A required part of any education student’s path to becoming a teacher is to spend time in a student teaching environment. The coronavirus pandemic has limited the availability of many of these positions, but those participating this year are getting a unique experience that may benefit them in their future job search.
Leah Dreibelbis has been a student teacher at Mount Union Area High School for the last month. The Juniata College senior says that she decided to study education after a high school teacher saw the way she would help her classmates, and thought she would be perfect for the job.
“I wanted to find a career that would have meaning to me where I could combine all the things that I love, reading, writing and working with children” said Dreibelbis. She currently teaches English to 9th and 12th graders, and says that student teaching has been a more challenging educational experience than she was expecting.
“I’m definitely a planner so this time has presented a lot of struggles for me in not knowing what to expect,” said Dreibelbis. “I give them a calendar which is something that I probably wouldn’t have done before; because I would have seen them every day. Now, I make a calendar for all my classes, and I plan at least three weeks ahead at a time. Things are constantly changing though, so I have to update the calendar and then resend it to them.”
Dreibelbis says that one of the most valuable tools she’ll take away from this experience is staying flexible
“Flexibility is the name of the game. If you think something’s going to go one way, it’s always going to go the other way,” said Dreibelbis
According to Huntingdon Area School District Superintendent Fred Foster, this may be the most difficult year that some of these students have as teachers.
“It is a continual growth, from student teaching, to your first year to your fifth year. Kids change, experiences change, the important thing is to be adaptable,” said Foster. “I think these guys are experiencing the most adaptable and flexible experience that they’ll see.”
Most schools in Huntingdon County have run on a hybrid schedule for at least a part of the last year. This means that students are alternating between online and in-person classes. Teachers are streaming or recording most classes for students online, while also keeping a classroom under control and engaged. Even experienced teachers have found themselves in uncharted territory this year. These difficulties, and the obvious safety concerns have kept some districts from hosting any student teachers this year.
Mount Union Area School District Superintendent Dr. Amy Smith says that some of the district’s student teachers have been better equipped to handle these challenges than their more experienced faculty members.
“I’m sure they’re probably teaching some of our staff things that they know, that maybe we didn’t know because they’re probably a little more tech savvy,” said Smith.
Juniata College student McKynly Miller is currently a student teacher at the Mount Union Area Junior High School, and says that learning how to work with these technologies has taught her a lot.
“I feel like it has helped me look more at the online part. You’re kind of two people at one time, an online teacher, and an in-person teacher,” said Miller.
Mount Union Area School District is mostly in-person, but gives students a choice to attend all classes online if they want. Miller says that she often has two or three students online who need her help and attention just as much as the rest of her classroom. Helping these students to get logged in and follow along has made her a better multitasker, and made her more familiar with the different teaching software. Miller says that she mostly uses the Microsoft Teams software for online classes, but remembers when she was a student in Huntingdon Area High School using Google Classroom for a class.
“I think that’s something that will help me, too, whenever I get a job somewhere. I do think I’m a little more knowledgeable in terms of technology compared to an older teacher just to be able to help out here and there,” said Miller.
Smith says that the student teaching experience is invaluable for young educators. It helps many of them learn whether they are truly capable of managing a classroom environment. According to Foster, student teachers may not be seeing the same number of class disruptions due to smaller class sizes. Dreibelbis says that her experience has lacked a personal touch as well.
“Even learning the kids’ names was hard because I can’t see their faces with the masks. So, I would take home the seating charts, and just study their faces, and where they sit, and now I know everyone’s names, but it definitely took me longer than it should have,” said Dreibelbis.
Education students usually complete their student teaching during their junior or senior years. Students begin by observing a classroom for a period of time, then progressively start to lead full lessons. The duration of student teaching is decided by the district, but typically lasts between six and nine weeks. Smith says that in a normal year student teachers will get involved in extracurricular activities as well to get the full experience.
She also says that student teaching is beneficial for districts as well. It gives principals an opportunity to build relationships with young teachers who will soon be looking for employment opportunities. “We’ve hired several students who have student taught here,” said Smith.
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