Student teachers adjust to new learning models

Teachers participate in Professional Learning while keeping socially distanced prior to Summer Boost in-school sessions starting in the Capital School District. (Submitted photo)

Samantha Whelen, a rising senior education student at University of Delaware, only got one week of classroom time before coronavirus moved classes remote.

“I feel like I definitely missed out on [classroom time], but through that I also learned how we just switched from being in class to online and trying to provide the kids with as much as we could even though we weren’t able to see them,” she said.

Though her month-long field experience last semester was cut short, Ms. Whelen is part of the first class of UD students who will participate in an education residency program. She, and 17 of her peers at UD, will spend their senior years completely immersed in the classroom, in Indian River, Milford and Red Clay school districts as well as Providence Creek Academy, a charter school in Clayton.

Working with a mentor teacher, the residents’ year begins with the rest of the teachers, during the professional development days before school starts, and continues after children start summer break.

“Student teaching is typically one semester, it may be two semesters, it’s abbreviated,” said Krissy Najera, director of the Delaware Center for Teacher Education. “It has a start and end point that is usually different from a school district start and end point. Residency, however, … is very similar to the medical model in that the residents worked very closely with one mentor teacher for an entire year.”

The residency program was funded by the Delaware Department of Education and it provides participating students a living stipend — around $25,000, said Celeste Bunting, director of personnel at Indian River School District.

In exchange for the stipend, the residents agree to work in Delaware for three years following graduation, Dr. Najera said.

“It’s a way to address the teacher retention issues that most states across the nation are facing, and the teacher shortage issues. It’s also addressing a way to diversify the teacher workforce,” Dr. Najera continued.

Ms. Whelen will return to Indian River, where she graduated from in 2018, to teach in a second-grade special education English language learner classroom at North Georgetown Elementary.

This year, however, will certainly be different. The Delaware Department of Education released its Returning to Schools guidance this week, but how students will be returning to the classroom won’t be announced until August. If education continues remotely, as a hybrid format combining remote and in-person learning or is entirely in-person depends on the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“This is a difficult and challenging time for an experienced teacher, although I do believe educators rise to the occasion no matter what,” Ms. Bunting said. “I think the last several months have been a testament to how teachers do what needs to be done for kids. I think these folks, potential teachers and new teachers, although it will be challenging, this will give them opportunities in different areas.”

At Indian River, three different higher education institutions — UD, Wilmington University and Relay Graduate School of Education — will feed about 18 students into their student teaching residency model, spanning from elementary to middle school levels.

This year will show them potentially how to operate in three scenarios — in person, hybrid or remote. And the district plans to embrace them as new teachers, giving them access to professional development.

“You hone the art of teaching and this allows the students the same opportunities to be a resident immersed in everything all year long. If, for coronavirus, we’re virtual, the students will work with their cooperating teachers, [and] they’ll teach virtual, which is a good experience for them because, unfortunately, that may be the way of the world for the next several years, off and on,” she said. “They will learn adaptivity very well.”

Learning to adapt in Milford

Milford will also host a class of residents at the elementary school level. Similar to Indian River, Milford will treat them like new employees for the year as the residents work alongside a mentor teacher.

“And hopefully this will give them some good experience as well about being flexible and serving kids in different ways — certainly [it’s] unlike other people’s student teaching, but they will learn from some of our best teachers,” said Jason Peel, director of human resources and school climate for Milford.

This year is likely to teach them skills they wouldn’t have experienced in other years, he added, but in many ways that’s what teachers already tend to do: adapt.

“One of their great skills are making constant decisions and adjusting to the needs of their kids and being flexible, so whether it’s a fire drill that rings in the middle of the day and you have to drop everything and go outside or if it’s some other type of interruption or if there’s particular kid on one day that may need something that they’ve never needed before,” he said. “So this year presents some new challenges but our teachers are up to it. It’ll be a good training ground for residency student teachers as well.”

Plus, they come with an experience other teachers may not have: an online literacy from college courses — or even having remote learning as students last semester.

Ms. Whelen’s mother is a second-grade teacher in the district, which is one of the reasons she decided to pursue the career. She helped her mother when it came to different Zoom functionality.

“Before coronavirus even started we had to take a course at University of Delaware that was technology and education, so we had to learn about all these different platforms we could use which I think it’s certainly going to help me and hopefully I can even help my teachers that I’m going to be working with, with these new ways to try to get the information to the kids [that’s] exciting,” she said. Outside of the residency program, about 200 to 250 students are out in the classrooms for UD’s typical student teaching program in the fall and spring semesters. Even before students are having that experience, though, they’re doing field observations — like Ms. Whelen did last year — or are getting involved in the classrooms in some capacity before they take the helm.

“We think that that kind of experiential learning is really central to preparing teachers who are ready to go when they graduate,” said Gary Henry, dean of UD’s College of Education and Human Development. “This makes the whole pandemic a little more complicated because we have more students going in than just those students in the fall and the spring.”

For those completing their student teaching in the spring, they had about four-and-a-half weeks before they were dismissed for remote learning.

Their experiences after that ran the gamut, Dr. Najera said.

“Student teachers were heavily involved in day-to-day Zoom sessions with kids, with planning lessons, with grading assignments and some had very little involvement,” she said. “We’ve had to collect all the data, documenting exactly what our student teachers did during the coronavirus intermission and report that to the Department of Ed.”

A higher education group, along with DOE, called Delaware Association of Colleges for Teacher Education meets monthly to discuss issues related to teacher preparation, Dr. Najera said. Recently, what brand new teachers might need as they enter the field was a topic of discussion.

“We recently, a few weeks ago, met with the school districts to help them understand what our student teaching in particular — but all field placements in general — look like in a typical semester and what they looked like this past spring semester so that districts could have an understanding of what their new hires have learned or not learned,” she said, noting that they hope to provide some additional professional development to smooth that transition.

For the past three years on average, UD recommends 227 students for certification each year. Of those, 47% are from Delaware and 53% are from out of state.

Of the Delaware residents, 82% end up teaching in Delaware, or 87 teachers per year. Of the out-of-state residents, 30, or 25%, end up teaching in Delaware each year. From UD, about 120 teachers per year who complete their program at UD end up teaching in Delaware.

Looking ahead to next year, Ms. Whelen said that she’s nervous to see how the fall is going to go, but knows “I’ll be able to be working with the teachers and try to figure out the best way to deliver the material that we can to them.”

If the concept of being a teacher was grueling before, it is only more grueling now, with the added layer of teaching through a screen or through distance.

“I definitely think now with coronavirus, everybody’s kind of realizing, ‘Wow, teachers actually do a lot,’” Ms. Whelen said.

She noted Facebook posts demonstrating how parents are struggling to teach their children.

“There’s some parents that think they can just do it and then through this coronavirus they’re like, ‘Wow, I rely on those teachers,’” she said. “So I think it just solidified my idea that I wanted to be a teacher and I want to help kids and to make a difference. It definitely didn’t turn me away from it. It’s definitely more scary but it solidified my ideas and how I want to become a teacher, and why.”

Reopening guidelines

Editor’s note: The Delaware Department of Education released its returning to school guidance Wednesday. The guidance addresses three potential scenarios for schools to open in, depending on the spread of the virus. Schools could be fully in-person, hybrid or remote. Below is a look at some of the guidance. The Delaware State News will continue to report on segments of the 34-page guiding document.

Social Distancing, Movement and Facilities

Before School Begins Instruction

• Appraise any additional facilities that the district may have access to that could be utilized for learning.

• Appraise all school buildings and facilities with a focus on:

 • Number of available classrooms.

 • The size of each classroom.

 • Additional spaces that are available (e.g., gym, lunchroom, auditorium, etc.).

• The ventilation in each classroom including the ability to open windows safely.

• Assess options to maximize outdoor spaces for learning.

• Audit school security protocols to decide if any process changes need to be implemented.

• School security staff should follow CDC protocols if interacting with the general public.

• Have school leaders conduct and document a facility walkthrough with the custodial services team to ensure that the classrooms, common spaces, and the exterior are ready for staff and students.

• Check HVAC systems at each building to ensure that they are running efficiently.

• Air filters should be changed regularly.

• Distribute wastebaskets, tissues, and CDC-approved soap and hand sanitizer to every office and classroom so that these materials can be used upon entry and exit into any discrete location and during transit between sites based on public health guidance.

• Post signage about frequent handwashing, cough etiquette, and nose blowing; signage should be widely posted, disseminated, and encouraged through various methods of communication based on public health guidance.

When School Reopens (in-person or hybrid models):

• Maintain the recommended distance of 6 feet or greater between individuals with a minimum of 3 feet required with face coverings, including when students and staff are seated at desks or standing in classrooms.

• Use individual desks and reduce or eliminate shared table seating to the extent practicable. When tables must be shared, students should be seated the recommended distance of 6 feet or greater from one another with a minimum of 3 feet with face coverings.

• Arrange desks so they are facing the same direction.

• Open classroom windows as often as possible as conditions allow.

• Design activities that allow for social distancing in group classes without tables, such as PE.

• Allow students to enter buildings at designated entry points and egress from other exits to keep traffic moving in a single direction to the extent practicable.

• Provide flow in hallways or corridors in one direction only or, if that is not possible, one direction on each side of the hallway; aim for six feet of distance between students in single file flow on each side. Stagger movement of persons in incremental intervals as feasible to minimize the number of persons in hallways.

• Use floor tape or other markers at recommended six-foot intervals with a minimum of 3 feet with face coverings where line formation is anticipated.

• Keep students in stable groups throughout the day. Little to no mixing of classes is recommended.

• Limit families, outside visitors, and others entering the school as much as absolutely possible. Adults who are assigned to work at the school, such as student teachers or before- and after-school staff, may be allowed as needed. Adults entering buildings should wash or sanitize hands prior to entering and must wear face coverings.

• Discontinue off-site field trips.

• Large-scale gatherings of more than 50 people should be avoided. Attendees at large-scale gatherings must be able to maintain 6 feet of social distancing at all times from non-household members.

• Keep strict records, including day and time, of non-school employees entering and exiting the building.

School Buildings Closed (remote instruction):

• Develop and execute a communication plan to inform families of removal of personal belongings.

• Follow public health guidance for cleaning and disinfecting based on the reason schools are closed (i.e., statewide closures, confirmed case in school facility).

• Work with DPH to understand facility usage for essential activities (e.g., elections, food service, COVID-19 testing) and other nonschool related, community-based activities.

• Explore protocol for notifying outside agencies/organizations of building closures.

• Establish processes and procedures for essential staff entering the building during closure (to perform essential tasks including the creation of student materials).


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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