For most USD students, their last year of college is spent on campus making final memories on campus and in Vermillion before they prepare for life after graduation. Education majors, however, spend their last year off-campus in a year-long teaching residency.
The USD School of Education partners with surrounding school districts to provide students the opportunity to co-teach and get hands-on classroom experience.
Robin Wiebers, interim associate dean for the School of Education, said the school of ed adapted the co-teaching model around 10 years ago. When a student becomes a teacher-candidate and gets placed in a school district, Wiebers said they are treated as an employee of that district.
“They are just part of the school district. They really are there to support teachers as young educators within the school district,” Wiebers said. “Just anything that needs (to be done) they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and help. And I’m so proud of our seniors.”
This year with COVID-19, Wieber said some teacher candidates have had to sub for other teachers in their districts. Others, she said, have been there to support fellow teachers who are trying to transition to online learning.
Wiebers said having the partnership already established with the school districts made the transition to COVID learning easier for both sides of the partnership.
“Our students are valuable and helpful, even before they’re certified to be teachers, they’re able to be part of a school district and understand how important the teaching field is,” Wiebers said. “I truly believe teachers working together and supporting each other (especially now) make all the difference.”
Lexie Ellerbeck is a senior French education major and has been teaching French in the Omaha School District. Ellerbeck said her experience as a teacher candidate has been interesting as she has been teaching a foreign language to her students all over Zoom.
The teachers in Omaha are in the building, Ellerbeck said, but all her students are at home.
“It’s definitely been interesting,” Ellerbeck said. “Trying to create relationships with students when it’s at a distance and also not knowing if students understand the concept.”
On top of the regular communication barriers of Zoom, Ellerbeck said, there is also a language barrier.
As a French teacher, Ellerbeck is expected to speak in French for 90% of the class period. Making sure students are able to keep up with the information and understand her speaking in another language while not being able to be with her students, she said, has been very challenging.
“I do quite a few more checks for understanding during class too,” Ellerbeck said. “I say ‘I’m saying all these things, and we’re going through this concept, but do you actually understand it if you apply it?’ I could talk for hours in French and the students could not understand a word I’m saying, so I made sure to do check-ups regularly.”
Ellerbeck said right now the plan is to have all her students back in the classroom next month.
While teaching in the Wagner school district, Cassity Kerner, a senior English education major, has been in the classroom with her students all year.
Kerner said despite the circumstances with COVID-19, her teaching residency has gone a lot smoother than she anticipated. Her district allowed students to choose if they wanted to be in person for school or go fully online.
“That makes it a little bit difficult because in a sense it’s almost as if we’re teaching two separate classes in one class,” Kerner said. “We have certain seventh-graders online and certain seventh-graders that would ideally be in that same class face-to-face. So we have to modify how we teach in-person students and online students.”
Kerner said jumping into co-teaching this semester has been challenging, especially after the abrupt change in classes last semester. Despite the challenges, she said her experience has been great and ensured she is going into the right profession.
Growing up, Kerner said, she always played school with her siblings and just loved learning. Now, she said, she is able to take that passion she has always had and made it a career.
“Even though there’s so much going on and I’m so busy with college classes, lesson planning and grading — I still wake up every morning looking forward to seeing my kids,” Kerner said. “If this wasn’t what I knew I wanted to do, I don’t think I would have that feeling every day.”
Wieber said every year she is proud of the teaching candidates and this year is no different. She said she admires their passion and willingness to learn and help other teachers in this challenging time.
“I just really do have the highest admiration for candidates that are out there because they are working alongside the teachers and doing some really great things,” Wieber said. “This too shall pass. Hang on. I am looking forward to seeing the students make every child feel special, even in these times.”