Education Majors Lost in Shuffle to Online Classes

by Alexa Schmidt, August Kissel, Gabriella Depinho, A&E Editor, Senior Writer, Editor-in-Chief 

As lab instructors figure out how to create virtual labs and other educators figure out video chat technology, many professors and students are making do in these peculiar times where social distancing and online classes are now the norm due to the coronavirus. However, for some students, the classroom cannot be moved online and course requirements cannot be changed.

With Manhattan College switching to remote learning for the rest of the semester and New York City’s Department of Education’s choice to move to remote learning until at least April 20, students majoring in education at Manhattan College are not able to complete their required fieldwork for the semester. On Monday, Mar. 30, New York State finally shared with administrators and instructors what options students have in moving forward.

Karen Nicholson, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education and Health, said they “had hoped and part of the state’s guidance to that, if possible, they would have been allowed to continue [their hours.]”

“What we’re looking at doing instead is maybe having the students do a video of their best lesson even though they wouldn’t have any students there initially,” Nicholson said. “And then put it up online so that their students or anyone who wanted to look at it could,” she said.

The department recognizes that parents are facing a lot, trying to do their work at home and trying to school their children at the same time. 

“So maybe half an hour like one day we would have a preschool story,” Nicholson said. “For the first graders or third graders we are trying to think of creative ways that we could get our students actually experience but also serve as a resource to the community because we know that everyone is overloaded and a little bit stressed by the situation,” she Nicholson. 

Students at Manhattan College have the choice to major in childhood education (first to sixth grades) and adolescent education (seventh through twelfth grade). The state splits education categories into more categories: pre-kindergarten to Kindergarten, grades one through three, grades four to six, grades seven to nine and grades 10 to 12. Prior to student teaching, a student needs to spend 50 hours in classrooms in each of the categories; for Manhattan College students, that means at least 100 hours. In those 100 observation hours, students observe the teacher, help out around the classroom, and learn about classroom dynamics. 

Manhattan College students spend an entire semester student teaching, easily surpassing the required hours by New York State. In student teaching, the student eventually builds up to teaching classes all day, every day. 

Nicholson said the staff is working on an excel file that details the hours students were scheduled for, how many hours they had completed and what they needed. Keeping track of field work hours carefully is important at MC because the college attaches a certain number of hours to courses the department’s students take. Moving online allows a student to complete the assignments a professor has designed for a course but does not allow them to complete the course’s field work component.  

Jennifer Bueti, a junior English and adolescent education double major, was completing 25 observation hours but only got through about half of them before classes moved online for the semester.

I haven’t heard specifics from anyone on what we will do now,” Bueti wrote in an email to The Quadrangle on March 26. “Rumors have been that the hours will be carried over to complete in future semesters but no one is quite sure how that will work.”

Bueti has the opportunity for her hours to roll over into the fall semester because she has until May 2021, but for members of the class of 2020, their hours and teacher certification process should have been wrapping up this semester.

As information about the closing of the New York Public schools was released, students were unsure about how this would impact their ability to follow the timing of their programs. 

The education department has been taking COVID-19 seriously since the beginning. From the immediate close of NYC Public Schools, our staff has shown support in helping us get through this. At first, it was extremely stressful. We were waiting for the state to release information and accommodations for us. But, while we waited for the professors were thinking of ways to get us involved in our school community to complete our requirements,” said senior Math and childhood education major, Faith LaRock

To become a certified teacher, it is necessary to complete the edTPA, which is “a performance-based, subject-specific assessment and support system used by teacher preparation programs throughout the United States to emphasize, measure and support the skills and knowledge that all teachers need from Day 1 in the classroom,” but being out of the classroom makes that all the more difficult.

“One of the requirements for the edTPA is a set of video clips of the teacher candidate teaching real-life students in a classroom,” Megan Carmody, a graduating adolescent education and English major wrote in an email on March 26. “This, needless to say, is impossible for me to complete due to school closures. I know I’m not the only person in this position, but the uncertainty of how we are going to accomplish all of our requirements is still nerve-wracking.”

The state announced that there are other options for students who were supposed to complete the edTPA but are unable to because of the video clip requirements, including taking an additional exam, recording a virtual classroom session, or filming videos at home, without students present. 

For students that are missing out on classroom time, professors can get creative with those classroom simulations. 

“So we can do some of the simulation kind of activities like reviewing videos,” Nicholson said. “And then all of them have the same experience because when they go out in the schools, they all have different experiences. And this way, we’ll give them a shared common thing that they’re discussing in relation to their working class.” 

An example of this work and flexibility has been highlighted by LaRock.

“It can be difficult to complete our hours during online schooling. New York State is working on accommodations for student teachers across the state. Manhattan College has given us lists of ways that we can log hours, slowly, to get closer to the 40 days needed. We can sign up for online tutoring programs, or help make lesson plans for our cooperating teachers to use. But, this is going to take more time to finish our hours,” she added. 

If students have almost finished their hours for this semester, and they only need five more, then those could be added to another course in the fall.

“We’re looking at both combinations, some of our programs, and the state requires a minimum of 100 hours,” Nicholson said. “Some of our programs have significantly more than that. So if they only needed hours, we really wouldn’t have to do anything because they would still be on track. So we’re looking at several options. I really like the one where they look at some clinical things like viewing videos like maybe making some videos that they can critique and look at together. I think those are strong experiences,” she said. 

Though being removed from the classroom limits the opportunity for students to complete fieldwork, it has also invited some of them to think and get a new perspective on things they have learned in the classroom.

“I definitely think that this [situation] is a really interesting thing to look at as an education major because they always say technology in classrooms should be utilized and enhanced and now we are doing it,” said Matthew Blackwood, a sophomore English and adolescent education major. “Now we’re in a place in our education experience where we’re only learning from technology and how effective is actually online learning? It just becomes really interesting as an education major, trying to figure out what’s working, what’s not.”

While education students put their fieldwork hours on hold for now and continue to complete their coursework online, one thing is certain to Blackwood: nothing can replace the traditional classroom.

“I do think [online learning] is not as great as face to face class, but I think we all know that, and it’s definitely hindering my education,” Blackwood said.