When Boston College moved courses online last semester, undergraduate students studying to become teachers in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development were faced with the task of adapting to online learning both for their BC courses and their own teaching responsibilities. Now, almost two months into the fall semester, Lynch students are acclimating to the new normal of completing the hands-on portions of their curricula mostly remotely amid a pandemic.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is allowing teacher education candidates to receive credit for completing their state-required practicums remotely, because the students and teachers in local school districts are currently operating in this format, according to Amy Ryan, assistant dean of field placement and partnership outreach in Lynch.
“It’s like the metaphor of building the boat while you’re sailing in it,” said Stanton Wortham, dean of Lynch. “We’re always challenged by extensive state requirements for certification programs, but now the state is facing an unprecedented situation and they’re changing requirements relatively rapidly because they’re trying to figure out what’s best for the students.”
Last semester, Lynch worked closely with partner schools during the transition to online learning so that students on their pathway to licensure could continue to work at their field placements. Students in practicum at the time shifted to fully remote instruction and worked with their program supervisors to be “good partners and stewards” during a major period of change, according to Ryan.
Candidates for teacher education complete three pre-practicum experiences during undergraduate studies, each in a different setting and consisting of one school day per week for 10 weeks. All pre-practicum experiences are fully remote this semester, which has allowed students for more flexibility, according to Wortham.
“That allows flexibility where a student need not be physically anywhere, so a student who chose not to be at BC this semester could do a remote practicum, and it would be the same as if he or she were here on campus,” Wortham said.
Lauren Mundinger, Lynch ’23, is completing a remote pre-practicum for her elementary education major at The Oliver Hazard Perry School this semester.
Mundinger said that her pre-practicum experience primarily consists of classroom observation over Zoom. Education students must also create and teach several lessons which they can either do synchronously via Zoom or in a pre-recorded video that students watch on their own time, she said.
In addition to the three pre-practicum experience requirements, undergraduate Lynch students must complete one semester-long full practicum. In the full practicum, which students usually complete their senior year, teacher candidates work on-site five days a week.
Jacob Kelleher, Lynch ’21, is completing the final requirement for his secondary education major in person this semester, as a math student-teacher at BC High School.
BC High is delivering a hybrid model of instruction with half of the students attending classes in-person and the other half attending synchronously via Zoom.
Kelleher said that his own experience as a student during the pandemic has helped him empathize with his students, because he understands many of the challenges that they are facing in this new learning environment, including Zoom fatigue.
He said he is doing everything he can to meet them halfway, and is deliberately designing his lessons to support and engage with his students as much as possible.
The majority of full-practicum placements are remote, but some placements are allowing BC teacher candidates to teach in person. Ryan said placement of full-practicum students, whether in remote or face-to-face environments, also depended on students’ comfort levels. All students visiting field placements in person are being tested for COVID-19 weekly, according to Ryan.
The student teaching program within the Department of Teaching, Curriculum, and Society (TCS) in Lynch is state-approved, meaning it has undergone a rigorous program approval process. This has been especially beneficial recently, Ryan explained, because it has allowed the school to work closely with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, who has provided guidance throughout the pandemic.
“We continue to meet with the state every week to every other week to monitor those regulations and to make sure we’re on top of anything that could potentially affect our students as they go on this pathway to endorsement,” Ryan said.
When the University decided it would allow students the ability to take courses pass/fail in March, the question arose as to whether Lynch students could opt in to that still fulfill state requirements. The department said that Lynch could support candidates in any way during the pandemic as long as they could determine that they were ready to teach, which allowed Lynch students the ability to opt into the pass/fail option, according to Ryan.
Ryan said that while other schools may have made significant changes to their programs or have taken different approaches from BC to working with the state, BC is still working hard to provide students with robust experiences and opportunities to engage in the professional careers they have chosen, despite the complex landscape.
“We anticipate that students are going to be really well-equipped to deliver instruction in this new environment and this new educational model,” Ryan said.
Since the status of each field placement is unique, whether remote or in person and with respect to logistics of how teachers design their classes, Ryan said that Lynch is taking an individualized approach to advising practicum students. The school is prioritizing transparent communication and accessibility by holding virtual coffee hours during which students can ask questions, and by delivering all news regarding field placements over Zoom rather than email.
Speaking of the individualized support Lynch has offered students amid the unusual time, Mundiger commended the school.
“Lynch is very good with that,” Mundinger said. “[My program supervisor] only has four of us student-teachers to look after, so she dedicates her time to helping us.”
Ryan said she sees this year as a unique opportunity for students to learn to use digital technology to deliver remote instruction that supports high-need students, and she has been impressed by the willingness of Lynch students to engage thus far.
“By and large, my sense is that people are doing pretty well,” said Wortham. “I think the fears were worse than the reality.”
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor