I walked into a fourth-grade classroom to observe a student teacher. He was in the front of the room, wearing a mask and a clip-on microphone, simultaneously teaching his in-person learners and checking in with those who joined remotely. He had materials set aside in individual bags and was walking around sanitizing tables while presenting information. When I checked in with him later, he smiled and said, “Some people think I’m crazy, but this is exactly what I want to be doing.”
News articles and social media posts share that educators have struggled throughout the past year, with many teachers retiring early, resigning, or rethinking their professions due to the pandemic. However, the student teachers and practicum students that I supervised tell a different story, a story of learning, growing, and enduring through this challenging school year. Preservice teachers embraced the opportunity to teach during the pandemic and are eager to begin their careers as educators. Not only have they worked alongside their cooperating teachers to gain knowledge of the curriculum and enhance their classroom management techniques, preservice teachers have learned to take a deep breath and keep going through the uncertainties and the stress related to the pandemic.
Despite the challenges they have been presented with this past school year, PreK through 12th grade preservice teachers are more excited than ever to teach in their own classrooms. In fact, when reflecting on the past year, they determined that they acquired a variety of new skills that they may not have had experience with otherwise.
Among the skills that preservice teachers had the most practice with this school year is adaptability. With pandemic guidelines changing frequently, they had to adjust without much time to prepare. They had to be ready for anything, including adapting lessons when schools suddenly closed, solving technology issues, and individualizing lessons for students who had to quarantine and join from home without much notice. Due to an increase of teacher absences, they had opportunities to substitute teach both in-person and virtually, often without warning. Thus, they gained experience leading classroom instruction and expanded their knowledge of multiple grade levels.
They also received daily practice individualizing lessons based on students’ unique circumstances. Many preservice teachers worked with remote learners for at least a portion of the year, many experiencing distractions in their environments and some with internet or technology issues. The preservice teachers strived to meet the diverse needs of all learners and to present academic content to them however possible. Often, lessons were delivered virtually, but they also reached students by making phone calls and delivering educational materials to homes. When struggling with low student attendance rates, they had to be creative and find new ways to motivate students utilizing technology. Some partnered remote students with in-person students to keep all learners engaged in the activities. Others increased class participation by using different chat features or interactive websites and videos. Having these daily opportunities to accommodate multiple learners and utilize a variety of teaching methods provided them with the crucial skills that they will carry with them throughout their careers.
In addition, preservice teachers were given a variety of opportunities to engage with families in unique ways. This increased their comfort level in developing relationships with parents and guardians. While teaching remotely, family members were often in the room with the student, creating moments for on-the-spot conversations. Many preservice teachers gained practice setting boundaries with family members who were perhaps too involved with their child’s remote learning. Others who struggled to connect with families face-to-face brainstormed other ways to get in touch with them. They created classroom websites, sent home newsletters, and utilized interpreters and family support staff.
What stood out the most to preservice teachers was how this school year strengthened their desire to be educators. Many shared that due to the increase in stress due to the pandemic, they witnessed the school staff meltdown and question their desire to continue to be teachers. Although preservice teachers understood their frustrations, they had to learn to block out the stress of colleagues and continue to stay focused on their goals.
They proved their commitment to the education field and are prepared to take on any hardships that arise. In a year when there has been a focus on the many challenges that educators face, we must not forget that the future looks bright for these preservice teachers and the many students that they will impact in their classrooms.