Eastern Michigan University College of Education innovates student teaching placements during the COVID-19 pandemic

EMU student teaching supervisors and staff worked through many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure EMU students could fulfill their student teaching requirements safely as planned

Student teacher Bethany Woolsey teaches in a virtual classroom
Bethany Woolsey is a student teacher (elementary and early childhood) at Erving Elementary in Woodhaven.

YPSILANTI — Each semester, Eastern Michigan University’s College of Education coordinates student teaching placements for EMU teacher candidates within southeastern Michigan and beyond. 

The Fall 2020 semester came with unique challenges amid the pandemic, but despite those challenges, David DeVries (COE clinical experience coordinator) and Charlene Ford-Chambers (COE administrative secretary) with support from student teacher supervisors and P-12 partner districts, coordinated nearly 170 student teaching placements for the Fall 2020 semester. 

“There were a lot of bumps in the road,” said Dr. Beth Kubitskey, the Associate Dean of Students in the College of Education. “These individuals worked together to face challenges head on to ensure EMU teaching students were able to finish their programs on time.”

The challenges

P-12 partners continually adapted to an ever-changing environment.  How could they add one more variable like hosting student teachers?  The clinical experience coordinator had to balance prioritizing the placement of student teachers and working with district human resources and administrators to support their local needs that were always changing.

When schools moved to teaching online amid the pandemic, the EMU student teacher supervisors (COE full- and part-time lecturers and faculty) had to learn an entirely new way of doing their job to supervise student teachers. New technology, a new pedagogy, a new way of relating to these students. They weren’t sure what student teaching placements would look like, or even if teachers would have the capacity or be allowed to take on student teachers—and if they could, what would it look like?

Typical in-person student teaching observations weren’t going to be an option for supervisors, but they had to be able to observe the placements. Adapting to a virtual environment was something that proved to be challenging in that respect.

“These supervisors do this job because they genuinely love it,” said Kubitskey. “They enjoy being in the classroom and working with the teachers and student teachers—and it was really difficult to face the realization that that probably wasn’t going to be a reality for them.”

For cooperating teachers, taking on a student teacher is a huge commitment in any given semester. Taking that responsibility on in the midst of a pandemic, while scrambling to move lesson plans to an online format—an environment many had not had experience with before—was a whole new challenge no one had faced. Would they be able to teach their student teacher in a way that would prepare them for entering the teaching world? Would their efforts be as effective virtually vs. in-person?

And for student teachers, the most pivotal point of the education was turned upside down as a virtual teaching assistant assignment became their reality. Student teaching placements come with a lot of pressure on students, and that pressure was only compounded by the pandemic.

And for all three groups, they were dealing with this on top of their own anxieties stemming from the pandemic in their personal lives. 

The outcome

After much communication and coordination between EMU supervisors, cooperating teachers, and multiple other groups of people critical to the success of the student teaching program, nearly 170 EMU teacher candidates were placed with cooperating teachers. Although approximately 5 EMU students decided to postpone student teaching for a variety of reasons, all students who needed placements were placed.

Each and every supervisor stepped up, taking on a new online platform for video analysis of their student teachers. They worked together to come up with ideas to streamline the experiences, host seminars and more.

“Student teaching is a microcosm of the community engagement and the strong sense of connectedness that EMU has as one of our missions as an institution,” said Wendy Burke, professor and department head for Teacher Education . “What everyone involved in this program did amid the pandemic to complete the placements during these challenging times is a true testament to that mission.”

The relationship between cooperating teachers and student teachers was more impactful than ever before, too.

Andrea Segedi, a 1st grade teacher at Anderson Elementary within the Trenton Public Schools, said student teaching during this pandemic forced Katie (her student teacher) to be extremely flexible, roll with the constant changes, and quickly implement the use of technology so we could be effective remote teachers.”

Cooperating teachers were thankful for the extra set of hands and eyes while in the thick of learning a new way to teach, and student teachers were able to bring additional knowledge of new technologies to the table that was able to supplement what the cooperating teacher had. 

“I have always seen the partnerships between teacher and student teacher as a valuable one,” said Russel Sansbury, a cooperating teacher from Ann Arbor. “Toward that end, I have had student teachers for the last 15 years, all coming from Eastern Michigan University, a fine institution where teachers are prepared to hit the ground running.”

“Dana (student teaching) has been an invaluable part of my growth and experience with this pandemic. The partnerships now are more important than ever,” he continued.   

Moving forward

While the first semester of virtual student teaching was an unusual one—for everyone involved—the commitment of EMU and cooperating teachers to help shape the next generation of teacher leaders made it as seamless as possible.

No matter how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold moving forward, with one successful virtual student teaching semester completed, with nearly 200 successful and completed placements, the EMU supervisors and cooperating teachers are more dedicated than ever to continuing to place EMU teacher candidates around the state. 

December 10, 2020

Written by:
Morgan Mark

Media Contact:
Morgan Mark