The COVID-19 pandemic has affected education at all levels, straining public school educators and college students majoring in education who need student teaching experience to complete their degrees. However, through ingenuity and cooperation, MSU’S Ernst & Sara Lane Volgenau College of Education and areas schools are helping each other through the crisis.
One partnership designed to help students earn their student-teaching credits was established in Lawrence County due to the pandemic. Tammy Martin (88, 12), instructor of education who teaches at the MSU at Prestonsburg and MSU at Ashland campuses, searched for a school system willing to mentor MSU field experience students. While Lawrence County teachers mentored MSU student-teachers in the past, the school district never hosted MSU students for field placements due to the required student travel. The school district, located between the Prestonsburg and Ashland campuses, jumped in to create a unique school-university partnership.
Martin reconnected with Cassandra Webb (16), a friend who is the Lawrence County chief academic officer. Shortly afterward, Webb paired 23 MSU students with mentor teachers from Lawrence County’s three elementary schools in Blaine, Fallsburg and Louisa.
“Given this difficult time for our teachers, parents and families, it is so exciting to enter a positive partnership between Lawrence County Schools and MSU in the field of education,” Webb said. “We look forward to all the possibilities ahead, including the model reading lab project to grow our future workforce while raising student achievement.”
When the county classrooms opened into a Google Classroom virtual environment, the technology was reworked to allow MSU students to enter. As teachers in the districts returned to the physical classroom, Lawrence County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Robbie Fletcher (96, 13) invited MSU students to join. Although the Volgenau College of Education expects students to be physically distanced from school classrooms this fall, candidates use Zoom to continue interacting with the school while creating math and science lessons to share with their classrooms.
“On-the-job training provides the best opportunity to have a prepared workforce. As practicing educators, we have a moral imperative to prepare aspiring educators by providing field experiences for in-person and virtual classrooms,” Fletcher said.
Not only have partnerships with schools helped students gain field experience, but it has also provided public school teachers with tools to help their students learn. Shawn Justice (91), instructor of education, was trying to develop creative ways to help students in her Children’s Literature and Materials class get their required field experience hours virtually this fall. Justice’s students learn about children’s books that are suitable for instruction and were asked to choose either a book that had received a children’s book award or a book by an award-winning author. Students were required to join the Kentucky Virtual Library and Epic Books, which are online databases of children’s books. They could also visit the Camden-Carroll Library or their local library to select a book. Students recorded themselves reading the books and were graded and given feedback on the readings. Justice said the assignment benefitted her students, not only by teaching them how to select books that are well-written for instructional use but by teaching them how to adapt to the changing landscape of education.
“I have had to really think outside of the box about how to give my students the quality experiences they need and still meet all the course requirements,” Justice said. “Education is changing, so I thought the structure of the field experience hours probably should look different, too.”
“I think we are in a very exciting time for education. It is messy and painful and a struggle at times, but all growth and progress are those things,” Justice said. “Education students right now are getting in on the ground floor of what education will look like in the future.”
Approximately 60 pre-service education students participated in the assignment. Justice received more than 200 responses to a Facebook post she made offering the recordings for teachers to use in their classrooms. The videos were shared with more than 20 school districts across the state and two public libraries and several parents who are teaching their children at home.