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Student Teachers Were Ready for COVID Shift

By ALAN OLSON

Staff Writer

WEST LIBERTY — Society’s educational landscape had been becoming increasingly digital with each passing year, but last spring semester made technology ubiquitous in almost all aspects of life, including in the classroom.

West Liberty University’s Cathy Monteroso serves as the Dean of College Education and Human Performance. She said the pandemic accelerated something that was already in place: a push to better connect with students at all levels, whether they be children suddenly forced to learn from home, or prospective teachers themselves trying to complete their education before staking their own claim.

Monteroso said the school’s made efforts to “humanize” the relationship between students, whether that be the relationship between professors and teacher candidates, or those candidates and their students in the classroom. The pandemic, Monteroso said, identified some flaws in their teaching styles, and the university has worked to adapt to cover those shortcomings.

Chief among those flaws, she said, was with accessibility toward students, and being able to meet students on their own terms.

“How do we make those accommodations to meet those students where they are?” she asked. “Traditionally, that’s always been where they are academically, socially, what they might be bringing with them in their life. Now we’ve added the component of technology and where they are with the resources available to them.”

Monteroso said the push, now, is on using technology to help ensure that students are able to learn effectively, and resume focus on strong teaching, taking a student’s individual circumstances into account..

“Technology is a phenomenal tool, but it is just a tool, and we’ve really got to get back to good teaching, and those skills we need to teach individuals,” she said. “Many years ago, special education focused on that component, that not everybody learns the same way. I think now education has really taken notice that we need to meet individuals where they’re at, and everyone’s circumstances are going to be different.

“Even with the adjustments of learning at home, what support systems do they have at home, it’s more important than ever to develop relationships with students, and get every student what they need. … Being more personal, and making more adjustments based on the individual’s needs.”

The changing climate of education applies more significantly for student teachers, who even before the pandemic were changing their approach to education.

Monteroso said that for nearly three years, the focus has been on moving to a residency-type student teaching style, where the entire fourth year of a four-year teacher education program is completely incorporated into a classroom environment.

“Instead of a traditional student teaching model, that only lasted a semester in the classroom — and in that semester, they may have been in two separate placements — they’re more emerged in a school, so we’re really focusing on those skills more necessary to teach, and working on a co-teaching model,” she said. “We’re really taking our teachers in the field, who are phenomenal teachers, and pairing our teacher candidates with them for the whole year, so they understand the practice.

The shift to the residency model, she said, was a boon for educators struggling to adapt when the pandemic hit last year.

“For our purposes, when we moved to the residency, that was a huge plus when the pandemic hit,” Monteroso said. “We had student residents in the field, and they were definitely able to help the teachers they were with in the co-teaching model. Teaching in a hybrid session, when you have students on Zoom, they had to learn how to do that, but they were well supported, because they had strong teaching strategies that they could implement. If they hadn’t been in the classroom for the whole year, it would have been a lot harder to make that adjustment.”

Monteroso said that staffing shortages have seen teacher candidates called on for substitute teaching roles. Ultimately, she said, candidates in the residency 2 part of the program are allowed to act as substitutes one day per week, typically in the placement they’ve been working in.

Fortunately, she said, the Ohio Valley has not faced such severe shortages that student teachers have been called on to fully take over teaching duties for lack of a full-time educator.

She added that some local school districts are fortunate enough to not need to pull student teachers as substitutes at all.

“Due to COVID, there has been some leniency on students who are at the very end of their residency being able to sub more,” she said.”This area is more fortunate than others, we haven’t had any who had to take over as a teacher in the classroom. We haven’t had as much in the Wheeling area that other parts of the state may have.”

“I get that question a lot, people come in and say that our student teachers are working as subs; they’re not. They have the opportunity to do so, once a week if needed, but we don’t have a list of student teachers or residents acting as substitutes.

Monteroso said she feels the residency model more adequately prepares student teachers for their future as educators, as being fully integrated to the classroom environment gives better opportunities for more atypical school days, such as the first day of school.

“Part of that residency model is that our teacher candidates start the very first day K-12 teachers start, instead of working off our semester schedule,” she said. “They know what it’s like the very first time a second grader walks through the door. I think that prepares them better than coming in after two weeks, when they’re all settled.”

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