Student teaching in the pandemic

After adapting the student teaching program to work in the pandemic, Chair of the Education Department Dr. Darci Karr and Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Jessica Allen-Pickett feel prepared and say that communication is key for developing a student teaching plan in the spring.

In a typical year, senior education majors are placed in a school for the entire spring semester. They begin by observing the class and assisting the head teacher with reading groups or projects. This prepares them to take over the class for eight weeks. In this period, they manage the entire classroom, teach, plan lessons, assess students and run parent-teacher conferences. Student teaching has numerous benefits not only for the student teachers but for the schools and students as well. 

“It is sort of a 16 to 18-week job interview,” Allen-Pickett said. 

A requirement to obtain a teaching certificate, student teaching allows schools to see how the student teachers work with students and give them a head start if students are interested in applying for jobs. 

“It’s good to put it into practice before you’re on your own and don’t have support,” Karr said. “That support is huge. When they go out and take that first job they have experiences…that we can’t teach in a classroom.” 

This year, 34 students are planning on student teaching this spring and eight are currently teaching this fall. Many students who are getting double majors or who switched into teaching later in their college career teach in the fall.

“It’s more traditional to do it in the spring for the four-year program,” Allen-Pickett said. 

Last spring when students were sent home due to the pandemic, student teaching continued online. Although there were differences in execution, every district that students taught in transitioned to remote learning. Two students needed new placements as the districts they were in could not handle student teachers in the distance learning transition. 

“That’s when our partner districts stepped up. I sent an email… and within 24 hours (the student teachers) were placed somewhere else,” Allen-Pickett said. 

Many student teachers live off campus, so they were able to stay where they were to teach and communicate with their cooperating teachers via phone or Google Meet. Finding housing and staying in contact with teachers was not an issue, though.

Although student teaching in a pandemic is not ideal, there were some problem-solving benefits. Students got the opportunity to work with master teachers to figure out solutions to problems such as lack of internet and developing engaging lessons for online instruction.

“There are many pieces to being an effective educator…one is flexibility, one is collaboration and one is creativity and we have to see all three of these things really shine in our educators. It really raised their bar for our student teachers,” Allen-Pickett said.

Due to the circumstances, there were some additions to student teaching such as reflective writing and professional development reading to meet the standards for the teaching certificate. The state of Nebraska was understanding regarding these changes.

For the spring, Allen-Pickett and Karr hope that student teaching will be able to continue as normal.

In the case that students are sent home, they have ideas and plans to help the student teachers meet requirements. They feel confident in their strong relationships with the partner districts, their student teachers and their colleagues to make student teaching work.