Education majors find creative ways to complete requirements in order to earn their degrees on time.
One day, senior education major Rebecca Nicholls was at Rostraver Elementary School, teaching her kindergarten students about colors and letters and days of the week, with high fives and smiles all around.
The next, the face-to-face school year was over, as public schools transitioned to online education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had our last day of school, but we didn’t even realize it,” said Nicholls, who is studying pre-K to grade 4 education.
She even organized a we-miss-you-very-much video from all the student teachers to their classrooms, as a way to find an ending to their experience.
It has been a semester of adjustments for Cal U’s senior education majors, as K-12 schools in the area, and the University itself, moved away from face-to-face instruction to finish the school year.
“When it happened, I think we all felt like, ‘Now what?’” said Dr. Rebecca Maddas, an assistant professor of childhood education and student teaching supervisor at Cal U.
“How we pivoted quickly on both the higher education side and the public education side speaks to our resilience.”
Two of the most obvious changes: Observations of preservice teachers by Cal U faculty, normally done in person, had to take a new form. And adjustments were made to the Pennsylvania Department of Education requirement for 12 weeks of student teaching.
“PDE waived the 12-week guidelines, but we still had to assess and implement engagement activities that would normally be associated with student teaching requirements,” Maddas said.
With creativity and 21st-century technology, assessment has continued in the areas of planning and preparation, learning environment, instructional delivery, and professionalism.
“I got a grant last year to purchase a video platform to allow candidates to video themselves and upload (the video) for assessment and feedback,” Maddas said.
Student-teachers use microteaching, a strategy where a teacher candidate gives a short lesson that is critiqued by peers.
“They had to video themselves demonstrating a teaching strategy,” Maddas explained. For many that means K-12 students learning remotely. Because some districts have been using different approaches to instruction for those students, allowances were made for other methods to demonstrate strategies.
As a student teacher, Nicholls said, “you definitely have to be creative.”
“I did a film in my neighborhood of my surroundings and edited it to add sight words to pop up on the screen. We also do Zoom meetings twice a week with my cooperating teacher. We plan an activity for each of those sessions. I made a ‘mystery box’ to help (children) learn the concept of 3D shapes, just little activities like that where they can learn without realizing it.”
She also has found a silver lining in the quick shift to remote instruction.
“Online teaching isn’t something I would have had experience in if this semester had gone the way it was supposed to, and now that’s a skill I can say that I have.
“Part of my personal philosophy is to have a growth mindset, and this has been an opportunity to demonstrate that and rise to the challenge.”
Maddas agreed that the online experience will be valuable as graduates seek classroom jobs.
“They are going to get questions about this during their interviews,” she said. “Our graduates will be able to demonstrate that they are flexible, that they have problem-solving skills, that they can demonstrate professionalism in the midst of challenging circumstances.”
Even when face-to-face instruction resumes, Maddas said, aspects of online education that were implemented out of necessity may remain.
For example, the ability for faculty to observe student-teachers remotely could allow for placements beyond those districts near the University.
Maddas expects increased interest in Cal U’s online teaching endorsement, a credential approved by the state Department of Education. It attests to a teacher’s ability to develop instructional material and provide an effective online educational experience.
“That’s not just for our students,” Maddas said. “Even classroom teachers might want to be sure they have these skills now.”