Education students adjust to new COVID fieldwork standards
Genevieve Coleman | Friday, August 14, 2020
Students and teachers across the country have been in the throes of new safety and learning regulations regarding safely returning to school during the coronavirus pandemic. Education students hoping to enter the profession at Saint Mary’s face the same challenges because of the required fieldwork in order to become licensed educators.
Education department coordinator and director of student teaching and field work Steven Mast explained how local school policies this year have changed the number of education students who will be completing field work in person.
“This fall, the local school districts are only allowing our senior student teachers in for field placements. We have 19 students doing student teaching in a total of 19 placements,” Mast said.
Senior and elementary education student teacher Emma Cassidy spoke to how she is responding to the new guidelines set by her school site.
“Currently Beiger Elementary where I’m supposed to do my placement is online for the first few weeks of the semester, so I can’t physically be in person. I learned that through the news actually,” she said. “It wasn’t directly communicated to me. I have been in frequent communication with my teacher at my placement which has been super helpful.”
These student teachers will be engaging on a more limited basis with community educators while South Bend students are learning virtually, Mast said.
“Most all of the classroom teachers working with our students will be teaching from inside their classrooms during the virtual learning time, so most of our students will be in the room with their clinical educators one day a week,” he said. “We have asked the student teachers to limit their time in the building to just one day, so as to minimize traffic to and from campus and in and out of school building.”
Mast recognized local teachers might have difficulty balancing their responsibilities with their student-teachers and their students, so the department has decided to decrease the number of required fieldwork hours for student-teachers.
“Due to COVID-19, we have relaxed our usually rigid weekly hour requirements, realizing that while local teachers are still hosting our student teachers, they are faced with a myriad of stress and tasks to deliver quality online instruction,” he said.
According to Mast, juniors in the education department are completing their fieldwork requirements through collaboration with their Saint Mary’s professors on campus.
“The juniors who would normally have a weekly field placement are working with our department faculty to do focused observations of teaching videos — where they will watch the videos, and zero in on and respond to and comment about classroom management strategies, questioning strategies, student engagement and a host of other things related to the SMC education department standards,” he said.
Mast acknowledged that while fulfilling these fieldwork standards on campus is a non-traditional approach, it is an appropriate substitute during the coronavirus pandemic.
“While we know face-to-face experiences in schools with students is invaluable for the formation of quality educators, we feel this is a viable alternative when field students are not allowed in local schools,” he said.
Education professors Jeff Greiner and Terri Suico released a joint statement over email regarding how students will complete the department’s introductory course EDUC 201 without the in-person field experience.
“The Education Department has been able to purchase access to a repository of education video,” Greiner and Suico said. “Since our students cannot be in the field this semester, we will have them watch videos from this repository where they will be able to watch classroom teachers teach entire lessons. They will then be able to do similar reflections based on watching those videos that students did previously.”
Students will then reflect on existing department standards about student diversity, the classroom and the professional atmosphere in schools.
“Since the students won’t be working with teachers the way they would during typical fieldwork, we are having them reflect on the three standards addressed in EDUC 201: Student Development and Diversity, The Learning Environment and The Professional Environment and explain, in their own words, what these standards mean and why these standards are important to teaching and learning. While this doesn’t perfectly take the place of talking with teachers and interacting with them as professionals, this gives them the chance to really think about the standards,” Greiner and Suico said.
Mast emphasized that the education department is doing everything it can for students, as well as local teachers and students, while still remaining within state accreditation standards.
“While we cannot relax too many of our requirements due to [accreditation] requirements, we are operating on the platform of being flexible to meet the needs of clinical educators, our education students and the students in the local classrooms.”