Navigating the COVID-19 Maze

This article originally appeared in University Business and is reprinted with permission.

College graduate

Photo by Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash

At the onset of the 2020-21 academic year, the educational system is in a coronavirus maze, wherein the turns are constantly changing, and the end seems out of sight. While state education departments, school districts and educator preparation programs (EPPs) are prepared—whether in class, online, or a hybrid of both—the pandemic reminds us how unpredictable the road ahead may be. Recently, some schools in the United States that reopened for in-class instruction have reversed their plans due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Across the nation, the pandemic has impacted educators, students, parents and communities on all levels within the educational system. District leaders have been forced to close their school doors. Students have had to adjust to remote learning. Parents have been required to balance work with co-teaching their children. Teachers have needed to adapt their pedagogy for online instruction. States have been necessitated to implement flexible licensure requirements. And EPPs have been asked to provide innovative solutions that ensure teacher candidates are qualified to meet state licensure and certification requirements.

COVID-19 has certainly changed student teacher placements and raised many questions.

  • How do we assist seniors who have only partially completed their field experience requirements? Or what about juniors who missed half a year? What about state licensure requirements?
  • What will student teacher placements look like for the rest of this year … or next year?
  • How can EPPs best help school districts?
  • And how can school districts provide environments that welcome student teachers and provide valuable learning experiences?

These complicated questions obligate the educational system to accelerate innovative and flexible solutions that address both the needs of schools and EPPs.

The path forward

To guide higher education leaders as they work with their states to develop solutions for the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) recently released the report, “Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: State Recommendations for Educator Preparation Programs and New Teachers.” The report provides insight and analysis on COVID-related state guidance to EPPs to better understand how states are helping prepare teachers for the classroom during this crisis, identifies trends in state guidance, and provides recommendations for state leaders to enhance support for new teachers impacted by program and policy disturbances stemming from the coronavirus crisis.

Being an exemplary teacher requires a broad set of skills, and clinical experience provides an invaluable opportunity for teacher candidates to observe mentor teachers, acquire direct feedback and utilize that feedback to improve their skills. During the pandemic, it is imperative for states to coordinate with both EPPs and school districts to ensure candidates receive clinical experiences in support of local schools.

AACTE’s report recommends implementing a distributed learning model that allows student teachers to support PreK-12 students through team teaching while also receiving essential guidance from a mentor teacher. Additionally, team teaching will allow candidates to practice their strengths in a cohort model supported by the mentor teacher and university supervisor.

To equip new teachers with strategies to deliver high-quality instruction to diverse learners, AACTE’s report also recommends that education leaders work with their states to establish mentorship programs for new teachers who may not have fully completed their traditional field experience. A mentorship program provides additional support to new teachers in several areas, including lesson planning, teaching methods, materials selection and assessing student learning.

AACTE’s report also recommends that EPPs work with their states and other stakeholders to consider the development and modification of necessary waivers as the pandemic continues to evolve. The report proposes that as states consider licensure and certification revisions, they should seek innovative opportunities to address ongoing challenges such as lack of diversity in the profession and the need to modernize the processes of licensure and certification.

State education departments and higher education systems depend upon each other to ensure there are highly trained educators in our schools. The pandemic has brought to light the need for a collaborative approach to finding creative and flexible solutions to ensure a consistent pipeline of quality teachers. While there is no crystal ball to tell us what the other side of the pandemic will look like, I do believe the educational system will emerge more resilient, technology-driven, and stronger than ever.

Mary Murray, AACTE Board member, is a professor emeritus and the former associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development at Bowling Green State University.

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Mary Murray

Bowling Green State University