2020 News Stories

College of Education teacher candidates adapt to changes in schooling amid COVID-19 pandemic

by Jessenia Rivera

On the Friday before USF’s spring break, seniors in the USF College of Education were confronted with an extraordinary situation.

These students have led instruction in classrooms across the Tampa Bay region since the beginning of the semester, but with the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the rise, they said goodbye to their in-person field experiences and instead, adjusted to a new routine of fully online teaching and learning.

Though teaching their students face-to-face in a classroom is no longer an option, seniors completing their final internship in one of the College of Education’s teacher preparation programs are adapting to a “new normal” by virtually teaching and connecting with their students in creative ways.  

Elementary Education major Ryan Blew, who is completing his final internship at Quail Hollow Elementary, arranges daily Zoom meetings with his third-grade students—a practice that he and his collaborating teacher felt was needed to give their students an opportunity to connect with their fellow classmates.

“We are big on social-emotional learning at our school, and what we try to create is that sense of school family,” Blew said. “So (the video chats) are really for us to continue to connect, get to know each other and also, have them understand that we’re still here even if we’re not physically right next to them.” 

USF student Ryan Blew hosts an online meeting

Elementary Education major Ryan Blew leads an online video meeting for his third-grade students.

Along with forming a positive atmosphere for his students through virtual interactions, Blew has worked alongside his collaborating teacher to create a schedule of times when he could be reached by students who need academic support.

“Students complete their coursework through a module (via Canvas) each day,” Blew said. “They are able to contact a teacher at any time throughout the day between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and get feedback on their assignments within 24 hours.”

Jessica Alvarez, another student in USF’s Elementary Education program, says her goal with her third-grade class at Sessums Elementary was to maintain a sense of normality by creating virtual read-alouds that featured her facial expressions.

“I screenshotted the pictures of the book from my laptop, I recorded me reading and then I just put my face on the little corner of iMovie,” Alvarez said. “I also tied in a lot of the questioning I would do in a normal read-aloud because I wanted it to be something they were used to.”

USF student Jessica Alvarez hosts an online read aloud.

Elementary Education major Jessica Alvarez uses iMovie to create a virtual read-aloud session, similar to the ones she did in her third-grade classroom.

As interns and their collaborating teachers help students transition towards a new educational teaching and learning system, they’ve become more aware of the challenges that children today encounter as they learn outside of the classroom.

Sarah Burke, an Exceptional Student Education (ESE) major who is completing her final internship at Moody Elementary, expressed some of the issues she’s experiencing with her third-grade students.

“We’re having all sorts of obstacles such as: How do we teach students how to use the computer, with the computer?” Burke said. “Teaching them how to ask for help in this time is really hard as well, so that’s something that we’re working on.”

While Burke and her collaborating teacher work through some hurdles together, she said providing their students with text-to-speech software resolved one of the biggest problems encountered so far.

“Reading and writing is an obstacle, and when most of the content they’re getting is through reading, it could create a huge amount of frustration for (students) and their parents,” Burke said. “So, I’ve provided resources where they can use oral dictation software to complete their assignments when no one is there to help them.”

While some interns are trying to navigate new challenges faced by adopting new technologies, others are hoping to offer structure for their students to provide some familiarity in their day to day lives.

Stephen Golder, a Social Science Education major who is completing his internship at Wharton High School, says his goal throughout the online transition is to maintain the same learning routine for his ninth-grade students. He said adjusting to this new system of teaching is making him stronger as an educator.

“They say being a teacher is really about being able to deal with change very quickly,” Golder said. “(The switch to online) has helped me think outside of the box and really explore different ways to put together lessons.”

Ashley Levine, an ESE major who’s interning at Alafia Elementary, says providing structure was the best thing that she and her collaborating teacher did to help their fifth-grade students navigate the struggles they’re facing.

“A lot of parents (who) were not familiar with the online website said that they weren’t sure what students needed to do for everything,” Levine said. “So, we created a weekly schedule that lays out every day on every subject and what’s expected for that day.”

USF student Ashley Levine creates a positive working environment

Exceptional Student Education major Ashley Levine uses an area in her home to create a fun working environment.

Levine said it was difficult for her to adapt to a routine that revolved fully around technology, but after gathering her course materials and resources online, she’s realized how beneficial it can be for students overall.

“I think being aware of technology as an asset for a classroom is important, even when we’re not forced to use it,” Levine said. “If we ever were to do online learning again, I would be so much more prepared.”

As schools in Florida and across the nation continue to monitor the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many districts have the made the decision to keep schools closed for weeks or even months. Despite the uncertainty that looms in the minds of students, parents and educators, Blew’s words of advice for his fellow final interns is to remember everything they have learned throughout their studies at USF.

“The more flexible you are—the more understanding and willing you are to adapt to all these different changes, the easier it will be,” Blew said. “As long as we have that mindset, I think all of us are going to continue to be successful for our students.”

The University of South Florida continues to closely monitor the evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff is our highest priority as university leaders work closely with local, state and federal agencies to share the most updated information.

For the latest information, please visit USF's coronavirus updates website. 

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