Remote Learning, or whatever “it” is supposed to be

When the weekend feels the same as any other day of the week, it is difficult to make Monday feel like a real workday. Or Tuesday. Or whatever day this is.

The current “learning” situation:  two children have been e-learning since March 17.  Somewhere during that time was a spring break.  The college junior was on spring break for two weeks and has had online classes since March 30.  I was on spring break for one week, designed online lessons the next week, and started teaching online March 23.

Moving everything online has tapped me out.  I like teaching my summer online course, but I get to plan ahead of time how to monitor discussion board posts, projects, and assignments.  In face-to-face classes, our “discussion board posts” are class discussions using big pieces of butcher paper.  Everyone has been challenged in multiple ways, but this is seriously affecting my ability to focus on anything tangible.  Another day passes and I still have over 100 discussion board posts/comments/replies.

Was it the right move for me to shift whole class meetings to small group and individual Zoom meetings?  I do know that providing a more flexible online class schedule allowed some of my students to pick up extra shifts at their second jobs (second) when their primary employers (daycare worker, teacher assistant, etc.) closed doors.  However, other students are Missing-In-Action, not responding to my emails, announcements, or other requests for communication.

And I get it.  My own college daughter is struggling with her professors’ expectations, all of them different.

  • Does this professor expect discussion board posts?
  • Is this the class that requires a comment on someone else’s post?
  • Am I supposed to watch this video-recorded lecture?
  • Which PowerPoint slides go with this quiz?

As a program coordinator for secondary English education, I have to ask questions from the teacher preparation standpoint, as well.

  • What has the pandemic and remote learning changed how we think about classroom preparation?
  • What will schools/districts expect student teachers to know how to do this fall or next spring (especially if there are thoughts of another extended closing)?
  • Will principals require two weeks of remote learning activities in teachers’ back pockets as opposed to the traditional 2-3 days of substitute teacher lesson plans?

These are important conversations to have now – right after I read these new discussion board comments, log student engagement, and email anyone who appears to be struggling like I am.

Tell me where you are struggling.

Weighing Gains and Losses in Embedded Clinical Experience

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April Showers from the Methods Classroom

Each April, I feel an overwhelming need to examine the school year and my role within it.  Were the curricular decisions I made last April and May fruitful? Were there more gains than losses? How might I make adjustments based on the performance and feedback of the students I have in my classroom now while reserving some flexibility to meet the needs of student I have not yet met?

Each week, I teach secondary English education methods I and II courses in a classroom reserved for us in a local high school.  My schedule this semester has class starting at 9:00 with writing, reading, and discussion around professional texts and practices.  Some weeks, candidates are workshopping or demonstrating lessons. Other weeks, we explore technology implementation or lesson adaptations. Every week, candidates spend time in their mentor teachers’ classrooms during our scheduled class.

History of Field Experiences

Prior to January 2018, the secondary English education candidates were placed in various schools for field experience “micro-teaching” based on school and mentor teacher availability.  It was then up to the candidate in collaboration with the teacher to coordinate observation hours and micro-teaching lessons.  The micro-teaching coordinator would then observe candidates toward the latter part of the semester using the same observation instruments designed for student teachers.  These relationships with mentor teachers and small opportunities to teach were designed to prepare candidates for student teaching.  One problem with this format was the lack of regulated field experience hours throughout the semester.  It was not uncommon for candidates to schedule a vacation week from work in order to “get their hours in” for observations, creating challenges for tying theory to practice in the methods class each week.  Candidates also had wide-ranging experiences with school culture, which created another set of challenges.

Rationale for Embedded Experiences

I set out on a mission for secondary English education program candidates to have the same high school field experience placements for us to have common conversations around culture, routines, and expectations. Through conversations with high school administration, we were able to access much more. With a classroom within the high school we could become part of the culture.  In January 2018, we became the class that met at the high school most weeks.  It was a location and not much more.  By the end of the semester, however, the high school administrator and I agreed that we were on the edge of incredible possibilities.  Together, we planned essential experiences for the incoming cohort.

Embedded Clinical Experience

Embedded within the 9:00-1:00 class time are field experience hours during which candidates observe and assist in mentor teachers’ classrooms.  Before leaving the methods classroom at 10:40, I prompt candidates with “look fors” or focus questions to frame their observations.  Yesterday, we discussed professional organizations and networking, so candidates were to ask mentor teachers about the professional organizations they would recommend.  This 2-hour time period also has candidates coming in and out of the methods classroom during the 25-minute lunch rotations.  These minutes provide time for one-on-one or small group conversations about assignments, updates on progress, or observation frame responses on the backchannel.

The schedule each semester changes slightly based on candidate feedback and administrator/instructor reflections and discussion.  Overall, the high school location has afforded us with these experiences:

  • High school teacher presentation of learning management system during her planning period
  • Data warehouse overview with test question analysis led by high school administrator
  • Mentor teacher feedback on unit plans after early dismissal at high school
  • Students from mentor teacher’s classroom serving as “shark tank” panel feedback on candidates’ unit ideas
  • Access to school psychologist for guest speaking arrangement
  • Consistent interactions with front desk and hallway security
  • High school administrator access – question/answer sessions during methods classes (at least twice per semester)
  • Weekly conversations tied directly to readings and school events

Methods Curriculum Challenges 

As an aside, this is the third spring semester that Pose, Wobble, Flow has been a cornerstone text for my Methods II course.  The first semester, candidates pushed back – hard. They resisted the discussion about privilege, seeing work and opportunity as something they created for themselves and that students can also achieve.  The second year, which was the first spring of clinical immersion, candidates thoughtfully considered the text as a useful resource.  My third cohort of candidates — the first cohort who has been in the high school setting an entire year — pushed back on this text but for different reasons.  They are living and breathing the challenges outlined by Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen.  They want more — the nuts and bolts of how to implement best practices for cultural responsiveness because they already know the theories.

Candidate Sacrifices

Some candidates have made tremendous sacrifices to take this daytime, once-weekly class during the fall and spring semesters — quitting full-time jobs with benefits, substitute teaching for only four days instead of five, having to take off work one day per week, not being able to work evenings because of other classes.  Their sacrifices are leaps of faith in the university program, in the high school experience, and in me.  And this is where I land at the beginning of May  — with fear, trepidation, anxiety — wondering if I am asking my candidates to sacrifice too much on their pathway to becoming teachers. Are the future gains for candidates worth their struggles now? Is there anything the university or district do to mitigate some of these losses?

As we plan for the next cohort, these questions are at the forefront.  What have other universities, districts, or state boards done to provide meaningful teacher preparation while assisting candidates in hurdling the most costly obstacles?


Next Steps

Finding a Space for Teaching

When the partnership began, it was more of an agreement for teaching space.  After a semester of using a high school classroom and engaging in a few opportunities that being in a high school presented, the division chair and I planned more intentional experiences for the candidates and mentor teachers.

Adding Instructional Topics

In the fall, a teacher presented on the learning management system, demonstrating a number of features this tool provides such as seating charts, student schedules, and mail merge emails.  To enhance our discussion of assessment, the division chair guided us through an analysis of a test: its format, the student responses, most-missed questions, and next steps for instruction.

Planning Intentional Experiences

At the end of the fall semester, we surveyed the mentor teachers and collected Student Evaluations of Instruction for feedback that would help us plan for the spring.  This chart captures some of these findings and shows next steps for the spring semester.

Spring 2018 SEI (4.0 or below) and comments Spring 2018 Mentor Teacher Feedback Fall 2018 SEI (4.0 or below) and comments Fall 2018 Mentor Teacher Feedback Spring 2019 Next Steps
Policies of the course on such matters as grading, absence from class, schedule of assignments, etc., were stated at the beginning of the semester included in the syllabus or communicated through some other communication method. More information about candidate’s role for implementation in the classroom The instructor’s communication was clear and expressive (e.g. instructor provided clear examples). There were times when I had two teachers at once and then I wouldn’t see one of the candidates for a couple weeks. I felt that parts were a little unorganized and not consistent. Send email to mentor teachers discussing feedback from Fall 2018, detailing objectives for Spring 2019, explaining task list for field experiences, and assigning candidates.
reading material was interesting, except maybe the book on reading lenses. Some of the links were not available and I think it made the lenses seem more complicated than they were. The readings were helpful, but provide more opportunities for teaching in front of classes. In-class presentations will help prepare candidates for microteaching, but more analysis of real teaching in real time needs to be implemented.

















Additional notes included lengthening the time for mentor teacher and candidate interactions and providing more opportunities to present or teach in front of a class.  Feedback from candidates and mentor teachers informed our planning for the spring semester.  It is our hope that consistently asking for feedback and responding to it will develop trust among stakeholders in this partnership.

School Partnership Beginnings

Persistently Reaching Out

Since November of 2017, the director of educator preparation and I had been working to find spring placements for my five secondary English education candidates in one school setting.

In previous semesters, candidates had been scattered across area school districts that were demographically, culturally, and often pedagogically different from one another. With all five candidates in one place, we could focus on conversations about the common school culture while investigating best instructional practices.

The university director stated the following in her January 9, 2018 email to the school principal:

We have a time-sensitive issue of trying to find clinical placement for 5 English teacher candidates for this spring and hope that you can assist.  The placement that was scheduled unfortunately fell through on yesterday due to teachers leaving that district and or changing positions. We really need your help!

She explained the field experience hours and objectives, as well as possibilities for collaboration.

The principal asked that I contact the division leader for ELA and Social Sciences. My introductory email on January 9 said to the division leader:

The principal forwarded your contact information regarding mentor teachers for my secondary English education teacher candidates.  I am beyond excited that you school can accommodate all five of my candidates for observations this spring.

I wanted my candidates to be with mentor teachers at least one day per week for fourteen weeks to complete some of their 40 field experience hours.  For the remainder, they could schedule additional time on other days or attend school academic functions. At the end of their field experience, they would teach a lesson that would be observed by a university supervisor.

Timing Is Everything

The high school division leader said the email came to him at the right time – there was a small window of opportunity in early January that had him in his office planning schedules and not in meetings or involved in other duties (teacher observations, coaching).

In our first phone conversation on January 10, we discussed my request for secondary education candidates to be placed with five mentor English teachers. He said:

“I have five teachers. They’ll do it.”

And, indeed, before our phone conversation he had already identified and communicated with the English teachers for the placements.

The next few minutes of the conversation consisted of the required 40 hours and field experience objectives. We discussed the candidates and their involvement in the classroom, as well as a few views on teacher preparation.

Sharing a Vision

In the midst of such a productive conversation, I decided to share my future goal for the methods course:

“My dream is to have a classroom in a high school.”

Without skipping a beat, he replied:

“I have a classroom.”

The next few days consisted of emails and face-to-face meetings to figure out the logistics of having a methods classroom located in the high school. By January 12, John had placed candidates with mentor teachers, scheduled the classroom, arranged wifi connectivity, and planned an orientation for our first day at the high school.

Moving Forward

The timing of an email on January 9, 2018 and sharing a vision helped launch the district and university partnership that has gained traction for over a year. I hope to hear from others about their experiences with partnership planning and implementation in teacher education.