As schools across the country cancelled or postponed classes or pivoted to online learning as a result of coronavirus, student teachers faced a very uncertain future. If they couldn’t complete their in-school field experience, many would not meet the requirements for their performance assessment to pursue licensure.
This was the harsh reality faced by the over 350 College of Education (COE) student teacher and ADM students in K-12 classrooms across the country this spring semester. By mid-March, nearly all of them were unable to access classrooms and were threatened with a major setback. Despite their degree being completed primarily online, they would be unable to graduate without classroom experience.
Dr. Pamela Roggeman, dean of the College of Education and a former K-12 teacher, knew something had to be done quickly, but accommodating the students would be a major lift. The 2020 cohort includes students from all across the country. Teacher licensure requirements vary from state to state, and each state was rolling out different accommodations for educator licensure during the pandemic.
Despite the obstacles, pushing an indefinite pause on student teacher and administrator field experience was simply not an option the College was willing to let happen.
“We established at the beginning that our number one goal was to help as many of our student teachers graduate this semester as possible,” said Dr. Roggeman, who was in constant contact with the various state departments of education, whose directions were changing almost daily. “That was our North Star — getting them across the finish line.”
The upheaval of student teaching is magnified when the national teacher shortage is taken into consideration. Nationwide, schools are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill teaching positions and a portion of teachers are leaving within the first few years in the classroom. COVID-19 could further increase an already alarming shortage.
Before state education agencies had the time to establish new expectations, the College of Education staff and support partners began what would grow to be continued and frequent communication with students and faculty.
Students were instructed to increase their communication with their K-12 school partners and their faculty supervisors and document all the distance learning, parent communication, and district planning they were involved in. This would prove as evidence of their hard work to aid students. COE faculty were instructed to increase their communication with students to assure them that their UOP program was still intact and moving forward.
"At the beginning [of the coronavirus pandemic], our number one goal was to help as many of our student teachers graduate this semester as possible. That was our North Star ― getting them across the finish line.”
— Dr. Pamela Roggeman, family practitioner and University of Phoenix MSN/FNP program chair for the Phoenix Campus.
UOPX primarily serves non-traditional students who often work and juggle family responsibilities during their studies. In order to complete student teaching or administrative experience, many must quit their day jobs. Asking them to pause and start student-teaching again after the pandemic for a second time in one year could result in not only a timeline burden but a financial one as well, especially with so much uncertainty ahead.
The College made a dramatic pivot to provide alternative and equivalent experiences in virtual formats for student teachers and administrators to avoid disruption to their education and ultimately their job trajectories.
It quickly became evident that while some student teachers were in schools that had established a robust system for distance learning, most had not. The COE staff assembled a group of faculty to create alternative experiences to the normal field experience student teachers would have that would mimic field experiences as closely as possible.
The faculty created interviews, case studies, and access to unedited videos from K-12 classrooms to serve as the foundation to these alternate experiences. They also revised a College of Education-created, fictional “Virtual K-12 School” that included information on most aspects that a “real” school would have, including teacher and student descriptions, lesson plans, examples of actual classroom teaching, achievement data, and other contextual information on which to base “real life” decisions.
In addition, COE staff and partner groups held multiple live meetings with faculty and students to support their individual needs during this time. Within a one-week timeframe, each student’s circumstances were individually reviewed through a collaborative effort by the college’s regulatory, student support, curriculum and assessment teams, and a plan was created to provide each with an alternative equivalent field experience to ensure their educational goals were not thrown off track.
Another tool the College implemented for use was a library of taped, unnarrated classroom observations students used to compare teaching styles and dissect and discuss what works and what doesn’t.
Dr. Roggeman said the end result is a rich, virtual experience that is rigorous enough to stand in for the real thing. She credits Associate Dean Lisa Ghormley and her team for coming up with the extensive list of activities that has given students a robust field experience, even during the pandemic.
“We were burning the candle at both ends,” Ghormley said. “I am not sure how we did it, but we did it.”
While many other institutions told students they would need to complete their student teaching next fall, all but a handful of the cohort of 400 have completed enough student teaching hours to be on track to graduate and several have already landed jobs for next school year.
“We wanted to create and give the K-12 world good teachers and provide our students with jobs,” Ghormley said. “That is what we really wanted to provide for our students.”