Student teaching during COVID-19: Serving local children and parents remotely

Krysten Masztal ’20 (Early Childhood and Childhood Education) of Catskill, New York, works on word and letter recognition remotely with Noah Oles, age 5, at his home in Gardiner, New York.

As school districts throughout the Hudson Valley adjust to a new normal of remote learning, students from the SUNY New Paltz School of Education have stepped up to ensure that learning continues for the region.

Through fieldwork, online tutoring and enrichment, innovative student teachers are helping schools and organizations find their way through the unprecedented educational changes that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With almost all activities moving to the virtual space our students, with faculty guidance, have quickly come up with creative learning exercises that are aligned with our commitment to making effective use of technology in the delivery of instruction,” said School of Education Dean Michael Rosenberg. “Our educator preparation programs are by nature clinically rich and we have adapted quickly our field-based preparation methods to meet the needs of our students, as well as local teachers, families and learners.”

The School of Education has more than 200 student teachers going out for their practicum this semester, and each one is required to complete two separate, eight-week placements. With about 400 placements to plan for, the College sought opportunities in 100 districts over eight counties, including Long Island and New York City.

All SUNY New Paltz students were able to complete their first eight-week placement and met the minimum requirements by New York State to obtain their certification before COVID-19 led to school closures. After the landscape shifted to remote learning, the School worked to have students continue with their cooperating teachers and aid them with distance learning.

Arrangements were also made for student teachers to participate in an online enrichment program, which includes activities such as reading aloud, small group activities for home-bound students in one family, hands-on STEM activities and presenting problem solving and skill-building games.

“We have been so lucky to have about two-thirds of our cohort be able to continue working with cooperating teachers,” said Coordinator of Field Experiences Heather Finn. “These teachers are always extremely supportive of our students and we are so grateful for our relationships with them.”

Brianna Vaughan ’20 (Early Childhood/Childhood Education) said she has been keeping the students in her fieldwork classrooms engaged with a number of virtual activities, ranging from weekly discussion questions to one-on-one meetings with each of the students.

Vaughan has been working with Sharon Roe, a 4th grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School in the Wappingers Central School District.

“This was definitely not the student teaching experience that I expected and hoped to have, but it has been an amazing learning experience in many ways,” said Vaughan. “When schools first began to close, there was a moment of uncertainty because no one knew if we would be able to graduate, or if we would have to redo our student teaching. This experience has required a lot of patience and also a lot of faith in my own abilities as a teacher.”

Briana Vaughan ’20 records and edits some of her online lessons using EdTech tools

Roe is quick to complement Vaughan’s impressive teaching skills and insists they have already defined her an asset to the school community.

“Brianna (Vaughan) came to my classroom with a strong technology background which I had her use right away by making Kahoots for the students to review science and social studies concepts,” said Roe. “As she transitioned into student teaching, she immediately took over social studies and science, as well as small groups for ELA. The students absolutely loved coming to her table to review skills and get extra practice.”

By prioritizing the changes in technology that can assist existing teaching practices, New Paltz’s School of Education is a leading resource for students like Vaughan looking to bring strategic technology usage into their classrooms – skills now put to use during the unprecedented changes that have happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Led by Associate Professor Kiersten Greene, whose teaching and research focuses on both literacy instruction and digital pedagogy and policy, the College has forged partnerships with tech-focused organizations like the New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education (NYSCATE), the Mid-Hudson Teacher Center and the NYS Master Teacher Program.

For Roe and the other teachers in the local school districts, the impact of this connection between student teachers and technology has been incalculable. When a recent Superintendent’s Conference day turned into a distance learning prep day, Roe and Vaughan joined together and led a professional development workshop for many of the primary teachers in the Wappingers Central School District. The two shared information on Google Classroom, how to upload and assign work and various EDTech tools that Vaughan often uses with her students.

“My prior experiences and knowledge on the digital side of education has helped prepare me for this new way of teaching,” said Vaughan. “But I’m also reminded that communication is incredibly important at this time. It is critical to talk to the students and the other teachers daily. This is a new and challenging experience for everyone and it is something that we need to work through together.”

The School of Education was awarded with seven year accreditation by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) in 2015. Most programs lead to the College’s recommendation for New York State certification. As graduates, students are well-prepared in a content area, theoretical and historical perspectives, pedagogy, and clinical practice. Learn more online.