Interrupted Student-Teaching Experiences: 5 Tips to Get to the Finish Line

By Laura Sabella, Cynthia Castro-Minnehan, and Ruthmae Sears

Dr. Sabella is the Director of Field and Clinical Education at the University of South Florida. She oversees clinical experiences across programs and teaches the capstone Seminar course for secondary final interns. Her research interests include the transition from student to secondary content teacher, the role of the university supervisor, and partnerships in secondary schools.

Ms. Castro-Minnehan is a third-year doctoral student in the Mathematics Education program at the University of South Florida. Her research interests include collaborative learning during clinical experiences through co-teaching and co-planning.

Dr. Sears is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida for mathematics education, and KDP advisor. Her research focuses on curriculum issues, reasoning and proof, clinical experiences in secondary mathematics, and the integration of technology in mathematics.

Student teaching is a critical time in teacher preparation. It provides crucial space for pre-service educators to bridge the research of coursework to actual practice in the classroom. It allows teacher candidates to operationalize the true experience of teaching through classroom management, facilitating student learning, and supporting student assessment.

As a result of COVID-19, there was major disruption in this sacrosanct space. Many candidates were anxious that hard-won relationships would be shattered, or that parts of their new teaching profession would no longer remain. Many feared they might not meet credentialing expectations.

However, we canproactively ensure they get to the finish line. We offer practical strategies to help you move student-teaching experiences forward. We must acknowledge that there will continue to be districts that implement teaching online, face-to-face, or hybrid, with potential disruptions or reversals to any teaching model. These recommendations uphold the goal of supporting candidates’ completion, regardless of the setting.

1. Plan ahead.

Assume we will have future disruptions to instruction. Plan ahead by ensuring candidates record themselves teaching while they have access to physical classrooms. These videos can be unpacked later for additional data and feedback or to provide reflection for improvement.

Plan for a shift to online instruction. Identify resources that will smooth that transition such as online platforms, online teaching sources, access codes and passwords, and training with software and programs schools are using. Consider what services are available free to candidates. In this way, you can plan for continuity in instruction.

2. Continue contact where possible.

Provide opportunities for student teachers to maintain meaningful interactions outside the physical classroom. Encourage continuity with their students through online teaching, virtual story times, grading, tutoring sessions, office hours, and so on. To keep the sense of community, candidates can participate in PLCs and faculty meetings online. Additionally, they can continue to engage with their teachers using co-planning and co-teaching online.

3. Review state and district policies.

Reviewing state and district policies is critical. Many candidates may fear they won’t meet state or district requirements for clinical work. Check to see if states allow unconventional field experiences, alternative assessments, and substitute placements, and whether they can reduce the number of hours required.

4. Acknowledge and affirm.

Teacher candidates need to have their worries acknowledged when faced with frustrating disruptions to clinical experiences. Recognizing the concerns they have and the difficulties they are facing is crucial to their success. Affirm that you will navigate the disruption and new space together. Support affirmation theory and consider the affective domains where you can best support candidates during difficult times.

5. Embrace possibilities.

Finally, look on the bright side and embrace new opportunities as we engage in this space. Despite the challenges, recognize that there’s always something to celebrate. Take advantage of new tools and experiences. Welcome possibilities of unpacking and expanding new skills teaching online. Appreciate many candidates may shine with new alternatives.

As we go forward, clinical experiences will continue to expand so our candidates become quality educators. We will support them regardless of the setting, with the goal that all opportunities can successfully promote student learning.

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