and learn from.

Being a part of a diverse group of people has always been important to me. This is one of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to being an advocate for the special needs, and under-served populations. I want to continue being a voice for all students of varying needs to ensure they have the tools and resources to succeed.

I always think about the following scenario: If a monkey, elephant, and a penguin are asked to climb a tree, and then were to be assessed on how well they climb said tree, only the monkey will succeed. But in fact, the elephant and penguin have strong, unique talents that the monkey does not. This applies to all of us – we all have different abilities and strengths, and we need teachers to help students grow and shine in their own unique way.

The Need for Special Educators

And while nearly 7.3 million children in the U.S. receive special education services, there’s a shortage of special education teachers. This is due in part to teachers not being adequately trained or not having received the needed credentials – ultimately leading to large turnover rates, especially in high-poverty schools. If teacher candidates and current educators felt supported and respected, burnout may not end up being the number one reason why teachers leave the profession anymore. It is important for not only higher education facilities to support students who are pursuing an education degree, but the community as a whole.

It has been a long road for women this past year – and women often feel like they have this impossible choice to make: be a mom or go to work. Being able to grow professionally, while caring for a family, is an option that all women should have. Looking ahead to my future as a teacher, I believe my experience being a mother will enhance my teaching. I will more deeply understand the value of being nurturing while also providing the needed tools for learning.

Without access to the degree programs built to support me as a mother and in pursuit of my career as a woman in today’s unique workforce, I would be feeling quite defeated right now. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for society to understand and support women’s varied roles and goals, whether as a mother, professional, or both. So to all of the women and mothers who are looking to pursue a career in any given industry: we can make it happen.

camille comet headshotCamille Comet is an Indianapolis-based educator with a passion for supporting children’s growth in the classroom. She’s actively pursuing her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and special education from nonprofit, online university WGU Indiana.

Featured Image: Augusto Lopes, Unsplash.

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