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Washington State University
College of Education

Student Teachers Thrive Through COVID-19

Student Teachers Thrive Through COVID-19

By Katie Duncan – College of Education

The joy of helping students through a science project or seeing a student’s face light up after finally understanding a difficult math concept is a staple of being a teacher. Bonding with students and being an agent in their learning is a cornerstone in the education system. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone online and, in turn, teachers have had to get creative with their connection. 

These challenges notwithstanding, for the fall semester, student teachers in Washington State University’s College of Education passed the state assessment at a higher rate than before.  

Adrian Mendez, Megan Collins and Brooke Jackson are three of the college’s 89 student teachers who successfully pivoted during COVID-19.  

They, along with all student teachers in Washington State, are required by the state to pass an assessment called the edTPA in order to be a fully certified teacher.  

Matt Coulter, the college’s director of field services and certification, said the pandemic made the assessment more difficult for students, but WSU student teachers have risen to the challenge.  

During fall semester, 95 percent of the student teachers passed the assessment, a clip that Coulter said is three percent higher than normal.  

Coulter explained that WSU students are passing the edTPA at a higher rate than prior to the pandemic. 

“Fortunately, our student teachers have been resilient… because this is their dream. They want to be a teacher, and they’ll do whatever it takes,” Coulter said.  

Learning to Teach and Adapt 

Mendez was a student teacher for a third-grade classroom at Glenwood Heights Primary school in Battle Ground. He always knew that, as a part of his teacher education program, he’d have the opportunity to do student teaching. He just would have never foreseen doing it during a health pandemic.  

“I got a taste of the COVID changes last spring, so I felt like I was a little prepared,” Mendez said. “I think the biggest change was how to make learning deeper and authentic through the computer screen.”  

There were a variety of new skills and different platforms such as Google Classroom and Zoom that Mendez had to learn to be successful in the new online format.  

“These are skills that the university does not teach, or if I were in a normal classroom I would not have learned and I think this is the way that education is going,” Mendez said. 

The most important thing remaining for Mendez while teaching online is the relationships with his students.  

Collins is another College of Education Vancouver student who has begun her student teaching experience in the middle of the pandemic.  

Collins is currently student teaching seventh grade Washington state history and eighth grade English at Laurin Middle School, also in Battle Ground.  

Learning to develop engaging lessons while still creating relationships with students has been the biggest challenge for Collins. She overcame this challenge and has provided quality lessons for her students.  

Collins has thrived in the virtual environment and has learned many skills and met a wonderful community of teachers in the process.  

“I really enjoy working at Laurin. It is the most amazing community of teachers I have ever seen,” Collins said. 

Jackson, who is working at Zeiger Elementary School in Puyallup, Washington, summed up the thoughts of many student teachers when she said teaching in a pandemic was a difficult experience, but worth it. 

“It’s been crazy,” Jackson said. “I’ve never had such a hard workload. But I think teaching itself teaches you flexibility and how to roll with the punches. 

Mentoring A New Generation of Educators 

Stephanie Petersen, a fourth-grade teacher at Presidents Elementary School in Arlington, and Sandy Coulter, a second-grade teacher at Kamiak Elementary in Pullman, had student teachers this semester.  

Both said the students thrived in the new classroom environment. 

“I think the thing that has been incredibly interesting and challenging at the same time, these student teachers are able to say they have been able to deal both with a pandemic and teaching virtually.,” Petersen said. “That is a whole other layer which I view as a gift to add to their resumes. I have been thoroughly impressed with how well my student teacher did.” 

Coulter said that student teachers have jumped into distance learning, they have also helped their teacher mentors.  

“The student I mentored sometimes even did better at the technology and computer stuff than I did because that is their whole world,” Coulter said. “The student teachers transitioned amazingly.”