Remote Learning Broadens Graduate Education Experience
Nicholas Hebert began missing his Beekmantown Central School fifth graders the day word came down that the state was switching to remote instruction.
The graduate student in SUNY Plattsburgh’s combined special/general education program was placed at Beekmantown for his student teaching this spring before graduating May 16.
Spending the first part of the semester student teaching in a general education class, he was about to move over to special education “when all the world was put on pause,” he said.
With COVID-19, student teaching was different but no less valuable. Instead, SUNY Plattsburgh teachers-in-training learned how adapt to remote learning, adding to a repertoire of skills going into the workplace.
“Just because I did not have to go to (in-person) student teaching anymore, I still wanted to be as involved as I could,” Hebert said. “I really missed my students.”
‘One of a Kind’
Graduating master’s in education student Kylee Decillis of Malone was placed as a student teacher in the second grade at Davis Elementary in her hometown. She left her students Friday, March 13 with a hug and a wave goodbye for the weekend, only to realize later “it would be the last goodbye I would get to them,” Decillis said.
“Because of COVID, I ‘ended’ my placement, but I was determined to let my students know that I was still there for them,” she said.
Sean Hayes, whose student teaching was in a first grade gifted and talented room at PS 33 Chelsea Prep in New York City, said the semester amounted to a “one of a kind” experience. The Long Island native spent the second part of spring semester doing his distance teaching from home.
“I developed a great relationship with my wonderful cooperating teacher during my actual teaching experience,” he said. “Luckily, I’ve had the pleasure of keeping in contact and participating with her.”
Through Google Hangouts, he was able to participate in video chats and other remote experiences with the students. “Morning meetings” give the children “an opportunity to still socialize with each other even though they are away from each other,” he said.
They ended the day with another video chat for a read-aloud, giving Hayes more opportunities to stay connected to the children.
When the shift came, Hebert offered to take on more responsibility. He was asked to do all the read-alouds for the fifth grade level and Beekmantown’s Positivity Project — a social/emotional program adopted to meet state mandates, making his role even more critical.
Hebert made videos for students of himself reading the book they’d picked out. He also did live videos via Google Meets.
“It took some time for some students to adjust,” he said. “I know the students really missed us. Even if they didn’t have questions, they just wanted to be with us (even remotely).”
Like Hebert, Hayes admitted it wasn’t ideal.
“Although I would have loved to be in the classroom interacting with all the wonderful students, I am still very grateful for the opportunity and experience I have had to participate and help during the distance-learning mandates,” Hayes said.
For Decillis, it was the end of one experience but the beginning of another.
“When we heard of school closures, the second-grade team worked together to create daily plans and baggies of things to send home to the students,” she said. “Once I was placed at home, and the students had their work, I knew I somehow needed to reach out to my students; I still wanted to experience teaching remotely.”
Makes Students ‘So Happy’
Melissa Lapier, a second grade teacher at Beekmantown Elementary School and an alumna of SUNY Plattsburgh’s teacher education program herself, Class of 2001, G’03, had been working with Maura Trombley of Chazy, N.Y., in her class when COVID hit.
“She had been amazing through this entire transition,” Lapier said. “Maura continued to help plan and teach as if she were still in the classroom. We ran ideas by each other and discussed what skills would be taught for students.” She did read-alouds and show-and-tell, among other distance projects. “She made my — our — students so happy.”
Dr. Amy Gervich, co-director of the Office of Clinical Practice in Teacher Education and lecturer in childhood education, said the department is proud of the way students handled the transition out of the classroom to remote instruction.
“Some were afforded the experience to continue to work with their cooperating teachers and classes,” Gervich said. “Those students worked with their classroom teachers to create meaningful learning experiences, support learners and families while continuing to work on the tasks required by their student teaching supervisors. I would like to congratulate all our graduates on their hard work and dedication to the teaching profession.”
“All teachers deserve a huge shout-out for showing up each day, putting in many hours to communicate and work with families, and doing their best to reach the needs of all students,” she said. “I have seen a lot of behind-the-scenes work being done, and I am aware of how much time and effort teachers are putting in with distance learning. They truly are superheroes.”