Student-teaching during a pandemic prepared Colin Phillips for whatever comes next.
Prepared. Excited. Optimistic.
Colin Phillips will graduate in December from Cal U as each of those things, having thrived during a most challenging assignment: fulfilling his student-teaching requirements in the midst of a global pandemic.
This fall, the technology education major worked in two classrooms within the Uniontown Area School District. At AJ McMullen Middle School, he helped supervising teacher Cathy Hager implement a fully virtual, integrated STEM curriculum. At Uniontown High School, he worked in Ted Gulich’s robotics classroom on his teaching skills.
The semester included various methods of instruction — virtual, hybrid and in-person — as Uniontown, like most districts in Pennsylvania, adapted its delivery as necessary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t think I’d change it,” Phillips said. “The way it happened has been eye-opening and worthwhile. If it would have been completely in-person, it would have been more of a cookie-cutter experience. I feel this way I’ve been able to expand myself and blossom as a teacher.”
Cal U’s education curriculum emphasizes adaptability and resourcefulness as important skills for teachers, said assistant professor Dr. Mike Ulderich, who supervised Phillips’ student-teaching experience.
“Colin has been a constant professional since the day I met him,” he said. “Teachers deal with a lot of things that aren’t in the book.”
Being a part of the development of a middle school STEM program when instruction had to be done virtually is one of those things.
“It was good for him to have a chance to be a part of the development of an integrative STEM program led by a certified math teacher,” Ulderich said. “It wasn’t a barrier; it was an opportunity for him to put his mark on a district with a new program and a new teacher. It was an opportunity, even before a ‘real job,’ for him to shape the trajectory of that program.”
“It was neat because I became more of a co-teacher instantly,” Phillips said. “Even from day one, Mrs. Hager and I worked we worked together to set up rules. I got to learn everything all at once with her. It was a fantastic experience.”
At both his placements, Phillips said the virtual environment allowed him to connect with some students more easily.
“Any time a student wanted to pop back online for extra tutoring, it was easier to do that without having such a structured school day,” he said. “It was a little more comfortable for a student to say they needed extra help than to be singled out by staying after class.”
It wasn’t his first experience teaching remotely. He put his teaching skills and math minor to good use as a tutor for the TRIO Upward Bound Summer Academy at Cal U, which was held virtually this year.
“The professor presented the trigonometry and calculus material and then I got to control a 30-40 person Zoom call at the end of the day. So I got the class management thing down pat.”
Phillips was “an overachiever with exceptional skill sets for a beginning teacher,” said Dr. Megan Mealie, who supervised his practicum.
“Having been an administrator for 17 years, I’d want to hire him and scoop him up right away. He is poised to be a leader inside and outside the classroom.”