BYU student teachers adapt and thrive in pandemic-era classrooms

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Students on the BYU campus wear masks and social distance during class. Just as BYU students have had to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions, so have K-12 students, their teachers, and even the students teachers that are assigned to work in classrooms across Utah Valley. (Nate Edwards, BYU Photo)

BYU elementary education senior Rachel Halversen did not know what to expect going into Winter Semester. After almost a year of doing classes online, students like Halversen have gotten used to the online format of remote learning, but this final semester was different — her student teaching semester. 

“I was so nervous,” Halversen said. “I was expecting this semester to be rough. I didn’t know how online classes would affect what we are doing. I didn’t know what I was going to be teaching or how I was going to be teaching it.” 

Halversen student teaches in-person for a 6th-grade class at Orchard Elementary School in Orem and has seen first hand the challenges that teachers face in doing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our classroom is very small, but we have a lot of children. By having to spread their desks out so much, it makes the room so crowded,” Halversen said. “There’s no room to move around or do activities in other parts of the classroom because there are desks everywhere. This results in the students having to be at their desks all day and that’s not great for their learning.”

Other challenges include making sure that kids are not cheating and that they are keeping up with the material that they are learning. 

“I have found that the majority, even my hard-working students, did not learn as much as they could have if they’d been in school. This creates huge learning gaps between my students who have been (in the classroom) all year and those who haven’t,” Halversen said.

With so many setbacks and adjustments in education because of COVID-19, teachers have had to come up with creative solutions to help their students progress and grow.

BYU education professor and Provo School District student teaching supervisor Cecilia Pincock said teachers have to be adaptable and flexible.

“You have to understand that (education) is an ever-changing profession,” Pincock said. “Teachers are trying to find new ways to teach students while not the usual environment, so they just have to learn to be flexible and have that open mind.” 

Pincock said student teachers have been able to use what they learned at BYU and tailor it to their unique situations.

“Even though the unknown is the hardest thing for them, they have been able to use technology and much more creative ways to try to expand their knowledge and their strategies and to meet the needs of the kids in different ways,” Pincock said.

BYU professor of dance education Kori Wakamatsu supervises many of the student teachers coming from her program. Like Pincock, Wakamatsu is proud of the work that student teachers are doing in spite of the pandemic. 

“Every day is unpredictable in a normal student teaching experience,” Wakamatsu said. “This is exponential and so magnified for our student teachers, (that we) really look at them, and teachers in general, as superheroes.”

Despite all of the challenges with COVID-19 restrictions, student teachers have found joy and gratification in their work. Halversen said she hopes to bring tools from her student teaching experience into her education career.

“If there’s any message that I’d want to share, it’s just that we need good teachers,” Wakamatsu said. “I think the pandemic revealed that more than anything. It revealed how wonderful and how much impact a good teacher has, and that a good teacher has made the difference in a lot of lives during the pandemic.”

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