When University of Maine senior Kaylee Grindle started working as a student-teacher at the Dedham School as part of her training to become a teacher, she had a few weeks of hands-on experience in a classroom. Then, schools in Maine started closing their buildings and switching to remote learning for at least the coming weeks.
Grindle and her mentor teacher had to make unprecedented choices about how to teach remotely and stay connected with their students. They’ve given their students packets with two weeks’ learning material. And now, twice a day, Grindle logs onto a Facebook group created for the parents of her first-grade students and films herself reading aloud and checking in with students.
“We’ve been going on and encouraging the students to add pictures and videos of them doing the packets and any other educational things they’ve been doing at this time,” she said. “I start off with a morning message encouraging them and telling them we’re here for them.”
UMaine student-teachers expected to spend this semester gaining hands-on experience in managing a classroom full of students. But with the coronavirus pandemic forcing everyone to stay home, the student-teachers have had to spend their semester learning to teach virtually. The seniors have been making use of technology they’ve used for online learning in college to connect with their young students.
Senior Olivia Murphy, who works as a third-grade student teacher at Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono, helped her mentor teacher set up Google Classroom for remote instruction.
Since her mentor teacher checked in with students every day in person about how they were doing, Murphy found a form online that she has been using to continue those check-ins remotely.
The third graders are getting used to communicating through the form, she said. It has emojis that the elementary school students can choose to let teachers know how they’re feeling.
Initially, students were restrained in their responses, she said.
“Now, they’re explaining more: how they’ve been doing, what they’ve been working on, how things are going at home,” Murphy said. “A lot of them are still in good spirits.”
Students have started using the form to tell Murphy about their pets, what they had for breakfast and the activities with which they’ve been filling their days.
Grindle’s students are also interacting well remotely, many by uploading videos of themselves reading out loud to the class Facebook page.
“Because they’re so young, a lot of them don’t know why they can’t go to school and can’t see their friends,” she said. “As teachers, we want to reassure them everything’s going to be OK, that we miss them and we’ll be there for them if they need us.”
Grindle and Murphy do not have to take classes remotely this spring. They have one assignment-based course and spend most of their final semester teaching in schools.
Murphy said she used to work on her research assignments in the evenings after spending the day in the classroom. Since the shift to Google Classroom, however, her day has not been quite as clearly separated into her learning time and teaching time.
“Now it’s a little bit of a mixture of both,” Murphy said. “It’s really about working out a new schedule.”
While prompted by a unique circumstance, going through the transition from classroom instruction to remote education as a student teacher has been a valuable learning opportunity, Grindle said.
“I’m now seeing how teachers are getting through it while still supporting the students. I think this is extremely valuable for me to experience,” she said. “We may not be able to march at graduation, but at least we’ll still have the diploma and this experience.”
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