EAST LANSING – One month into the school year, Michigan State University’s student teachers are settling into a once forgotten physical classroom setting.
Student teachers such as those coming from the College of Education are vital to schooling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. All over the country, schools are hurting for educators.
Dr. Gail Richmond is dealing with these departures firsthand as director of Michigan State’s Teacher Preparation Program. Richmond sees departing teachers as motivated by a multitude of pandemic-related factors.
“Many teachers decided during the pandemic that they were done,” Richmond said. “Maybe they themselves got ill. Maybe they were having a hard time with the technology, just feeling like this was not the way they wanted to teach.”
Richmond also cites low pay and an overburdening on teachers as soon as they begin, leading to a lack of professional development.
Despite shortages in the teaching world, Richmond is proud of the college’s students, past and present, for their resiliency, partly because of excellence in the student teaching phase.
“They tend to stay in the field in part because they’ve had lots of time in schools,” Richmond said. “They understand some of those pressures more than someone who was in a briefer program with less time.”
One such student teacher is Taylor Villareal, who interns at Winans Elementary in Waverly. Villareal teaches students who have had no real classroom experience going into second grade due to COVID.
“This school year, we’ve had to work a lot on … what it’s like to be a student in a classroom,” Villareal said. “Even just looking at the teacher, rather than sitting in an online classroom where you can look anywhere. It’s a different experience that no other intern has ever had before this school year.”
As a teacher from a younger generation, Villareal is well-suited to the increased reliance on technology that the lockdown brought. She says the teachers she works with are more open to these new ways of learning.
“I think the pandemic allowed teachers to explore the world of technology,” Villareal said. “I feel like now, even in the classroom, they are using the skills they learned when they had to be online.”
The College of Education has seen these and many other changes and is planning to adjust. In an unpublished article Nicole Geary, the college’s communications manager, details a change to the curriculum involving better work experiences.
“Starting this school year, MSU is launching a residency initiative with some of its partner school districts,” the article reads. “These partnerships are expected to expand so that future teachers have more options to pursue their chosen career with less time and financial strain.”
This is one of likely many measures the college will have to take going forward. Richmond says she knows that with the changes of the past year, schools are in it for the long haul; for teachers, but especially for students.
“The challenges they encountered by having to be in school virtually for a year and a half,” Richmond said. “That has an impact not only on their learning, but also their emotional well-being.