Throughout Connecticut, the style of education has changed as a result of school shutdowns and pandemic health restrictions, resulting in online school and hybrid classes. Student teachers have embraced the challenges of COVID-19 in their classrooms.
Jillian Martins, a student teacher at Bassick High School in Bridgeport, Ariane Cloutier, a student teacher at West Haven High School and Emily Thomas, a student teacher at Derby High School, were on the frontlines since late January, directly facing these changes.
Thomas, who teaches sophomore college prep and honors English classes, says that “Derby is all in-person except
for the students who voluntarily stay home and are in quarantine. A Google meet is held for those students. The Google meet is all day, unfortunately, and I don’t like it.”
It’s clear that for Thomas’ students, online school is extremely draining. She says, “I’ve had kids jump between online and in-person, they ‘switch tracks’, as we call it. Some of them completely disappear—they don’t show up or don’t do any work at all. It’s not healthy for them and they don’t feel motivated. It takes a toll on their mental health.”
She says that some students even suffer from severe anxiety. “One girl in my honors class has very extreme anxiety, and after snow days she had a panic attack because she was forced to be online. It affects all kids differently. Some kids just don’t want to stare at their screens anymore. It’s exhausting, even the majority of the work we give them is online work. It’s getting to be too much for them,” says Thomas.
Despite these challenges, Thomas is optimistic about the future.
“My kids are hilarious, and it’s great to listen to them talk and understand them. I think, in the future, they’re going to know all about computers and phones. I do think that eventually they’ll be back in school, which is what they want. It’s a better environment to get things done and be productive,” she says.
Thomas maintains the importance of in-person education, though, despite the conveniences of online school.
“Even when kids don’t totally love school or the kids around them or their teachers, I still think it’s the best place to be learning,” says Thomas. “When you’re at home, you don’t want to do anything. It’s a place to relax. School is more energized and the kids get the social interaction they need.”
Finally, in her predictions for the future of her teaching methods, Thomas remains refreshingly positive. “The most gratifying part of my job is the relationships you create with the kids.
I’ve connected with them on smaller things such as language and being young myself, I can pay attention to their lingo,” says Thomas. “Every Friday in my classroom is Fun-Friday, where we play games and relax, and I fully intend to keep this in the future.”
The importance of breaks and relaxation is immeasurable in Thomas’ classroom and she’s not the only student teacher who is experiencing that. Martins, who teaches 9th and 10th grade English, agrees.
“Making class fun is a great way to engage the kids. Seeing my students is my favorite part about student teaching,” says Martins. “They’re really awesome and I’m getting to know a lot about teaching from them. They teach me something new every day.”
Martins also recognizes how online learning can be positive for her students.
“I think that this time is teaching students about the best ways in which they learn; whether it be study habits or different types of lessons,” says Martins. “I always ask my students what the best learning style is for them and what they want to see more of. Learning more about themselves as in person and remote learners is important.”
Despite being a good opportunity for her students to learn, Martins herself is struggling with student teaching in an online environment.
“The hardest part and biggest challenge I would say is definitely teaching hybrid, because I don’t want to neglect my online kids and focus more on my in-person kids or vice versa. They all deserve the same amount of attention but it’s difficult to keep up with the online class,” says Martins.
Martins says she feels inspired by her students’ resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, though. She remarks on the students’ adaptability during these unprecedented times.
“I know that all the kids I have in person are responding pretty well to it. Right now, it’s definitely easier for kids to be in school and I think that they realize it,” says Martins. “We are having more students coming in person, which is awesome. They want to be successful and being online isn’t always the best option for everyone. They are taking advantage of being back in person.”
Bassick High School has a five-day school week, but on Mondays and Tuesdays, the students with last names beginning with A–M come to school and the other half are online, whereas Tuesdays and Thursdays the students with last names N–Z come to school and the other half are online, according to Martins. This alternating format is clearly working for Martins’ students, as she says that their ability to make something positive out of this situation is astounding.
“I hope that things could get back to full normalcy in the near future, but I do have a feeling that the online option might still be around for a while, and the students benefit from that. For example, if a student can’t make it to school that day they can just hop online,” Martins says.
Cloutier, a student teacher at West Haven High School who teaches 12th grade English and Women’s Studies shares Martins’ predictions about the unlikeliness of returning to full in person school soon.
“With the access to online classrooms becoming so widely used, I think that’s going to eliminate the probability of snow days and sick days, and I think that’s going to be harder for the students. I know some students haven’t shown up all year, which is really bad. Also, a lot of students haven’t been getting assignments in on time,” says Cloutier. “That’s part of being online, too. Students are not so focused; they probably won’t listen to me saying something about Hamlet when they could be online shopping.”
Cloutier says she is very concerned about her students’ lack of progress.
“Having to be online, students not showing up and students not really caring are among my top challenges as a student teacher. Some of my students are actually failing right now,” she says. “I’m a little scared for their graduation. I think it’s due both to their ‘senioritis’, and the fact that some students feel like their lives are on pause. A lot of students in general are so unhappy.”
These concerns aren’t stopping Cloutier, though. She continues to work hard for her students by adapting to these new challenges, despite her original plans.
“My perspective on student teaching was altered a lot. I thought I was going to be able to move desks around to have a discussion and put my kids together in groups,” says Cloutier. “Those goals are no longer possible with online teaching. I don’t get any participation because my students are very anxious about speaking out on Zoom, but I’m trying to encourage them the best I can.”
To all the future student teachers of America in our community, these three teachers all gave the same advice: don’t stress out, it’s not as bad as it seems, and be patient with your students.
It’s clear that these student teachers are passionate about their students and their jobs and stayed positive during the pandemic.
By Liz Getts
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