Student Teaching Online: The Glows and The Grows

By: Alice von Staden, Student Teacher, Nipomo High School

Student teaching, the most exciting, exhausting, fun, overwhelming, educational, scary, emotional, whirlwind time of a post undergraduate student’s life. We’ve all been there. You are beyond excited, but also beyond terrified as you start. As it goes on, you begin to feel like you know what you are doing, only to realize you have no idea what you are doing. You fake it till you make it. You learn, you fail, you succeed, you have fun, and you contemplate your career choices. But at the end of it all, you love nothing more than your students, your school, your teaching partners, and your job. We’ve all been there. 

Where we have not all been, is trying to complete this wildly fundamental time in our life while schools are shut down and teachers are, for the first time, educating students of all abilities, backgrounds, and circumstances completely, and utterly online. Well, that’s where student teachers are right now. And let me tell you, it has been quite…. an experience. 

We have learned a lot. Perhaps in some areas even more than we would have face to face. We have had a lot of different experiences, challenges and accomplishments. We have also missed out on a lot. Perhaps even some things that will make our future careers an uphill battle. We have had some seriously positive glows and some not so positive grows.  

You may be a fellow student teacher, snapping your fingers as you read this. You may be a cooperating masters teacher, nodding your head. You may be a university supervisor, being tried even more than we are. You may be state staff, in charge of a region, or induction of new teachers, or California agricultural educators as a whole. Or, you might be one of those teachers, administrators, or department heads who just hired a teacher fresh out of this online student teaching wild card. Whoever you are, chances are you’re going through just as crazy of a time. Below are some positive glows, and some not so positive grows, of being an online student teacher, that hopefully, in one way or another, you can relate to. Let us lead with the grows, because you always finish with the good news, right?

The Grows

1. What is a field day like as a teacher? Or State Conference? Or State Finals? Or any of the other trips we missed? This is a question that current student teachers have yet to answer. Due to the circumstances, most of our first trips to events as a teacher will be as a first-year educator, with our own students, and that is kind of scary to be honest. I’m sure we will all be prepared when the time comes, but online student teachers missed out on a major element of agricultural education: travel. This is a somber thought, as we will never get the chance to experience these events with our school sites, but all we can do is look forward with excitement for the coming years.

2. Most of us only got to know our students for eight weeks. Eight weeks. We were just starting to figure out the best way to pass handouts out, or how to work our role taking systems, or how to pronounce our students last names, when this hit. We never got the chance to say goodbye to students we would not see again. Eight weeks in a classroom is not as much as we had hoped for. Video chatting options keep us in touch with these students, but the interactions are not quite the same. While we are still learning a monumental amount by educating online, chances are our next experience in a physical classroom will be in an employed position. And we will most likely never get the chance to say goodbye to those students we came to know for eight weeks.

3. The unknown. The unknown is probably the most difficult part of this as an online student teacher, and really probably any person in this world. Student teachers look to their first year of educating with so much excitement and possibility. The current situation has left this outlook less positive. The time in which we start preparing ourselves for our first year of teaching has been altered irreparably. We have no idea when we will get the chance to decorate our first classroom, meet our new students, return to hands-on learning, attend our first field day, or go to our first fair. This is a concept that is relatable to everyone. As we consider this, the best option is to remain positive, remain excited, and make the best of the situation at hand. 

The Glows

1. Master teachers are amazing. They are probably some of the most kind, caring, experienced, and wise owls out there. And all they want to do is help us. This trying time has proven that not only are master teachers fabulous educators, they are also super heroes. They have somehow managed to handle this time with grace and continue to teach us more than we could imagine. With all this newfound free time, we have had a greater chance to connect with them in deeper ways and learn some of their secrets to success. These owls are overflowing with knowledge to be shared and this difficult time has given us a chance to see that. 

2. The California Agricultural Education community is truly that – a community.  As a student teacher, they always say you are entering a family. What better way to truly realize this than to face a crisis with that family? State staff, CATA, California FFA and agricultural educators have been nothing but positive, supportive, communicative and helpful to all of us student teachers during this time. If we weren’t sure about this career before, we are beyond sure now. 

3. FFA should probably stand for Fearless Fantastic Achievers. Because that is what these kids are. They never stop achieving, no matter what arises. They tackle issues fearlessly. And in a fantastic way. Social media has been plastered with overwhelmingly positive messages from FFA members, and creative, inventive ideas to continue the FFA traditions. There is no group of students I would rather take part in educating.

4. Well, we did definitely learn some useful skills from this. Online student teachers are equipped with a set of skills most other student teachers probably did not have to pick up on so fast. We are more adaptable, resourceful, creative, flexible and resilient after this experience. If we stuck around teaching through this, we’re probably going to stick around through all of it. We have been forced to find new ways to educate students of all abilities, while still trying to educate ourselves. We have been asked to create new ways to teach curriculum, while still trying to figure out what curriculum even means. We have had to communicate with students and parents alike, dealing with difficult issues and circumstances, all through a screen. We have had policies, procedures, and expectations changed on us probably 8,492 times now, yet still continue in our journey. These trials may sound like hardship, but really it is quite the opposite. The experience has been challenging, but it has taught us so much. 

I’d like to finish this rant of an article by saying thank you. Thank you to the master teachers who have held our hand through all of this. Thank you to our university supervisors and professors who have answered our nine hundred emails. Thank you to the community of California agricultural education for showing those new to the profession just exactly how amazing you are. We still have so much left to learn, and the best people to learn it from. Fellow student teachers: let’s stick to faking it till we make it.

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/

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