In Oregon State University’s College of Education, nearly 100 students in teacher preparation programs this year have faced an extraordinary challenge: learning how to be K-12 teachers in the midst of a global pandemic that closed schools, left many children learning from home and tested even the most seasoned educators.
Oregon State’s future teachers have embraced the moment with grace, flexibility, creativity and perseverance.
“What we have asked of them is just incredible,” said Sara Wright, senior instructor and program lead for the Undergraduate Double Degree and Master’s of Science programs. “I have been really impressed with how they’ve faced this challenge.”
The pandemic has offered important lessons for current and future teachers about educational equity, such as disparities in student access to the Internet; use of technology as a tool for student engagement; collaboration with other teachers; and adapting instruction to meet learners where they are.
Kiley Pugh is student-teaching science to middle- and high-schoolers in Corvallis this year. The shift to virtual instruction helped her learn how to present material and engage with pupils in many different ways, and Pugh is excited to put those skills to use as students return to in-person instruction, she said.
“It really forces you to think about how students learn,” said Pugh, who is pursuing a master’s in science education. “I think this experience will make me a more flexible teacher. Things just aren’t always going to go according to plan. And I’ll have a really good understanding of how to use technology in an in-person classroom after this.”
College instructors have mastered new methods for pupil engagement in an online world alongside the teacher candidates they are supervising. College faculty have also shared their skills and knowledge with the broader education community, developing a web page with resources and support for K-12 teachers and rapidly rolling out a new seminar on teaching with technology for OSU students and faculty as well as teachers in the community last spring and summer.
Sara Wiger, a doctoral student who supervises teaching candidates and also works as an intervention specialist at Husky Elementary School in Corvallis, said her teaching candidates have demonstrated a tremendous ability to engage with their students, even though they didn’t get much if any actual classroom time with them in the fall and winter.
“You could tell they missed being with their students, but they still found ways to connect with them and learn who they are,” Wiger said. “They gained a lot of important teaching skills they wouldn’t normally get, such as learning how to adapt the curriculum to make it work for learners in a variety of settings and situations.”
“One of my teaching candidates used Google Slides to adapt a reading lesson for use online, building all of the steps of the lesson, such as vocabulary prompts, into the slides,” Wiger said. “It made it very accessible to all learners and everyone could participate.”
College of Education administrators and faculty have worked tirelessly to ensure that teaching candidates had appropriate field placements and met the requirements needed to earn their degrees and teaching licenses.
The flexibility of the program allowed Marjorie Baker, an undergraduate pursuing a double degree, to complete her final year of college at home in Kotzebue, Alaska, rather than return to Corvallis. She is student teaching kindergarten in her hometown this year. She hoped staying home would give her a better chance for in-person teaching, which she has been doing since January.
“We have been in-person since mid-January,” Baker said. “I am so glad to have this in-person experience during my student teaching year. I feel like it has been a much better representation of what teaching in the future will be like.”
Kelsy Weber, who is pursuing a master’s in mathematics education, also ended up in Kotzebue at the last minute after her original student teaching placement fell through. Weber, a native of Vale, Oregon, is teaching high school math. In Kotzebue, COVID case counts determined whether classes could be in person or not. Weber quickly learned to plan her lessons in multiple formats, in case conditions changed.
“We really didn’t know from day to day how things were going to go, so we learned to adapt,” she said. “And I’m learning a lot about what my students need from me as a teacher.”
In a virtual world, teachers cannot rely on traditional instructional approaches. They also can’t rely on body language and facial expressions for cues about pupil engagement, said Associate Dean Randy Bell.
As a result, student teachers this year have learned to innovate with technology, getting creative in their use of Zoom breakout rooms and relying extensively on chat messaging to engage with their students. In some cases, they were also able to assist their cooperating teachers with the technological aspects of virtual school.
“Our students have skills that really help in this online environment,” Bell said. “It has been amazing to see our students teaching lessons while simultaneously monitoring and responding to students in a chat. It’s a very complicated and challenging way to teach and our student teachers have risen to the occasion.”