When five Saint Anselm seniors began their degrees in education, they never imagined students wearing masks, desks six feet apart, or eating a silent lunch in the classroom with kids at their teaching internships. Although their experience differs from student teachers of the past, all five seniors said their experience has confirmed their belief that the classroom is where they belong.
Traditionally student teaching takes place for education majors in the fall of their senior year. Due to the chaos of the pandemic, student teaching was pushed to the spring semester. This internship is accompanied by the Teacher Candidate Assessment of Performance (TCAP), a 45-page single-spaced paper about the student teaching experience. Although this is not a normal senior year for any student, the Saint Anselm student teachers have been thrown multiple curveballs.
Kara Martina, a senior elementary education major from Marshfield MA, says she caught the teaching bug from her first-grade teacher. Her teacher’s kindness inspired her and she knew she wanted to be that kind of role model for children too. Since COVID-19 changed the layout and activities at North Londonderry Elementary School, Martina stated that physically being in the classroom is “the only normal thing about the student teaching experience.”
Student teachers are having to limit interactions with their students, while also limiting the student’s interaction with one another. Normally, school is a time where kids can play and grow socially, but with the no-touch policies at school, kids are required to stay physically distanced while at recess and working in the classroom.
Tia Pisano a senior elementary education major from Marshfield MA says, “Teaching during COVID-19 has proved to be a huge challenge for me and many other teachers.” Pisano interns at North Londonderry Elementary School in a first-grade classroom where kids’ ages range from six to seven. Pisano continued, “we try our best to create a fun environment for our students, but motor breaks are essential this year.”
Pisano wants to be a teacher so she can make an impact on young minds and shape kids into kind and respectful individuals. She says, “after full-time teaching this semester, I truly can’t imagine doing anything else.” Pisano added, “The impact that we have on our students is so strong, and they really look up to us as role models.”
Hugh Cameron a senior elementary education major from Weston MA, student teaching at North Londonderry Elementary School says that being a male role model in an elementary setting is important to him. Cameron hopes to be a positive influence as a male teacher in a predominantly female field.
Cameron explains, “It took a pandemic to realize how important our job actually is.” He didn’t realize the extent to which teachers make an impact on the lives of their students. Cameron says that since the pandemic “the children’s social growth has been affected and some of them have pandemic anxiety.” With the stress these little kids are going through, the support teachers give students not only academically but emotionally as well has heightened this year.
Cameron says he now realizes how crucial exercise is to education. He claims, “kids need some form of exercise especially when they are cooped up all day in the same classroom.” The kids spend their specials, lunch, and snack time all in the same classroom. They do not even get to walk through the halls because they are no longer going from room to room. Cameron says, “getting the kids outside and running around is more important now than ever.”
Erin Pigman of Severna Park MD, another elementary education major interning at North Londonderry Elementary, stated, “The kids don’t always understand what’s going on. They are too young to know why they can’t play with their friends or why their masks have to stay on all day.” Pigman says COVID-19 protocol along with the children’s inability to understand the severity of the pandemic “adds extra stress to the classroom.”
Manon Nadeau, a senior secondary education major from Holyoke MA, has had a different teaching experience from the rest. Nadeau interns at Memorial High School in an English classroom. Memorial High School is at 50% capacity, which means classroom sizes are small, but Nadeau says that most kids don’t come at all. “School is optional. I have from no kids to seven kids in my room at a time. I appreciate the ones that I do get to see when they come in,” Nadeau shared.
Since high school requires much attention but is mostly online, more kids have been struggling emotionally and are failing the class. Nadeau says, “It’s hard to take in other people’s emotions all day and hear what these kids are going through while also drawing the line of how to keep me mentally well too.” Nadeau continued, “I think this experience shows me that you have to wear every hat to be a teacher and that is a very overwhelming thing to do.”
Although each student-teacher has struggled with pandemic life in the classroom as well as continuing their studies in Saint Anselm courses most of the experience has been positive.
Martina says, “this experience has given me more confidence.” Having hands-on experiences in the career they are pursuing is not something a lot of other majors get to do. Martina continued, “we are basically already doing our jobs.” Each student teacher expressed a degree of comfort knowing they have experienced a classroom and are ready to start working. Pisano says, “It’s stressful, but I know it’s great preparation for my life after college.”
Along with increased confidence and experience, the children themselves have brought a great deal of joy to the student teachers. “My students crack me up all the time,” Pisano jokes. The kids provide light to the student teachers in a time that sometimes feels very dark because of the pandemic and the stress of senior year. Cameron says that some of the kids from other classrooms call him “Jim” because they think he looks just like a character from the TV show The Office. Cameron shared, “it always makes my day when a student passes me and says, ‘Hi Jim.’”
Pigman says that being in the classroom every day has allowed for closer bonds with the students. She says, “by being in the classroom so much you get to see a different side of the kids than you would only going in once a week.” Pigman stated that getting to know the kids and seeing their individuality is her favorite part of the experience.
The five student teachers said that they have the wonderful professors at Saint Anselm College to thank for their successes. Pigman says, “The professors are just the best.” The education professors give their students great advice and are there for them always. Pigman says, “Their outlook and love for teaching is what helps us all become better teachers.”
Cameron says he is thankful that Saint Anselm education professors gave them great foundational work and dropped them into the classroom early. Cameron elaborated, “starting in the classroom sophomore year and being taught how to lesson plan early on was the most helpful aspect of being a good teacher. I can now lesson plan in my head.”
Managing the second semester of senior year, the TCAP, COVID-19 restrictions, and almost 40 hours of teaching a week has proved to be challenging for the Saint Anselm student teachers. Although it’s been hard, these challenges have served as great life experiences that these teachers will never forget.