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UK Prepares Next Generation of Teachers Amid COVID-19

Written by Meg Mills, UK Public Relations and Marketing 

Maddy Caudill, a senior elementary education major at the UK College of Education.

Each semester, the University of Kentucky sends education students into the classrooms of experienced teachers to observe and learn best practices for their own future classrooms. For student teachers this year, the experience has been very different. Most area schools are using non-traditional instruction (NTI) to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, an associate dean for the UK College of Education, explained how student teachers were prepped for their unusual experience and how they learned to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

“This particular group of student teachers were in what we call practicum this past spring. They get an intense several weeks in the schools as a final preparation push for student teaching. Of course, this got completely thrown off in the spring with COVID-19 school closures. Some of the students were able to stay engaged with their supervising teachers via NTI, and others completed online modules via Canvas,” Mohr-Schroeder said.

In preparation for the fall, the UK College of Education had to re-examine student placements, knowing that it was highly likely schools would be in NTI. Student teachers are currently placed in Fayette, Madison, Scott, Shelby and Woodford counties.

“We ensured that the students had appropriate placements with actively engaged NTI teachers and schools. This has been key for us in making sure they have excellent placements for the fall,” Mohr-Schroeder said.

To help prepare them even more, student teachers attended seminars throughout the fall semester. The seminars have focused on virtual teaching instructional strategies, especially related to engagement, student motivation and participation. Additionally, many of the programs are using the messaging apps Slack or GroupMe to cultivate informal conversations among the groups and across schools — sharing challenges, wins and strategies throughout the semester. This has been key for helping keep students and communities connected.

One of these student teachers is Maddy Caudill, a senior elementary education major at UK. The Lexington native is currently a student teacher at Picadome Elementary in Lexington.

“Going into this semester I had no idea what to expect,” Caudill said. “I was excited and nervous to start my 16 weeks of student teaching virtually. At first, I had a lot of worries and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make the same connection with students that I would be able to if we were in person. However, I was wrong. I have been able to make great connections with the students I have worked with.”

Each morning, Caudill goes to the school and works with her cooperating teacher to help plan the daily Zoom with her elementary students from 8:30-11:30 a.m. After that time, she stays to help any students who need additional time and works to plan the next day.

Caudill has nothing but positive things to say about her experience thus far and thanks the UK College of Education for her success. “Even though I wish we were in person, I am having an awesome time working with my amazing students and their teachers. I try to make Zoom as fun as we can for them. We have dance parties, lunch bunches and scavenger hunts to make the day fun. The education program has helped me gain the knowledge I need to know how to successfully get a job and be the best teacher I can be. The professors at UK have spent countless hours helping my peers and I get ready to graduate college and get a job.”

Caudill will graduate in December and will start the spring as a full-time substitute teacher at Cassidy Elementary in Lexington.

When asked about how the student teachers were adapting, Mohr-Schroeder said, “While it has been a pivot this fall and we have student teachers in NTI, hybrid and in-person settings, we have still seen incredibly rich and engaging lessons and teaching from our student teachers. We’ve really focused on the opportunities and new experiences our student teachers are gaining instead of focusing on what might be ‘lost’ during a virtual time. Our student teachers, together with their cooperating teachers, are working so hard for our P12 students, and it’s really been awesome to experience that in action this fall.”

As for the spring, the UK College of Education will continue to examine practices from the fall and use that as a springboard for preparation.

To learn more about the UK College of Education visit https://education.uky.edu/.