Heather Mosley Linhardt
Viruses, hybrid classes, virtual learning, mask ordinances, social distancing in classrooms, funding cutbacks, campus closures, homeschooling, political separatism, certification changes, vouchers, essential workers. The list of new and consistent teacher concerns goes on and on. It is an extremely challenging time to be an educator right now, and an even more challenging time to decide if you WANT to be an educator.
This Fall marks twenty years since I made the monumental decision on the first day of my Junior year in college to change my Business major to an English (Pre-Education) major. With this decision came a number of requirements to fulfill in the last two years of my undergraduate work so that I could be accepted and immediately transition into a fifth year Education masters degree coursework. Although this is a very specific type of Education degree combination, anyone who wants to earn an Education degree of any kind that will also meet state teacher certification requirements has a list of expectations that must be met. One key expectation that MUST be fulfilled by an Education major is a generous amount of teacher observation hours. In my case, that number was 60.
Sixty hours of being in a classroom, observing an experienced certified teacher manage a classroom of learners while facilitating their growth in any number of areas was daunting. Not only was this a way to ensure I truly wanted to do this immensely rewarding but exhausting profession, but also a means to observe and reflect upon the innumerable ways a teacher may go about facilitating learning. The absolutely brilliant component, but also one in which many Education majors complain, is the requirement that no matter what level or field of teaching I chose to study, I was required to observe ALL different levels and fields. “But I’m an Elementary major. Why on earth do I need to watch a high school class?” I KNOW I said that at least a handful of times myself.
Observation lesson: Expanding your horizons is absolutely essential for an educator! Thank goodness pre-service higher education programs knew far better than I did.
Not to mention grumbling about having to get a paper signed from each teacher I observed attesting to the fact I did indeed observe them and who precisely I observed. I actually remember feeling like I was getting a permission slip signed by a parent when I had to do that. It was such a weird experience as an adult to be carrying around your little slips of paper to be signed. I hated feeling like one of the students walking up to the teacher in the front of the room to get a paper signed before I slipped out after my observation. I would have loved to circumvent all that and leave with a little more dignity. I could have never even dreamed it up at the time, but something like a digital signature app would have been amazing. I could have messaged the teacher my tracking form, got his or her signature at their leisure, and not bother him or her in the middle of a class or that short time between periods. But, of course, flip phones weren’t even widely distributed back then, let alone a smartphone.
Since my teacher education was primarily focused to be in Elementary Ed, the majority of my sixty observation hours were required to be in Elementary classrooms. However, a large minority of hours were required in a combination of Early Childhood, Middle School, and High School levels of instruction. Ugh. Why oh why did I need THAT. I had NO desire whatsoever to teach students with hormones nor those that couldn’t use the potty by themselves. But, it was a great experience to see how teachers work in other atmospheres and reflect upon how some of those strategies could be utilized in my future classrooms. It ALSO would turn out to be far more useful in my future career than I ever thought when I ended up teaching in a small rural district where I would be teaching gifted/talented children in grades 2-8. Observation lesson: Expanding your horizons is absolutely essential for an educator! Thank goodness pre-service higher education programs knew far better than I did.
Now, twenty years later, I have been a teacher, a private tutor, a pre-service education instructor and college professor, a homeschooling Mom, and a researcher for a state department of education among other things. I look at what is currently occurring in schools across the country and hear from teacher friends near and far about the challenges they face. However, what I don’t hear is how our current pandemic and educational climate is affecting those students desiring to become a teacher.
Has everything teachers are currently dealing with frightened potential educators away from the field? Are they scared for their own safety and/or their family’s safety as they continue to volunteer and observe teachers in the field? Or ARE they observing teachers in the field? Are they getting the chance to see how teachers deal with hybrid courses or all-virtual classes? Are schools letting them within the school walls as part of their volunteer base or has their access been restricted or even denied for the time being? My best understanding and educated guess is some yes, some no. Yes here, then no there. No here, then yes there. In other words, a broad spectrum of organized chaos across the country. At least when this pandemic occurred we had technology in place to allow for distancing. As difficult as it has been for the field of Education to adapt nearly overnight to distance learning, it would have been impossible without the extremely rapid growth in technology in the last twenty years. In fact, NOW there actually are such things as digital signature apps that would make getting signatures from each of those observed teachers incredibly easy as well as socially distanced-compliant. Sometimes great ideas for teacher education tools come out of pure necessity, right?
Regarding those incredibly important teacher observation hours, my hope is that students in the field of Education are being allowed unparalleled access to how teachers cope with unforeseen circumstances right now. Because you now what, that’s what teachers do every single day, even when global life is as close to normal as possible. So that’s precisely what these Education majors in college need to see how to deal with. That’s precisely what my sixty hours of teacher observation hours were about BEFORE I entered my teacher certification program. Not just to see how to deal with surprises and changes but to see if you WANT to deal with them. If you CAN deal with them. And now, more than ever, that requirement is vital, because teaching has become incredibly unpredictable with intruder drills, pandemics, hybrid learning, homeschooling, and so much more. A love of learning, students, and facilitating growth can no longer be the basis for wanting to go into the field of Education. Future potential educators must also walk into this occupation with their eyes wide open to the flexibility, resiliency, and strength of character necessary to make it through the next pandemic – literally or figuratively.
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