Jaclyn Vander Waal — Staff Writer
After spring break senior Katie Bartels expected to stand in front of a classroom of Sioux Center Middle School eight-grade language arts students.
Instead, she introduced herself to them for the first time this past Monday via YouTube video.
Bartels, an elementary education major, is among 41 Dordt University student teachers who have had their educational training dramatically altered by the COVID-19 virus outbreak. With schools suspending in-class instruction, their educational platform has shifted from the classroom to online to fit the needs of their homebound students.
“I love teaching because of the relationship building and the communication between the teacher and student,” she said. “I will not be able to observe how my students are processing information or see first-hand how they are responding to anything. I hope to teach online in a way that is collaborative. I hope to create a community with these eighth-graders in a place where we all are alone on our computers.”
Dordt University student teachers are unsure about how their student teaching experiences will unfold. They also are uncertain if they will meet state requirements.
Education professor Ed Starkenburg is staying in touch with cooperating teachers, student teachers, and university supervisors during this time. Dordt is waiting on the state of Iowa to make final decisions on student teaching since teacher licensure is a state issue. He said these decisions take time and patience, which can be difficult to accept during this pandemic.
As of now, student teachers are expected to help out their cooperating teachers in as much as possible. Schools are taking many different approaches, however, so it is difficult to create a standard for what each student teacher should be doing.
“That varies a great deal from teacher to teacher,” Starkenburg said. “We have some students who are the primary teacher for most of their classes and subjects. Others are helping teachers find resources to utilize and are involved in communicating with students and their families. We have a few students whose schools are simply closed, and they are doing very little other than the other assignments and paperwork that goes with student teaching. The wide range of experiences is part of what makes this very complicated.”
Senior elementary education major Hayley Visser also finds it difficult to effectively give students feedback without developing a relationship.
“When I provide comments to them, I want to be able to connect with them,” she said. “I do not know them well enough to do so. I just try to be positive to them with my comments.”
The whole situation is a little scary for Bartles. She cannot help but consider how COVID-19 may negatively impact her students and herself.
“Students will be behind in their content knowledge,” she said. “The lack of new instruction due to COVID-19 will probably make next year’s curriculum look much different. Students are being shaped in all different ways through this time, and teachers will do their best to keep everyone on track. I will also not be as prepared for classroom management and lesson planning for middle school English language arts, but I will learn a lot of useful skills in technology through this experience.”
This lack of relationship and face-to-face communication is a struggle that all student teachers are facing at this time. However, Kim Lee, cooperating teacher for grades 5-8 mathematics at Orange City Christian School, thinks there are ways to combat this struggle.
“It promotes creativity and encourages student teachers to go outside of the content in creating those extra fun things normally included within a school day or week,” she said. “Making sure each child still understands that they are a unique, valued learner and loved by God is a different ballgame when you aren’t interacting face to face on a daily basis.”
Veteran teachers and student teachers are finding that everything must be more intentional now that they are teaching their students from home.
“During this time of online education, Orange City Christian School is really focusing on teaching only the essentials and getting rid of all else,” Visser said. “We want to deliver the same high-quality instruction students received in school, so we really are working to narrow the curriculum and content down to the skin and bones of the standards and skills. That, in itself, is challenging me in a good way. It is making me reflect on how I do things and why I do them.”
Visser remains positive about their student teaching experience despite the many struggles. She understands that this unique experience has much to teach her.
“I am trying to make the best of it,” she said. “This is a great learning opportunity for me, and I am glad Dordt recognizes that and has asked us to capitalize on it. This is a great time for me to practice online education despite its drawbacks. As much as I would rather be in the classroom with my students and mentor teachers, I am trying to do what I can to help them both virtually.”
In the end, what matters to Bartels is the mindset she keeps during this difficult situation.
“I want to make the most of this time despite the corona virus,” she said. “Everyone is a bit worried and angry that this is happening right now. I want to help bring peace to this, and I can do that by doing online teaching well and creating community through online learning.”
Through the experience, Visser has gained a new appreciation for teachers.
“Teachers are rockstars,” she said. “Like, wow. I have always known that, but seeing them in this context just proves it over and over again.”