Pandemic Teacher Prep

A student’s take on being a teaching assistant in NNPS during pandemic virtual learning

~Taylor Vigil, Photography Editor~

There is no doubt that this school year has been a particularly interesting one. Classes are online, students and staff are learning how to navigate online education and there is little certainty as to when or even if classes will resume as we once knew them. When I decided last fall that I would use my time here at CNU to prepare to become an elementary school teacher, I never envisioned that that journey would be impacted by a pandemic. Honestly I don’t think anyone had “pandemic” written out in their plan towards their future career. What once seemed like a straightforward path from college to career suddenly got very complicated. Would I be able to get the experience I needed if I couldn’t work with students in person? Would I still be able to go through CNU’s MAT program with classes being so different? How would the curriculum I would be learning change? Would I be able to adapt to learning in this new and confusing environment? 

A major component of teacher preparation had been impacted by the pandemic: working in the schools with the kids. When I signed up for the lab class through which I would be a teaching assistant (TA), I was ready to dive into the beginnings of becoming a teacher and to catch a glimpse of what my future hopefully had in store. I was excited to see how the concepts we had been learning in the college classroom played out in the real world in the public school system. As I scrolled through news feeds of school cancellations upon cancellations, I began to wonder if this experience would even still be available. Thankfully, pre-MAT program students and I are still able to get a taste of what teaching will be like. Just under a very different guise. 

We still get to observe and participate in our assigned classrooms, but since Newport News Public Schools began this school year virtually, we are getting that experience through Zoom meetings. First grade via Zoom is a very different experience. Both the teachers and students are trying to make the best of the situation, but it just isn’t the same. College classes have a relatively easy transition from in-person to virtual content compared to elementary content. One of the biggest struggles I have seen is making sure the younger students are receiving the instruction that they need to succeed. How are you supposed to teach students how to identify letter sounds when computer audio distorts what the teacher says so much? Most of these students can’t read either, so where older students could manage to figure out how to help themselves by reading directions, younger students are even more helpless, relying on verbal directions and the colors of the buttons on the screen.

The  unusual circumstances surrounding virtual learning have given me many advantages though. I am being afforded the opportunity to look at teaching through a completely different lens and  am learning how to see all of the working components that come with education in a new light. I am thinking more than I would have otherwise about how K-12 students’ lives at home impact their lives at school because for a majority of this semester, their school and home lives are much the same. I get to see firsthand how teachers have to adapt to whatever the world and their school systems throw at them, all while maintaining a positive atmosphere for their students. 

As schools begin to reopen and create another new sense of normal, I am excited to see how the field of K-12 education grows and adapts. Hopefully my classmates and I will be able to immerse ourselves into our respective class assignments in the real world, but for now I think that there is still a lot to be learned through the experience of being a virtual TA. 

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