Photo credits: “old-MIT-classroom_Ryan-Tyler-Smith.jpg” (CC BY 2.0) by inov8d.
An additional group of students who had a large change of environment and experience during the COVID-19 pandemic was the Education majors here at West Chester. The upperclassmen, specifically, had to transition from in person learning, to online learning, all while trying to maneuver a way to eventually run their own classrooms. Student teaching for a semester is a requirement here at WCU, but students had to adjust in drastic ways. They went from learning everyday in a classroom setting, to adapting in an online setting and trying to discover their own strengths and weaknesses. The next question was, how do we get elementary students to adapt to this lifestyle too? Even now being back in person, it definitely took a toll on these kids who have been in school for only a few years and half of that being online. So how do college students help get their kids back and adapt to the classroom lifestyle to benefit their academic success the best they can?
In this interview, I talked with fourth-year Early Education major, Caitlyn Little. Caitlyn is currently wrapping up her spring semester student teaching in a second grade classroom. We discuss what it was like transitioning between in person and online, how she felt it affected her teaching skills, and how she intends on making sure her second graders are as successful in the classroom as possible.
As a student, what was transitioning from in-person to online learning like for you? Were you worried it would affect your career plan?
Caitlyn: I was worried about not being able to apply the things I was learning as much because I couldn’t go into my field experiences due to COVID. I was learning all the ways to run a classroom and how to teach these students, but I was never able to go into a classroom first-hand until the pandemic began winding down. I definitely was worried I would have to student teach online because none of us knew what this year was going to entail originally. I just knew the teaching style I wanted to use ahead of time based on the way I’ve made lesson plans throughout school.
How did online learning affect your teaching? Did you feel prepared for heading into the classroom as a teacher rather than a student?
Caitlyn: I think everything I was learning online prepared me for student teaching but again I wish I could’ve had more field experience. We had the class and did what we normally would have, but we weren’t able to apply it physically and go into [the] field everyday like we should have been. I definitely think I was ready in terms of lessons and what I was walking into, but it definitely would have been different had I had that “running a classroom” experience.
Have you noticed a difference in your second graders and how they behave in the classroom now after a year of first grade learning at home?
Caitlyn: Students these days are so far behind not only academically, but behaviorally and socially, because they were out of school for a year and a half, almost two years. My second graders were taken out of school half way through their kindergarten year. That’s the year they learn how to line up, raise their hand and interact with other students. So because of that, they lack those skills now because they were out [for] all of first grade to even learn those things, so coming into second grade, it’s like teaching them all of those social skills they should have learned back in kindergarten. I have to reinforce these behaviors because they were at home, not being forced to learn these things, which is definitely a challenge at times but it’s just something both them and I have to adapt to.
What has being in person done for you this semester as a teacher? Do you feel this outcome would have been the same had we not experienced the pandemic?
Caitlyn: Honestly, when I think of my placement and everything, I think it would have been the same. But because of the pandemic I’m learning as COVID allowed us to. They can’t have desks next to each other, they can’t use their cubbies, we can’t do morning meetings on the carpet, etc. I’m definitely thankful I’m in a classroom because there were people who had to student-teach online and I can’t imagine that. It definitely changes my lesson plans though because we can’t do group activities because they still have to be distanced as best as we can. In the large perspective of things, I’m glad I’m not student-teaching online because it wouldn’t be the same. I think my teaching experience is the same had we not experienced the pandemic, but I definitely think the overall classroom setting is different because it’s not how I planned on my lesson plans, and the kids’ school day’s going.
Yasmin Schepis is a fourth-year English major with minors in Journalism and Literature & Diverse Cultures.