Going to school during a pandemic is a challenge. Any student on the University of Miami campus could tell you that.
But what happens when, as you prepare to become a future educator to work with students face-to-face, your entire academic career is forced online?
Education majors normally rely on the in-person interaction of students to achieve a comprehensive teaching experience. As sophomores and juniors in Miami, education majors participate in “field experiences,” which are essentially smaller doses of teaching to students. In their final year, students take a full semester outside of college classes to work each day alongside a host teacher, an experience that counts toward 15 credit hours.
With the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many students have had to revamp their practical teaching plans.
These changes necessitated the Student Education Office (OST) to offer alternatives to the physical sending of pupils to different schools in the Oxford region. The solution: distance learning experiences through partners such as Ohio Connections AcademyOhio’s tuition-free, online public school.
Nicholas Detzel, a sophomore student in elementary education and just fostering double major communities with a special education minor, said he was grateful for the hard work of the university, but he still doesn’t know where he will finish.
“I am really looking forward to [the virtual field experience]. They are working very hard to try to get us there, but at the end of the day it’s still very uncertain, ”said Detzel.
At the moment, Detzel is in “block one”, his first semester to include field experience. Although he said he was disappointed to miss the in-person teaching experience, he said he was happy to work with students. Last semester, Block 1 students were only able to take limited virtual education, with no in-person instruction.
Abby Stephenson, a major in early childhood education, misses the opportunities in person, but said she was grateful for the chance to learn more about teaching online.
“It was really the perfect time to pick the brains of my host teachers and learn how the transition is going for them,” she said, “because I still have three semesters here, but there are lucky the world always looks like this when I go into teaching, so [it’s helpful] just sort of for advice on how it all looked.
Dr. Molly Sawyer, director of clinical and field placements at OST, said that as hard as professors worked, last semester they played a solid triage game with their student teachers.
In a normal year, the OST would ensure that each student had an internship and completed their background checks. This year, however, their final year student teachers had to be given priority as they are at the end of their educational careers and teaching opportunities are so limited.
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Although the OST had to carefully calculate the internships for its students, every senior stayed on track to graduate in December 2020, and now they are starting to add field experiences into the mix again.
Despite all the restrictions, Sawyer said she was amazed at the resilience of her students.
“We really had this opportunity to see education in a much broader way, but also to practice flexibility on a daily or hourly basis,” Sawyer said. “We’ve all learned to live with audio and visual issues… things that I think would’ve cracked me in the last few years, you know, with presentations not going the way I thought they would or lessons not being followed.” the path you think they’re going to go. You just take a deep breath and move on.
Stephenson appreciates the flexibility of his teachers.
“What was maybe a little more stressful during the process is just the fact that when I go into the workforce, I don’t know exactly what our world will be like,” Stephenson said. “But I would say a lot of comfort comes from our teachers in the [education] program that they do a really good job, like being really flexible with whatever is going on.
Despite all the changes and restrictions, Sawyer said there is a silver lining in learning to teach during a pandemic.
“Our student teachers and future teachers are entering educational spaces that are unlike the spaces they lived in for their K-12 education, which is a huge change,” Sawyer said. “You know, for many years we have said that education has really been the same for hundreds of years. And all of a sudden, no. And there are great opportunities there.
For Stephenson, her positive outlook comes from the changes she expects to see in school communities.
“Before COVID, [for] a lot of kids, kindergarten through 12, going to school could have been a drag, as it could have been a chore, ”Stephenson said,“ and I think something good that could’ve come out of COVID is a new appreciation for having in-person relationships and things like that.
And although his sophomore year didn’t go as planned, Detzel is confident in his upbringing in Miami education.
“Wherever we go,” said Detzel, “we’ll be ready.”