If you welcomed a student-teacher into your classroom in January, you might now be questioning how to include her as you work to meet the basic instructional needs of your students. You’re probably feeling overwhelmed by the rapidly changing school policies on distance learning while navigating mounting pressures to troubleshoot new technologies like videoconferencing software. If that wasn’t enough, those pressures may be compounded for you as a parent or caregiver who is also tending to the learning needs of your own children.
Many educators take on student-teachers because they intuitively understand the value of their unique role in preparing new talent for the field. Research shows that beginning teachers who complete student-teaching and receive high-quality mentoring are twice as likely to remain in the profession. Odds are you began your career as a student-teacher who was mentored through your first lessons and interactions with students. Given the chance to pay it forward, you became a mentor teacher to share your guidance, wisdom, and influence. In doing so, you opened your classroom at a time when fewer college graduates are choosing teaching careers than at any time in recent history.
As a consequence of social-isolation measures in response to COVID-19, decisions about school closures, distance learning, and student-teaching have been made by a patchwork of federal, state, regional, and district leaders. School closures have sidelined many promising student-teachers, leaving mentor teachers to figure out distance learning on their own. Although these policy decisions might be causing you some ambivalence about how to proceed with your student-teacher, you might be his only lifeline as the details of social isolation get sorted out. Rather than putting them off, bring student-teachers back into the fold.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Empathize with your student-teachers. They also lost your classroom community and connections to your students. They also feel the pain, distance, and concerns about students and parents or caregivers who have been unreachable during this crisis. You are the conduit to your classroom through which they can reconnect with your students. Encourage them to partner with you to improve learning opportunities during this extraordinary situation.
School closures have sidelined many promising student-teachers, leaving mentor teachers to figure out distance learning on their own."
2. Recognize that your student-teacher may be better equipped to teach online than you. Most student-teachers have engaged in a wide range of digital-learning tasks, facilitated collaborative teamwork online, and used videoconferencing software. Leverage that experience. Invite them to co-plan digital-learning tasks and online lessons. Make them a co-host of virtual meetings and give them opportunities to lead. If you cannot give them access to closed learning platforms, include them in planning learning tasks that you post and share student work to involve them in grading.
3. Include your student-teacher in establishing new routines and norms for your students’ learning. Brainstorm new ideas with your student-teacher and be open to unfamiliar approaches. Your lack of exposure with a learning application or new platform might be an opportunity to leverage your student-teacher’s experience. Before shutting down an idea, allow the prospective teacher time to work through it, develop it further based off constructive feedback, and—if that specific idea proves infeasible—offer new ones.
4. Delegate responsibilities and partner with your student-teacher to keep in closer contact with your most vulnerable students. Your students who already have a history of anxiety, depression, learning and attention disorders, food or housing insecurity, or other health-related conditions are at greater risk during this crisis. Partner with your student-teacher to stay in regular touch with these students.
5. Work in tandem with your student-teacher to maintain online-engagement norms. You, your student-teacher, and your students are now looking into each other’s homes, so it is imperative that all parties be respectful of everyone’s privacy beyond what current school policies or laws require. Review this resource from the Consortium for School Networking on Video Conferencing Privacy Considerations with your student-teacher. Anticipate the likelihood that racial, cultural, linguistic, gender, sexual orientation, and economic biases might be explicitly or implicitly communicated during a videoconference meeting with your students. Be prepared to involve your student-teacher in addressing those biases in an effort to build greater transparency, trust, and safety throughout your school community.
6. Involve your student-teacher in addressing disruptive incidents and explicit acts of racism. While it’s unlikely you’ll experience “Zoombombing,” you have probably read about it or your district has informed you on how to change your Zoom settings. If you want to learn more, read this article from the Anti-Defamation League on “How to Prevent Zoombombing” and report any such incident to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center. You can involve your student-teacher in addressing these disruptive incidents—most of which have been explicit acts of racism that are most traumatizing to marginalized students—should they occur. Racial issues don’t take a backseat to a global pandemic; they are only magnified by systemic inequities that this crisis is making worse and by racist incidents like Zoombombing.
7. Practice self-kindness in order to take better care of yourself and to model those efforts for your student-teacher. Reflect on the issues you can and cannot control. Share these reflections with your student-teacher. Take time with him or her to review social-emotional learning resources that have become available online in the wake of this crisis. “A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus” from Teaching Tolerance is a good place to start. This can unify your efforts with those of your student-teacher so that together you better respond to your students’ social-emotional-learning needs.
One month from now, you might find yourself looking back, either wondering how your student-teacher could have been more involved or realizing how valuable he or she has been in supporting your students’ learning through this crisis.
Now is the time. Reach out. Get your student-teacher on the phone. Make a plan to strengthen learning opportunities together for everyone’s sake.