Teacher Preparation

What Happens to Student Teachers When Schools and Colleges Close Due to Coronavirus?

By Madeline Will — March 13, 2020 5 min read
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Across the country, schools and universities are closing to prevent further outbreak of the coronavirus—and student-teachers are caught in the middle.

Thousands of schools have been closed or are scheduled to close, according to Education Week’s database, which is continuously being updated. And dozens of colleges and universities have also canceled or postponed in-person classes, moving to online instruction.

The rash of closures has 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 to be suspended until at least April 1 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 due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

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 their 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 Thursday, 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. The student-teacher will continue to video chat with students a couple times a week, and give feedback on the students’ creative writing assignments.

Logistical Challenges

Some universities that have suspended in-person classes are still allowing students to go to their student-teaching assignments, provided the school districts haven’t closed. At West Virginia University’s college of education, for example, officials said in a letter that students completing field placement or practicum hours would have to finish this week, but students who were completing their full-time student-teaching placement would continue to follow their local school calendar as normal “until further notice.”

And at the University of Washington, which is in the center of a widespread coronavirus outbreak, officials told students that even though university classes have been moved online, “we will continue to serve our field sites unless a student is in a high risk group or if they feel sick or have been exposed to someone with coronavirus,” said spokesman Dustin Wunderlich in an email.

“We expect students who are completing an internship, practicum, service learning, fellowship, or capstone to continue those activities as long as the field site is also providing services, though we are being flexible with students,” he said.

Still, that can present its own set of challenges. For Abbey Osborn, news that Illinois State University was suspending in-person classes until April 12 and closing dorms was alarming. Osborn, who uses they/them pronouns, lives in a university-owned apartment. They’ve applied for a waiver from the university to stay in their apartment, partly because moving would disrupt their commute to their student-teaching placement.

Osborn’s cooperating teacher has offered her spare room as a temporary solution. But Osborn, who has an anxiety disorder, hopes not to have to uproot their entire routine.

And as an added stressor, Osborn is preparing to film their videos for the edTPA assessment next week. Their school district is still open, but the situation is in flux.

Yet Osborn said the Illinois State University’s college of education has said that all student-teachers are expected to complete the edTPA. If their school district has closed, student-teachers will need to find an “alternative location,” but there’s been no guidance on what that location could be, Osborn said.

“How can you expect me to perform well on an assessment of my teaching” during all 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.

Columbia College in South Carolina announced on Thursday that it would move courses online and close its dorms—but made an exception for student-teachers. That’s a big relief to Lauren Walters, a senior who is doing her student-teaching placement in elementary special education.

Her superviser 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-prep programs that there might be some leniency with this requirement, but it’s on a case-by-case basis.) If Walters was unable to stay in her dorm and complete her student-teaching experience, she might have had to come back after graduation to finish it—and Walters has an internship at Disney World starting two weeks after graduation.

“The thought of having to come back is terrifying,” she said, adding that her parents live four hours away from Columbia, S.C., and she recently had ankle surgery so she can’t drive. Figuring out housing and transportation to keep working in her school district, she said, would have been difficult.

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

Image: Ken Hawkins

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.