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Cancel Field Experiences and Student Teaching in the Fall (and Possibly Spring)

The following article is Part 2 of an article by AACTE member Alex Cuenca in which he highlights the tensions involved in continuing student teaching in the fall and shares a guidepost for educator preparation programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read Part 1.

In my previous post, I explored how the belief that “experience” is the most authentic route for teacher learning creates an overreliance on field experiences and student teaching in teacher education programs. With wildly different state, local, and institutional responses to the COVID-19 crisis, teacher education programs are now left to navigate public policy on their own. Given the pedagogical power yielded to “experience” in teacher education, some programs (if allowed) will be tempted to continue with placements in fall during a health crisis because preparation without field experiences seems inconceivable. To be clear, the overriding concern ought to be for the health and wellbeing of our prospective teachers. Wondering whether we should place human bodies in a potentially dangerous situation during a global pandemic should not be a wondering at all. Yet, even if we suspend the recognition that schools are potentially perilous sites for the health of our teacher candidates, “experience” still fails as a sound rationale.

An additional layer of regulations based on the fear of spreading a virus in schools will create unnatural permutations to the already idiosyncratic nature of teaching and learning. The new questions raised by teaching in a pandemic are not just a logical variant of the typical uncertainties, but instead a novel unpredictability. Masks, social distancing, and prohibiting sharing will become new rules to enforce and police. Teaching and learning, which is dependent on social interaction will be socially distant. Teachers will have to divide their curricular and pedagogical planning and teaching between remote and face-to-face populations. And, whatever norms teachers construct in this uncertain environment will have to be immediately adjusted when schools intermittently close because of a positive COVID result. The uncertainty of schooling during a pandemic is perhaps best captured by Sarah Mulhern Gross, a New Jersey English teacher who has compiled over 350 questions that teachers have about teaching in the fall. Among this list are a series of questions pertinent to teacher education:

  • If a preservice teacher is exposed to COVID-19 while teaching will they be able to get tested through the district or will they have to find their own means to do so?
  • How will preservice teachers complete sections of the edTPA that require student collaboration?
  • How will preservice and coopeting teachers maintain social distancing while working with each other?
  • If a preservice teacher is forced into quarantine due to exposure could it delay the completion of their program?
  • Will preservice teachers be encouraged to take sick days? Historically they risk losing credit if they have absences.

If experience is paramount, is an experience in a milieu of prodigious uncertainty what teacher education programs want to deliver in the fall?

Cancel Field Experiences and Student Teaching in the Fall (and possibly Spring)

The following article is Part 1 of an article by AACTE member Alexander Cuenca in which he highlights the tensions involved in continuing student teaching in the fall and shares a guidepost for educator preparation programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this post, I explore how the unexamined inertia of “experience” in teacher education contributes to the hesitation of teacher education decision-makers to cancel field experiences and student teaching in the fall. Canceling field experiences and student teaching in the fall is the most responsible decision. Primarily, because even a basic understanding of the germ theory of disease during a pandemic should be enough of a rationale. However, because higher education is ensconced in the same neoliberal rationales that led to the premature opening of private and public enterprise over the last few months, teacher education programs must navigate public policy on their own. Of course, with all of the uncertainty that has been created by the response in the United States to COVID-19, I don’t pretend to know what is best for every single teacher education program. Field experiences are entangled in state licensure and certification regulations, institutional scheduling issues, and school and university partnership agreements. However, operating from the position that COVID-19 continues to pose a substantial risk to the health and well-being of students, teachers, school staff, and student teachers, I hope to provide pause for those who believe that field experiences and the student teaching experience must go on.

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