Student teachers learning to adapt
29 Nov 2020 — Journal Gazette
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CourtesyStudent teacher Sarah Roth conducts a lesson in person and virtually, with a student participating via Zoom.
Ashley Sloboda

Sarah Roth heard a common piece of advice from her University of Saint Francis professors as she prepared for a career in teaching: Be flexible.

"That was really evident this year because everything was constantly changing," said Roth, who student taught at an elementary school this fall. "I had to be more willing to adapt."

As K-12 schools navigated their first full semester during the pandemic, student teachers not only conducted lessons in traditional and nontraditional ways, but also managed responsibilities during quarantines : theirs and their mentor teachers'.

Dan Torlone of Saint Francis described student teachers' challenges another way.

"Is it beneficial that your rowboat is sinking, and you have to learn how to swim?" Torlone, director of field experiences, asked. "What they're all understanding is a power of collaboration with their peers."

To ease the situation, Grace College planned ahead for its 11 fall student teachers. Preparations included addressing scenarios with its K-12 partners and providing summer Google education training for student teachers so they would be better equipped for potential remote situations, said Cheryl Bremer, School of Education dean.

"Training and collaboration with our local schools was key so when things happened, we were prepared," Bremer said, adding it was important the K-12 students' needs were met. "We don't want to interrupt their learning."

Education majors typically student teach during their last semester, but it's usually not their first experience in a K-12 classroom, college officials said.

Purdue University Fort Wayne students, for example, have a field placement the semester before student teaching with the teacher they will work with, said Alice Merz, an associate professor and coordinator of student teaching. This is known as a continuity model.

Fall student teachers didn't get a complete field experience because schools closed in the spring, Merz said, but the 43 aspiring educators were grateful for the time they had. She said they have done well this semester.

Many schools Purdue Fort Wayne partners with : generally those in the Fort Wayne area and surrounding counties : continued to be receptive to the continuity model for the university's 117 spring student teachers, Merz said.

"There were a few schools that wanted to sit the semester out as they got a feel for how the pandemic and virtual learning were progressing," Merz said by email. "We appreciate how all of the schools are caring about their students, families and community."

Torlone, of Saint Francis, credited school districts for being accommodating, communicative and understanding of the plight that could result if colleges didn't have sites for student teachers.

Brianna Cumberland, one of three student teachers from Saint Francis, spent eight weeks each at an elementary and a middle school.

Despite the challenges Cumberland faced : including quarantines affecting her and her mentor teachers : the aspiring teacher accomplished what educators often do: She developed relationships with students.

"One student emailed me, saying, 'I'm going to miss you so much,'" Cumberland said. "Overall, I had a really rich experience."

Roth, another Saint Francis student, was glad to be a student teacher this semester because all teachers were new to the conditions the coronavirus imposed, she said.

Even so, Roth said, she worried about the semester before it started, but school wasn't as different as she expected. She noted she remains committed to teaching.

Merz isn't surprised aspiring educators remain steadfast to the profession.

"You would be amazed at how persistent and resolute our students' passion is about being in the classroom to teach," Merz said. "They want to be there to teach and help the students learn. If they can't be there in person, they want to learn the best ways to teach students virtually."

The pandemic hasn't weakened the teacher pipeline at Trine University, which had eight student teachers this semester and will have about 30 in the spring semester. A total 183 students enrolled this fall in its Franks School of Education : more than double the 82 enrolled four years ago, according to a news release.

"When we visit with families, they see that we're not just reacting to what's going on with pandemic," said Tony Kline, school dean. "We've been investing with innovation and certifications for years now."

Roth, who recently interviewed for a long-term substitute position for spring semester, shared what she's most looking forward to: the ability to see a child's whole face again, "to see them smile again."

This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"Student teachers learning to adapt" Journal Gazette 29 Nov 2020: C1