Virtual Student Teaching: Perspective from the Front of the Classroom
When I started my first college class as a senior in high school, I never could have imagined the various experiences and lessons that I would learn throughout my college experience. All those experiences, lessons, class periods, and big projects led up to the biggest semester for an education major—student teaching!
For those who do not know, student teaching is a twelve-credit practicum. Education majors are placed with a qualified, cooperating teacher in their chosen field where they observe, teach, and perform other various teacher-related activities for eighteen weeks. In a manner of speaking – this is our capstone.
Last semester was my final semester of classes. I love being in school, so I was trying to enjoy it to the fullest when COVID-19 hit. Maranatha had to close its doors and go virtual which was a huge disappointment to many even though we all knew it was necessary. We thought it was only going to last for two weeks which obviously was not the case. It has impacted the lives of millions across the world for the last six months including my student teaching experience.
New Experience, Newer Process
The Watertown Unified School District made a difficult decision to go virtual towards the end of July. I had received my placement at Watertown High School with a teacher I was already familiar with back in early March. To be completely honest, when I first heard that my school was going virtual, I cried. I had worked towards this for over four years and this was not what I had expected my student teaching experience to be like in the slightest. I was reminded by many that I could still have an impact on these students and learn even if it was not face-to-face.
I decided that this unorthodox student teaching experience would be an even greater learning experience for me since I had taught in a face-to-face classroom before, but never online. This was an opportunity that should be made the most of regardless of whether it was the typical student teaching experience. I felt like my two years of being an online student at MBU could be valuable in helping me navigate the virtual environment. I was offered a different placement two weeks before I began, but I decided that many of the teachers at WHS were in the same boat I was. I wanted to help as much as I possibly could since this was hard for everyone.
I began my student teaching experience virtually and I am not lying when I say that I have a lot to learn. Though this is not what I expected, the staff at WHS has been nothing but encouraging. We are all in this together. Even though it is different, I am really loving getting to know these students and teaching them every day. Now more than ever, students across the nation need the help, care, and support of teachers. Hopefully, we will get to be face-to-face again soon, but until then, we must all do our best to work hard and teach as best as we can.
Virtual Versus Traditional Teaching
The biggest changes when teaching virtually revolve around keeping students engaged and the methods of content delivery. We learn in our education courses to deliver content in a variety of ways to help engage the various learners in our classroom. As you can probably imagine, this is very difficult to do over a Zoom call. Thankfully, technology makes this a little bit easier. I can deliver content by sharing my screen and lecturing through a PowerPoint which is a more traditional way of teaching; however, there are other options. For example, I can send my students into break-out rooms with a list of questions for small group discussion. I make a point of visiting each room to make sure discussion is occurring. We can then take the time to go through each question as a group so that the various rooms can hear what the other rooms had to say about the questions. I can also show them a video in class with a handout to fill out or give them an activity to do on their own and turn in as homework. Discussion can be more difficult over Zoom, but if it is structured carefully it can work. I use a great deal of discussion with my students because it keeps them engaged.
Keeping students engaged when they are surrounded by the distractions of the home can be a challenge. I have found that the best way to keep them listening is to ask lots of questions. Questioning is an important part of keeping students engaged in a face-to-face classroom, so it is even more important in a virtual classroom. I endeavor to call on each student at least once in a class period which ensures that they are paying attention and helps them be engaged when they would normally prefer to stay in the background. Teaching virtually is a challenge but is completely doable with the right tools and a bit of creativity.
Planning is super important! My lesson plans have not changed except for the restrictions of virtual learning and the shorter class periods. Balancing the content given in class and the content they get through their homework takes careful consideration since students are more likely to remember the content given in class.
I try to stay in close communication with my students so that they know I am always there to help and so they can keep on track with their assignments. The best way that I have found to interact with my students on a personal level is one-on-one virtual advisory meetings when needed and just letting them know that I am there for them. Positive communication goes a long way in facilitating student motivation.
I think the biggest thing that I have been learning throughout this whole pandemic is flexibility and trust. I am an organized person. I do not like my schedule or system being ruffled, but God has been teaching me that I need to be willing to do anything that is asked of me even if it is not how I would have done it. I also have been learning that even though all of this is difficult for everyone, God is still in control. This pandemic has been one of the craziest six months of my life. I know that it has been that way for everyone else as well. I just want to encourage all of you who may be reading this post that God is sovereign. He knows exactly what is going to happen and why even if you do not. You do not need to know everything right away. You must just trust God to lead you in His way which is the best way.