Teacher Preparation

Student-Teachers Caught in Middle by Shutdowns

Worries about unfinished work, licensing tests
By Madeline Will — March 24, 2020 5 min read
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Across the country, schools and universities have closed to prevent further outbreak of the coronavirus—and student-teachers are caught in the middle.

By late last week, at least 39 states had closed down all schools, along with tens of thousands of districts in the remaining states, according to Education Week’s database. And hundreds of colleges and universities have also canceled in-person classes, moving to online instruction.

The widespread closures have caused a lot of uncertainty for student-teachers. Will they be able to finish their student-teaching assignments? If not, will they be able to meet the requirements for the performance-based licensing test edTPA?

So far, student-teachers said, nobody really knows the answers.

Hearing that student-teaching was suspended was “a really big punch to the gut,” said Kara Marlin, who is in the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities’ initial licensure and master’s program for secondary English. The university has suspended all of its in-person classes and field experience through the end of the semester due to the outbreak of the virus, also known as COVID-19.

Marlin, who uses they/them pronouns, had been going to their placement in an 8th grade English classroom a couple times a week since December. But March 9 marked the first day that they were in the classroom full-time—and three days later, that came to an end.

“I was really devastated,” Marlin said. “I love being there, and it broke my heart to find out I can’t be there with [my students] in any way.”

Marlin and cooperating teacher, Tom Rademacher, came up with a plan to keep Marlin involved with students, despite not being able to be physically there in class. On the first day of the university’s suspension, Marlin video chatted with students to let them know what’s going on. “It lifted my spirits a lot to see them and hear their voices,” Marlin said.

A few days later, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz closed all K-12 schools through at least March 27. Marlin is now co-planning distance learning activities with Rademacher in the event that schools are closed longer, which a growing number of policymakers are predicting will be the case.

Marlin is also grading essays and giving feedback on the students’ creative writing assignments during this pause in the semester.

Logistical Challenges

Some universities that suspended in-person classes initially still allowed students to go to their student-teaching assignments, provided the school districts hadn’t yet closed.

But that presented its own set of challenges, as student-teachers scrambled to find alternative housing to stay at their placement as universities shut down schools.

And there has also been a lot of uncertainty around how student-teachers will complete their requirements for their licensing and certification exams.

Abbey Osborn, a student-teacher at Illinois State University who uses they/them pronouns, had been preparing to film videos for the edTPA assessment last week. But that plan was forced to change—Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker closed schools until at least March 30.

Osborn’s edTPA deadline is April 8. They spoke with the clinical coordinator, who gave three options: redo their portfolio to align with what had already been already taped, extend the learning segment to include the days they taped, or hope and wait until school is back in session so Osborn can teach their original lesson.

Osborn is trying to redo their portfolio, but still concerned about not having enough student work to include.

“How can you expect me to perform well on an assessment of my teaching” during this uncertainty, Osborn said. “That really doesn’t feel like it would be a fair evaluation of me.”

Teacher-preparation programs in 18 states are required to use the edTPA, which is administered by Pearson. In a statement, Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said edTPA registrations are valid for 18 months, and candidates can submit their portfolios for both initial submissions and retakes at any point during that time.

“Individual states will have specific guidance available for their candidates, but Pearson is prepared to extend registrations for candidates impacted by COVID-19 without any change fee,” he said.

Rapid Changes

Columbia College in South Carolina announced last week that it would move courses online and close its dorms—but made an exception for student-teachers. That was a big relief to Lauren Walters, a senior who is doing her student-teaching placement in elementary special education. If Walters was unable to stay in her dorm and complete her student-teaching experience, she might have to come back after graduation to finish it—and she has an internship at Disney World starting two weeks after graduation.

“The thought of having to come back is terrifying,” she said.

Walters’ supervisor at the college of education had told her that teacher-candidates are required by state law to do 64 full days of student-teaching. (The state education department has told teacher-preparation programs that there might be some leniency with this requirement, but it’s on a case-by-case basis.)

But then South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced that schools would be closed through the end of March. Walters said she’s not sure if she’ll get to go back to her placement this semester, and she’s waiting to hear from her college supervisors, who are consulting with the state education department about what will happen to graduation requirements.

“Please know these are circumstances beyond our control, and school closings will not impact your ability to complete the field experience you are in this semester,” college officials wrote in an email to student-teachers. “At this time we are not able to predict a return to the classrooms this semester. However, a completion of your field [work] will continue with revised outcomes that are currently being developed.”

Student-teachers can help support their students through online instruction, officials added.

For student-teachers across the country, their initial classroom experience has been permanently altered.

“It’s a lot of things you don’t think about until all of a sudden, it happens,” Walters said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 25, 2020 edition of Education Week as Student-Teachers Caught in Middle by Shutdowns

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