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.

When Worlds Collide: A Teacher Becomes an Administrator

mceachern_photoToday’s blogger is Dr. Kirstin Pesola McEachern, Curriculum and Instruction Director at The Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Read her full article, “Developing a Research Identity: Promoting a Research Mindset Among Faculty and Students” (coauthored by Dr. Jessica L. Horton), in The Educational Forum.

A few years ago, I moved to an administrative position at the private school at which I had been teaching high school English for more than 10 years.

I had long wanted to be in a position to change the problems I and other teachers lamented over in the lunchroom, but it wasn’t until the assistant principal role opened unexpectedly and others encouraged me that I threw my hat in the ring.

When the school announced my appointment, colleagues’ responses took one of two forms, sometimes both: delight that I was bringing my teaching experience to the job, and disappointment that I was joining “the dark side”—the place where administrators forget what teaching is all about and make decisions that leave faculty scratching their heads. 

mceachern_photo_mugFellow teachers even gifted me with a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head, which still sits in my office.

Some might have perceived this change as abandoning one world in favor of another.

However, such transitions often grant us opportunities to draw from past experience to improve our future practice.

While teaching, I had gone back to school for my master’s and doctorate degrees, and being a student again made me a better teacher. My classroom assignments were more intentional, as I didn’t want my students questioning a lesson’s purpose like I sometimes did in the courses I took. My methods were more varied, as I was learning new approaches from my professors. And I better understood the realities of being a student with seemingly impossible homework loads and teachers who thought their class was the only content occupying my headspace.

Much like being a student made me a better teacher, being a teacher made me a better administrator because I knew firsthand the implications for the decisions I made.

For instance, as a teacher of freshmen, I believed the timeframe in which I had to recommend their level for sophomore year was too short; students often didn’t hit their stride until after Christmas, yet I had to decide whether they were honors material when half the year was still ahead of us. As a teacher, I did my best and crossed my fingers, but as an administrator, that deadline was one of the first policy changes I made—much to the satisfaction of my colleagues.

Another important transition I had to negotiate when becoming an administrator was what it meant for my identity as a researcher of my own practice. Did I have to give that up? As I describe in my article in The Educational Forum, teacher research was an empowering force when I was in the classroom, and encouraging teachers at my school to embrace a research mindset remains a passion of mine as an administrator. It requires cultivating a culture of trust and risk-taking, and doing so communicates to faculty that administrators understand and respect their teachers’ knowledge and contributions to the larger learning community.

My identities as a teacher and researcher strengthen my work as an administrator, and I remain confident that others can find similar benefits when facing transitions between what might appear, at first, to be different worlds.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. McEachern and Dr. Horton’s article free with the education community through November 30, 2016. Read the full article here.

Music in Our Schools, A Music Educator Reflects on Her Career of Making Music in School

March is Music in Our Schools month so KDP is sharing a blog from Kara Barbee. Kara is a music educator in Cincinnati, Ohio, currently in her fourteenth year of teaching. She graduated magna cum laude from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and earned her master’s degree from VanderCook College of Music, in Chicago, Illinois. She taught for twelve years in the Winton Woods City School District and is now the Music Director at Aiken New Tech High School, part of Cincinnati Public Schools. Kara performs on clarinet with the Southwest Ohio Symphonic Band and sings with the Young Professionals Choral Collective.


I’ve always enjoyed reflecting on my teaching and learning experiences. Here are some of my reflections on how I’ve arrived at where I am today as an educator.

When I was in college, at Miami University, I was interested in being an undergraduate assistant for my favorite music theory professor. He accepted my request, but said he didn’t need any help with those classes. He wanted me to assist him with 20th Century Music, which was a 400 and master’s level course. I explained that I had just started my regular music history classes and really didn’t know anything in the curriculum, so I didn’t understand how I would be able to help with this class. He assured me that I would be fine.

We met a few times before the course start date, he gave me a huge binder full of information and a key to his office filled with an amazing vinyl collection. I felt like a regular student on the first day of class, except that I was the youngest and most were working on their master’s degrees. After class, my professor asked me how I thought it went and when I would like to start teaching. I told him that I thought it went well and that I would be willing to teach whenever he’d like me to. He handed me a record, Charles Ives “The Unanswered Question,” and said “you’re teaching on Wednesday.”

I studied harder and spent more time in the library preparing for this course than anything I’d ever worked on before. I wasn’t even getting actual credits for being an undergraduate assistant. What motivated me the most was that I was having to teach the material. And if I was going to be teaching it, I had to really know what I was talking about.

So this brings me to some of my favorite projects. I’ve been to a number of professional development workshops and conferences, most of which were based on core classes. I have always enjoyed learning and advocating for music being a connection to all other disciplines. When I first started teaching, about fourteen years ago, I remember attending a conference about project-based learning. As I was introduced to projects from core subjects, I began to brainstorm how I could bring projects into music classes.

The idea that I mulled around the most was having my beginning band students teach their parents how to play their instruments for their first concert. I had this thought on the back burner for a number of years until I was working on my master’s degree and needed an idea for my research project. I figured that if I was ever going to put this into practice, I should go for it as my master’s project in hopes that my gut instinct on the power of teaching as a learning tool could be supported by research.

Just as I had thought, I found a lot of supporting research and my data collection showed the impact that teaching others had on my students’ playing abilities, their attitudes toward learning, and their communication skills. It also had the added bonuses of involving the parents and educating them on how hard it is to play an instrument. Plus, I’ve never heard a beginning band sound better than after their parents squeak and squawk trying to play “Hot Cross Buns!”

At the core of project-based learning is making connections to the real world and having students show their learning through authentic assessments that adults in your discipline would face. Of the many projects we’ve done, my favorite would be traveling with my middle school band to Nashville, Tennessee, to record at Third Man Records. We had participated in Solo & Ensemble and Large Group Adjudicated Events every year, but knowing that what they performed on that day would be recorded forever (or as long as vinyl can be played) took their performance skills to another level and they felt like “real” musicians.

After twelve years in the same district, two years ago I decided to change schools and teach at a project-based school called Aiken New Tech, which is part of Cincinnati Public Schools.
Another reason that I decided to go to Aiken was because they had all but lost their music department. There were less than a handful of working instruments, a music library that could fit in a bread box, and very few students that could read music (my first year there were 3!). Needless to say, this was a huge challenge, but I also saw this as an amazing opportunity, not only for me, but for my students. Want to talk about real world problems in the music industry – this is a perfect example!

Since moving to Aiken New Tech, the students and I have found people willing to donate instruments, their time, food, and performance opportunities. Students have started figuring out songs that they would like to play and we work on being able to write them down so they can be played for years to come. We have brainstormed ways to raise funds to be able to purchase uniforms, instruments, music, and all of the things that go into growing a music program. We’ve had a lot of help along the way, too. We have an extremely supportive principal, two dedicated alumni assistants, and a business partnership with GE that has helped us raise money and collect used instruments. But isn’t that how things work in the adult world, too? You have to reach out to those that have an interest in what you’re doing and then see how those connections can help you accomplish the task at hand.

My first year at Aiken (last year), I had three students on drums, along with myself, for the first pep assembly. Now, I have over 40 students in the Pep Band and we perform at football and basketball games, and I just found out a few days ago that we will be marching in the Red’s Opening Day Parade. This year we will be hosting our first Talent Showcase, that was organized by the general music classes as one of their projects. It will feature all of the performing ensembles as well as any student or community member that makes the audition. We have started an after school choir and we have been selected to perform as part of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s Project 38, where we are telling the story and themes of Macbeth through modern music. This Spring we’ll perform our adaptation at Memorial Hall, in downtown Cincinnati, and also at the CSC’s Revel and Feast celebration.

I had no idea that we would be this far along after such a short amount of time, but I think part of that is because the students are working right alongside me. We’re in this together and it is as much their program as it is mine. They know the work they are doing is authentic and the types of things that “real” musicians do.

When I decided to take the job at Aiken, I did some research and found out that the school was named after Charles Aiken and his two sons, all of which were music educators. There is a bust of Charles Aiken at Cincinnati’s Music Hall as he is thought to be the reason that music education became a part of our school system in Cincinnati. I feel more connected to my school and to my mission because of this history and I hope that we can continue the vision that the Aiken family established.