Student Voices: Learning to Teach During Turbulent Times

By: Alyssa Lee (Wheelock ’21)

When I dreamed about my senior year at Boston University, I didn’t picture it like this. With dual licensures in Spanish Education and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) underway, I’ve looked forward to my student teaching practicum experience and have been eager to put everything I’ve learned at BU into practice in the classroom. Needless to say, that all looks a little different in 2020.

Students and teachers everywhere were met with uncertainty this summer and fall. What would a return to school, whether it be K-12 or post-secondary education, look like? Would it be a safe and responsible decision to put teachers and students back in classrooms come September? For preservice teachers like myself, these questions were twofold: first, what will be my experience as a student this semester? Second, what will be my experience as a teacher this semester?

As seems to be the trend this year, there are often more questions than there are answers available. However, BU has made one thing consistently clear: this academic year will be like no other, and the university is committed to keeping its students safe and healthy, both on campus and off. Thus, I’ve opted for remote classes this semester, and have been completing my practicum experience remotely as well. My anxieties still get to me, and I still can’t help but wonder, how well a remote practicum will prepare me to teach in person?

Ultimately, teaching over Zoom isn’t ideal and there are plenty of downsides, but I do feel an unexpected sense of gratitude to be teaching remotely this year. Teachers across the country are all struggling to adjust to remote learning; I, at least, am supported in my struggle by my program directors and professors at BU. After all, what better time is there to learn entirely new methods of teaching than just before graduating from teacher school?

My last year at BU consists of one full-time practicum each semester. For my TESOL practicum this semester, I’m responsible for planning for and teaching an 8th grade Writers’ Workshop twice a week with eight English learners, and I co-teach 8th grade Humanities with my Supervising Practitioner six times a week. On top of my TESOL practicum, I also observe 8th and 12th grade Spanish classes for my Spanish pre-practicum experience four times a week. In the spring, I’ll complete my Spanish practicum, during which I’ll be responsible for planning for and teaching 1-2 classes and will observe my Supervising Practitioner teach one class. What that will look like, remote, hybrid, or otherwise, is yet to be determined. Pursuing dual licensure means that I have a very, very tight schedule this year, but that I have the opportunity to observe a total of four different teachers with four different styles and methods of navigating remote learning, all of which inform my developing teaching practice. Plus, switching classrooms during remote learning is as easy as closing one Zoom room and opening another! While quarantine has been an incredibly exhausting time mentally, it has, unexpectedly, proven to alleviate some stress from the busy life of a student with a million places to be at once.

Most of my days consist of long hours sitting at my desk planning for class and scribbling observation notes, hopping from one Zoom to another, from morning check-in to meetings to class to lunch break to class to afternoon check-out to more meetings. Two days a week, I swap my teacher hat for my student hat and hop back on Zoom for class a few hours after school to discuss my observations. Central to effective teaching and learning is reflection, and when I reflect on my practicum experience this semester, I find it largely unchanged at its core: at the end of each day, students are still learning, and so am I. The logistics may vary and the methods of teaching may be slightly different in an online setting, but I feel lucky to be able to observe a variety of teachers with such ease as I discover my own teaching style. I certainly never imagined I’d be student teaching from my on-campus apartment during my last year of college and a global pandemic. However, I do believe there stands more to be gained from this experience than to be lost.