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Educator preparation programs create alternative ways for student teachers to complete requirements

by Layne Stracener | April 13, 2020 at 4:36 a.m. | Updated April 13, 2020 at 12:00 p.m.
Lincoln University student Alexandria Schaefer does classwork online from her home. She began student teaching at Blair Oaks Elementary School this semester, but she now has to finish her student-teaching requirements online while Missouri's public schools remain closed.

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As a student teacher, Lincoln University student Alexandria Schaefer went to the classroom at Blair Oaks Elementary School every day, spending time with first-grade students and learning new skills to prepare for her teaching career.

About three months later - the day after the Blair Oaks Board of Education voted to close schools due to COVID-19 - she suddenly had to stay home to finish her student teaching requirements online for the remainder of her last semester.

"It's definitely like a shock, and I kind of feel a little unprepared," she said.

Schaefer knows she would have learned more if she had gotten to complete her student teaching in the classroom. She had planned to try different classroom management strategies she can now no longer do.

"I still had a month left, but even in that month there was so much that I had to learn and that I had planned to do, and I just didn't get to try them," she said. "Even two weeks before we had to stop going, I learned so many new things."

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed an executive order March 13 waiving the requirements for on-site classroom and school visits for students participating in internships and student teaching this semester.

The qualifying score on exit examinations and the required hours, weeks and number of placements have been waived "to ensure that the teacher workforce shortage is not exacerbated by COVID-19," according to the order.

Student teaching and internships are "essential components of the educator preparation process and are designed to help prepare candidates to become professional educators ready for entry into Missouri PK-12 classrooms," according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Candidates are still required to complete culminating clinical experiences, which include student teaching for teachers and internships for counselors. Candidates must complete a minimum of 12 weeks of a culminating clinical experience and earn eight semester hours of course credit for the experience.

When Educator Preparation Programs recommend candidates for certification, they must still be able to demonstrate that candidates have completed the Missouri Educator Evaluation System, achieved the required GPA, completed the required coursework and earned a passing score on the Missouri Content Assessment, a discipline-specific exam many candidates complete prior to student teaching, according to DESE.

Educator preparation programs have had to create alternative ways for students to complete the requirements, such as designing curricular units, reflecting on practice, revising previously taught instructional activities, planning for delivery of new instructional activities, assessing student learning, analyzing assessment data, and observing and evaluating peers' and teachers' instructional activities, according to DESE.

Schaefer has to submit classroom management plans, a communication plan, an activities plan, a written reflection on the professional development she participated in, and sample lesson plans and instruction activities with details on what student work should look like.

The minimum qualifying score on the Missouri Educator Evaluation System was waived for candidates currently enrolled in their culminating clinical experiences. These evaluations normally take place during candidates' experiences in the classroom setting.

Formative scores on the Missouri Educator Evaluation System have been collected for candidates, and educator preparation programs will verify this when recommending candidates for certification. Candidates participating in culminating clinical experiences this semester will not be required to meet the minimum score in order to be certified.

These exams are performance assessments aligned with the relevant Missouri professional educator standards - MO Teacher Standards and MO Counselor Standards - to evaluate candidates' performances as they work directly with students in pre-K through 12th grade and are used multiple times over the course of a candidate's culminating clinical experience.

The formative scores assigned throughout a candidate's clinical experience help candidates and their supervisors or mentors identify areas for improvement. The final score at the end of the culminating clinical experience is used to indicate a candidate's professional readiness.

"The governor's waiver acknowledges that these final scores will not be available during this semester due to pre-K through 12 school closures, and allows EPPs to instead submit candidates' formative scores without jeopardizing candidates' ability to be certified," DESE Communications Coordinator Mallory McGowin said.

University of Central Missouri student Tara Buthod, who will student teach at Capital City High School next semester, said one of the main things she wants to learn from student teaching is classroom management.

"It's really hard to do that when you don't have a physical classroom and kids in your classroom," she said.

Buthod said many education majors are struggling to complete their student teaching requirements online. Luckily, she said, they were able to be in a classroom for about three months.

"Hopefully they've been able to pick up a lot of that, but I think it will affect them some because it's different starting a semester and ending a semester," she said.

Buthod said she would feel comfortable taking over a classroom by herself even though she hasn't done student teaching yet because her parents are teachers and she has been in their classrooms and learned from them.

Others, like University of Central Missouri student James Vignola, would not feel comfortable without more practice in the classroom. Vignola will student teach at Blair Oaks next fall.

"As a major in education, that's like the biggest trial to see how well you cope with the classroom because a lot more control's given to you," he said. "Personally, I would not feel comfortable."

Vignola said his teachers have drastically reduced the amount of work they had planned for the semester, leading students to learn much less than anticipated.

"I honestly don't know what the effect of that's going to be because it's still pretty early on," he said. "I guess we'll just have to see."

McGowin said nobody can predict or quantify the effect of this waiver on schools.

"We believe it is the best policy decision we can make in response to COVID-19 to achieve the most beneficial balance between meeting the needs of educator candidates who have worked hard to become eligible for certification and ensuring that EPPs turn out high-quality new educators," McGowin said.


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