Preservice Teachers & COVID 19: So Much Depends on the Field Experience

Originally presented at the Seattle Pacific University 2020 Global Symposium on Educational Innovations and Reform

When K-12 schools in the United States closed in response to the COVID 19 pandemic, it brought about an abrupt end to the field experiences of many of the preservice teachers who were serving in those schools.

Many mentor teachers were overwhelmed and felt unable to support their preservice teacher interns. In many scenarios, due to lack of technology or scheduling issues, schools were not able to provide preservice teachers with enough synchronous online time with students to satisfy the existing portfolio assessment-based state certification requirements. Although some state legislatures moved quickly to mitigate the situation by removing this certification requirement, this was by no means the rule and most states left this requirement – rendered impossible by the pandemic – in place. And so we wait for a cohort of new teachers to join the ranks without benefit of a field experience, and still needing to complete a laborious process in order to earn full certification.

During the Spring quarter, teacher education programs became the lifeboat for their preservice teachers who were set adrift during their field experiences. Some removed state certification as a graduation requirement. This paved the way for graduation but did not yield a resume-boosting state teaching certificate. Some offered emergency professional development about online learning outside of the regular teacher education program coursework. This provided just-in-time support for preservice teachers who were able to continue their field experiences in emergency remote online learning environments. We can hope that all teacher education programs offered emotional support for their preservice teachers, and that the faculty took time for self-care, as well. But we must also recognize that, at the end of the school year, most graduating preservice teachers were left with emergency certification as their only pathway to employment in a K-12 school for the upcoming school year.

Now for the outliers… A few teacher education programs already had practices in place that set them apart and uniquely positioned their students to be better prepared for this challenge. These practices predated COVID 19, and were somewhat boutique operations, but ended up being the equivalent of a golden ticket for their preservice teachers.

One of these practices was technology infusion in the teacher education program. Technology infusion in a teacher education program is still a fringe practice in the United States. Most teacher education programs often have only a single stand-alone course devoted to instructional technology in their program coursework. The extent to which preservice teachers have other learning opportunities about technology varies by institution (Foulger & Williams, 2007; Keeler, 2008; Sutton 2011; Lewis, 2015; Hughes, Liu, & Lim, 2016). However, some teacher education programs, both in the United States and abroad, have been employing a technology infusion approach – which involves infusing knowledge about and direct application of existing and emerging technologies in all content and pedagogy coursework in the teacher education program (Buss et al., 2015; Ottenbreit-Leftwich et al., 2015; Larson, 2009; Rowley et al., 2005; Toledo, 2005; Vannatta et al., 2002). Although the COVID 19 crisis presented challenges that would not have been covered even within a technology infusion approach, this approach at least gave preservice teachers a better point from which to launch into emergency remote online teaching. We can only hope that all teacher education programs in the United States are using or are planning to use a technology infusion approach to design their program coursework. That said, in terms of earning a state teaching certificate, this practice was helpful only if preservice teachers were serving in schools where they could achieve the required amount of synchronous online time with students and be able to complete their portfolio-based assessments.

In addition to technology infusion in the teacher education program coursework, field experience design is another area where some teacher education programs demonstrated an advantage. At the Society for Information Technology in Teacher Education (SITE) conference, which was held online in March of this year, a faculty member from the teacher education program of a university in the southeastern U.S. shared that all their teacher education candidates were going to be able to meet state certification requirements largely due to the close reciprocal relationships they forged with the districts in which their preservice teachers fulfill their field experiences. They worked with state and school district leaders to form cohesive plans around technology infusion that benefitted both the school districts and the teacher education program. This work was part of the design of the teacher education program. This practice may not be feasible for all teacher education programs, due to a variety of state and local issues. But there is evidence of systematic approaches to field experience design like this in the literature (Brenner & Brill, 2016; Ma et al., 2008; Liu, 2001). If this practice in fact resulted in fully-certified first-year teachers who are ready to meet the challenges presented by either hybrid or fully online emergency remote learning environments, then teacher education programs that struggled with this need to investigate whether replication is possible in their context.

What lies ahead? So many preservice teachers will go into their first year of teaching having graduated from their teacher education program, but without the benefit of a fully realized field experience. Those who find employment in K-12 schools will be first-year teachers who may also need to complete state certification while navigating their first year of teaching. Will they need to do this in addition to any other state and/or district-required and implemented teacher evaluation requirements (e.g. TPEP in WA State)? Will they have the continued support of their teacher education program? Will that extra support come at no extra cost? If so, how will the teacher education program faculty who serve in support roles be compensated and how will that compensation and all other associated costs be funded? Will the now first-year teachers have extra support in the form of new teacher mentorship at the district and/or school level? Who will serve in these roles and how will this assistance be funded? What do the districts already know about the condition of the next cohort of first-year teachers? In their Editorial for the recently published Journal of Technology & Teacher Education Special Issue on Preservice and Inservice Professional Development During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Hartshorne et al. (2020) noted that the research that comes out in the next 12-24 months (both within the United States and around the world) about what went well and what didn’t in this scenario will be critical in helping determine how to move forward. Innovations like technology infusion and field experience design came about as a result of the United State’s government’s PT3 Grant initiative, which awarded more than 400 grants to teacher education programs between 1998 and 2007 (Brenner & Brill, 2016). It seems like another round of funding is in order. The good news is that a few teacher education programs have already been moving the needle on technology infusion and their good work simply needs to be replicated and validated.

Addendum: A Seattle Story

In early April, because of my experience with local- and state-level public education advocacy, I was approached by a cohort of preservice teachers for advice about how they could advocate for themselves. They did not feel that they were receiving the support necessary for them to be able to complete their program – which for them meant not only graduation, but also the ability to earn their state teaching certificate. Furthermore, they reported that in their program, the PSTs who were disproportionately affected by school closures – in terms of their ability to meet state certification requirements – were PSTs of color who also happened to be working in schools that had a high percentage of students who lived in conditions of poverty. These were schools where the transition to emergency remote online learning took much longer, because so many of the students in these schools lacked the technology requirements. As a result, it was not possible for the PSTs to have the “contact time” with students to meet the existing state-level certificaton requirements.

I coached them through the process of contacting state and local legislators, especially those who serve on the State Early Childhood and K-12 Education Committee, as well as the leadership of the local Educational Standards Board. They poured their stories into advocacy emails to these leaders. The responses they received were informative but yielded little hope of a change in the condition of these PSTs. The emails received from state legislators suggested that they had little knowledge of the condition created by the laws that were currently in place. In an effort to gain more perspective on the situation, I contacted a local education researcher, who in the course of our conversation predicted that action on this issue would come only if and when it created a pain point for the school districts. The researcher predicted that in this scenario, the districts would then be forced to advocate for a revision of the state certification requirements on behalf of these PSTs (now first-year teachers in their districts). It is important to note that what is being asked for by these PSTs is not a permanent revision of the requirments, but rather an accommodation for the PSTs who were (and will continue to be) affected by the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on schools. And so we wait…

For more information about this developing narrative:

COVID-19 restrictions halts students from receiving state required teacher certificate

References

Buss, R. R., Wetzel, K., Foulger, T. S., & Lindsey, L. (2015). Preparing Teachers to Integrate Technology Into K–12 Instruction: Comparing a Stand-Alone Technology Course With a Technology-Infused Approach. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 31(4), 160-172. doi:10.1080/21532974.2015.1055012

Foulger, T. S. & Williams, M. K. (2007). Filling the Gap with Technology Innovations: Standards, Curriculum, Collaboration, Success! Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 23(3), 107–114.

Hartshorne, Richard & Baumgartner, Emily & Kaplan-Rakowski, Regina & Mouza, Chrystalla & Ferdig, Richard. (2020). Special Issue Editorial: Preservice and Inservice Professional Development During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. 28. 137-147.

Larson, L. (2009). A descriptive study of mentoring and technology integration among teacher education faculty. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching & Mentoring, 7(1).

Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T., Ertmer, P. A., & Tondeur, J. (2015). 7.2 Interpretation of research on technology integration in teacher education in the USA: Preparation and current practices. In International handbook of interpretation in educational research (pp. 1239-1262). Springer, Dordrecht.

Rowley, J., Dysard, G., & Arnold, J. (2005). Developing a new technology infusion program for preparing tomorrow’s teachers. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 13(1), 105-123.

Toledo, C. (2005). A five-stage model of computer technology infusion into teacher education curriculum. Contemporary issues in technology and teacher education, 5(2), 177-191.

Vannatta, R. A., & O’Bannon, B. (2002). Beginning to put the pieces together: A technology infusion model for teacher education. Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 18(4), 112-123.

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