Safety and flexibility

Education majors experience unique learning environments while student teaching during COVID-19

Schools of all levels have had to make changes to their teaching practices due to COVID-19. Not only are the students and teachers affected by these changes, but education majors working as student teachers in classrooms also must adapt their teaching standards in order to complete their student teaching requirements before graduation.

Senior elementary education majors Alexandra Peebles and Jennifer Bosler are two students who have been facing the challenges of student teaching during COVID-19 alongside the difficulty of navigating online and in-person college classes. 

In 2019 the Department of Education and Psychology at Walla Walla Walla University transitioned into a full-year student teaching practicum to comply with the new teaching certification requirements from the state of Washington. 

Due to this, student teachers are placed in a classroom with a mentor teacher at the start of the school year where they teach part-time during their fall and winter quarters and transition to full-time student teaching during spring quarter. 

With COVID-19 limiting the number of schools open for in-person instruction and changing the methods of teaching within the classroom, student teachers are coming up with new and creative ways to engage their students while still complying with COVID-19 protocols. 

“There are so many challenges facing teachers during this pandemic,” said Bosler. “I would say one that has become increasingly difficult is the restriction of group-based work. Maintaining six feet of physical distance makes it nearly impossible to use partners or other forms of group work, which so many teachers rely on.”

During COVID-19, the priority is keeping students safe. Peebles said one way to do so is to conduct group activities outside, as that is the safest way to conduct them.“One thing I have learned this year is the importance of being flexible,” said Peebles. “Being flexible in where you are teaching and where your setting is can help during this time.” 

Peebles noted that while she has been blessed to be able to teach in person, the COVID-19 restrictions present unique challenges. For example, wearing masks inside the classroom can prevent the students from hearing her clearly, presenting an even greater emphasis on projecting her voice while giving instruction. 

Bosler shared that student teaching during this time has helped her be more creative in the classroom. “I am constantly thinking of new ways to excite and engage students throughout the learning process while ensuring safety for everyone,” she said. “I will exit my student teaching year with far more creativity and flexibility than I had coming into it.”

Both Bosler and Peebles were pleasantly surprised by the respect their students had for the COVID-19 protocols. “Prior to entering the classroom, I was hesitant about how young students would respond to all of the safety protocols, but they have continued to impress me with their friendly reminders to one another to wear their mask over their nose or wash their hands regularly,” said Bosler. 

Peebles said that the third and fourth graders she is teaching are more independent than the younger students and have transitioned well into the new learning environment. “Students are very adaptable to their surroundings and to the environment that they are in,” said Peebles. “I’ve also noticed that the students are very respectful toward one another. They really care about each other and want to keep each other safe.”

Read more about student teaching requirements at WWU and learn about how the School of Education and Psychology at WWU is helping to train the next generation of teachers.

Posted Jan. 18, 2021

Alexandra Peebles, senior elementary education major, is finding creative ways to engage with students while following COVID-19 protocols during her student teaching experience.