Student Teaching in a Virtual World Presents Challenges and Opportunities

December 22, 2020
By: Nancy Sheehan

Meaghan Riedle ’20 always expected that she would learn her way around a classroom during her student teaching stint. But when she started that critical phase of her education in September, there was no classroom to teach in.

Like most Worcester State student teachers this fall, she found the school she was assigned to had switched to remote learning because of the pandemic. “I was kind of lost at first,” she says. “I’ve never had to be a part of virtual learning before and I’ve never taken online classes. I’ve always been an in-person type of person.”

Her saving grace was that the seasoned educators at Tatnuck School, where she was assigned, were struggling to come up to speed with the evolving virtual situation as well, which made her feel like she was part of a team.

“The teachers have been very accommodating and very kind,” Riedle says. “Having other long-time teachers saying, ‘This is my first time doing it as well’ made things feel more like ‘We can do this together’ rather than just being thrown into it by myself.”

For Kelly Sheehan ’20, the remote-teaching situation turned out to be a good thing after her car died, making the commute from her home in Stoughton to the May Street School in Worcester a logistical challenge. She had been scheduled to teach a third-grade class in-person two days a week and remotely three days. After the unfortunate car incident, she switched to all remote teaching.

So, it worked out, but there were downsides as well. “I think the hardest part is just communication,” Sheehan says. “The kids are always interrupting. Even if you ask them to raise their hands, there’s always one or two who need to be always reminded. In a classroom, we would go over the rules and the expectations we have of the students on the first day and it would be a little easier with them all sitting right there. But online, it has to be constantly reinforced.”

Sheehan discovered that there also was a big silver lining to teaching online.

“With technology, we have multiple ways of teaching versus just reading it through a book, especially with science and history,” she says. Video, Google Slides, games, and Pear Deck, an interactive presentation tool, are among tech she has used to help get a lesson across.

“I noticed, for instance, with my Native American unit plan, it really helped the kids better understand things like how they lived, how they created their diets, and what houses they lived in,” she says.

In the face of the pandemic, student teachers have developed exceptional technology skills, which they will be able to take forward into their teaching careers when they eventually head back to a physical classroom, says Early Childhood & Elementary Clinical Supervisor Julie O’Malley, M.Ed.

A challenge initially was getting students to engage by turning on their video and unmuting their microphones, O’Malley says. But over time, this challenge was met by building a safe learning environment where students are excited to participate in a variety of technology, such as Jamboard and Classkick.

Overall, student teachers have met the challenge of remote teaching with great enthusiasm and positivity, she says. “Going into the semester I think many students worried about the challenge of getting to know their students, but they were able to develop strong relationships in a short amount of time,” O’Malley says. “Student teachers were creative in not only their lesson delivery, using role play and virtual tours to supplement their lessons, but also in the ways that they connected with students and utilizing creative resources to engage them.”

Challenges Riedle faced included a big difference in learning abilities among her fourth-grade students. “It’s sometimes hard to make sure that every student is getting what they need,” she says. “We have some kids who are done in minutes and then we have others who need a lot of extra attention, so it’s definitely hard making sure all students get what they need.”

Riedle has been offered an instructional assistant position at Tatnuck School and will work with fourth, fifth, and sixth graders starting in January. “It’s really great because I still will be able to work with the students that I’ve been with,” she says. “That makes me happy because I have some kids that are like, ‘Why do you have to go? Are you coming back? Will I see you again?’ And now I can say ‘Yeah, I’m going to see again. I promise.’”

Pictured above: Meaghan Riedle ’20

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