By Ayeisha Colligan
The 2019-2020 school-year promised to be an optimistic and exciting year. It marked the beginning of my senior year, more time spent in classrooms, and overall more dedication to doing what I love: teaching. Of course I was excited to finally get out into the field and begin my observations, and try to absorb as much information as possible. Naturally, I had a multitude of questions for my mentor teacher, which he was more than willing to answer; the nature of them being relatively tedious, or related to the general workings of his classroom. How fitting is it that we have now entered a world in which there are no answers to questions I’d dismissed as being too basic, or common knowledge. Questions I thought I’d have more time to answer: “What kind of seating layout should we employ? When does the building open? How many students are in our classes?” Instead, I’m left wondering IF the building will open, how many students I can accommodate, and all whilst also adhering to social distancing guidelines.
I can’t help but make a comparison of my practicum hours logged in Fall 2019 to this up and coming semester. This time last year, I was gearing up to begin teaching; contemplating how high school students were going to perceive me, and how I would begin to start planning my classes. Now, each of those thoughts are running through my mind and more. Before, there was a safety blanket of knowledge and past experiences from multiple other teachers enveloping me like a cocoon. If I ran into an issue, or couldn’t answer a question, I could always get advice from a colleague who had been in a similar situation. Now I seem to be surrounded by an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and fear.
I’m beginning to see students and teachers alike finding new and innovative ways to make connections, and continue to maintain relationships with one another. Creating a relationship with students is still my number one priority to begin the 2020-2021 school year. In “normal” circumstances, this would not be a difficult task. Since there is only a four or five year age difference between the students and myself, I often find it easy to interact and relate to them. With the introduction of COVID-19, my ability to relate to the average “high school experience” has been eliminated. Instead, I find myself trying to find ways to compare my “lockdown experience” with that of my students, or the hobbies that they discovered while in quarantine.
From a student perspective, Spring Break and the weeks that followed was like living in a dream. Classes were shut down, and teachers began to scramble to revise their curricula to continue to meet the needs of students. As a college student with a full-time job, I’m no stranger to the occasional online course - their flexible schedule is unparalleled. For some of my own teachers, however, this was their first excursion into the online realm. I experienced a wide variety of successes - and failures - with a number of teachers attempting to maintain a regular class schedule online. Some tried to maintain regular class hours, and upload videos of their teaching while others opted for discussion boards. While I recognize that this rapid change was unexpected, there are several aspects of their teaching that I would hope to improve upon.
For one, many students (myself included) learn best in a face-to-face classroom - ESPECIALLY since two of my classes included English Grammar and Linguistics, and Literary Criticism and Theory. Choosing to continue the class through online discussion boards did not aid my learning - rather, this medium of teaching hindered it. Instead of embarking on thought-provoking and organic verbal discussions with my fellow classmates, we began to create forced, and alienated discussion posts. With no active guidance, each of us were left to post our feelings about a given text, but unable to ask specific questions arising from discussion. The same can be said for classes that include uploaded videos of teaching; a disassociation between student and teacher that greatly hinders student motivation and desire to learn. Like many other aspects of teaching, sometimes trial and error is the only way to fully understand which practices work, and eliminate those that are least effective. With the addition of Zoom in the classroom, I can at least hope for some face-to-face interactions with my students this semester. Since I have first-hand experience with the distance that online-only classes can create, I hope to try to find ways to maintain constant communication with my students, that limits their feelings of isolation, and brings some sense of normalcy back to the classroom. Since teaching is an effective master class in trial and error, there is plenty of room for me to explore my options. Inevitably, mistakes will be made. Perhaps while making these mistakes, my teaching style will emerge. I’ve found that students find a certain kind of comfort in knowing that their teacher is not perfect. In fact, I tend to relate more to those that show their mistakes, and model how to learn from them. Therefore, I intend to eliminate some of the alienation that can be felt whilst distance-learning by navigating the vast abyss that is online learning right alongside my students.
As this pandemic continues to wreak havoc on all aspects of everyday life, I’m left wondering how this will impact me, and my future as a student teacher. I’m worried about the connections that should be made between myself, other staff members, students, and their parents. Should my district choose to continue the school-year online, I will lose the hands-on experience that comes with being in the classroom. I fear that this will have a ripple effect on my disciplinary skills, along with the ability to be an effective leader in the classroom. Any experience that I would have gained during a “regular” semester will be erased. I’m enrolled in a Classroom Management class, yet I don’t know if I’ll have a classroom to manage. Though distance-learning will mean losing face-to-face contact with students, staff and parents, I hope to use this opportunity to find new ways to connect. At the very least, this pandemic will give me a chance to explore different kinds of communicative technology, and find ways to implement it into my teaching that I would not have had the chance to do otherwise. In addition to this (and perhaps more importantly), this will allow me to learn how to adapt to difficult circumstances. Since adaptation is an important part of effective teaching, learning how to adapt in an uncertain environment will allow me to succeed throughout my career.
Uncertainty and fears for this semester are not my only worries with the continuous spread of COVID-19. Not only do I have my student teaching semester to worry about, a large part of me wonders about my future - much like my students. I see a decline of high school graduates applying for colleges, and the ones that do are applying closer to home. It’s almost as if our horizons have been cut off at the knees. So what does this mean for me as a prospective teacher? Perhaps the biggest impact that COVID-19 has had concerns the futures of millions just like me. With the unemployment rate rising, and many businesses declaring bankruptcy, even my current situation as a part-time retail worker is in jeopardy. This has only been amplified due to my current graduation date this fall. Most schools do not hire midway through the school year, resting my future on an even more unstable precipice. I continue to worry if future employers will dismiss this semester as irrelevant, or commend me for continuing through the pandemic. Either way, I am woefully unprepared for the world of professional education.
While I will continue to carry a multitude of fears with me, I remain hopeful. Many of these fears are things that are completely out of my control, so instead of putting my energy toward these anxieties, I have to focus on the aspects that I can control. I have to remain a strong leader and a positive role model for myself and for all of my students: present and future. The future will always be an uncertain time, and when left to contemplate this upcoming semester, I can’t help but be reminded of this quote:
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” - Martin Luther King.
Thankfully, I can say with complete certainty that I’m excited (and more than a little scared) to begin taking this first step with my fellow Kansas educators, parents, and students. The road ahead may be difficult, but with time and effort, I will continue to provide opportunities for my students to learn, grow, and be happy. I intend to begin and end my student teaching semester with one worry (and one step) at a time. For each fear that I have, I think of what this fear must feel like to one of my students. They’ve been displaced from their schools, distanced from their friends and families, and deprived of some of the most impactful moments of their lives so far. They don’t need to be met on their first day back with fear and uncertainty. Instead they need a positive role model - one that I sincerely hope I can be.
About the Author
Ayeisha is a senior at Washburn University and will be completing her student teaching semester in Fall 2020. She is a relatively new member to KATE, but intends to continue to be an active member after graduation.
Facebook: Ayeisha Colligan
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