When students decided to enroll in the College of Education at University of Findlay with dreams of becoming teachers, it’s hard to imagine that they had any inkling of the current situation in which we’ve found ourselves. Not being in the classroom to give and watch lessons directly is one of the many changes that COE students, student teachers, and classroom observers have had to endure and make sense out of recently. But from challenges come successes, and UF’s future educators are getting a lesson of their own in how to overcome adversity within their profession.
Just as there is still plenty to do for the area’s teachers during Ohio’s stay-at-home order, there is much to do – and learn – for those whose goal is to one day become one of them. According to Julie D. McIntosh, Ed.D. dean of the College of Education at UF, graduate students are busy creating training guides to assist those for whom current ways and means might be a bit overwhelming. When educators are forced to search for assistance in areas where they might not be overly confident (perhaps brand-new teachers or even those who have taught for years using tried-and-true methods every year) it’s important to have a path to success and a light to show the way along it. Dolores Swineford, UF doctoral candidate and assistant superintendent/curriculum director at Evergreen Local Schools in Metamora, Ohio, took the opportunity to be one of those lights when she co-created a document with Sheri Steyer, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Defiance City Schools in Ohio. The project highlights the various online learning resources available for educators and has handy links to sites for everything from accessing WiFi to finding books, teaching plans, and advice. Swineford explained that she felt a tremendous need for the resource list because teachers are being asked to create lessons like they had never done before, with very limited training. “We are all in this together, therefore, I want to support our teachers in creating engaging digital lessons for our students,” she added.
It’s clear that when it comes to technological savvy and preparedness, among other attributes, UF education students are well-equipped. Bluffton High School social studies teacher and UF alumnus Nick Rackley ’14 said that student teacher Sam Warye has helped immensely with fielding questions, grading, and emailing all the students while conducting live lectures and recordings for class participation. “Sam’s familiarity with technology and Google Classroom were instrumental in helping move our integrated in-person class to a complete online learning platform within a matter of hours after we were notified of the transition,” Rackley explained. “This also helped to facilitate my ability to assist other teachers and colleagues. In short, we gained valuable training and man hours to help get our district ready for distance learning due to Sam’s competence and leadership skills.”
It was one UF education student’s creativity within teaching that has given the classroom the boost it needed during the virtual learning shift. Findlay City Schools math teacher Shelly Gilbert explained that pre-professional block student Alivia Olson has not only been helping her navigate the cyber-world, but she has also been a hub of creativity, too. Olson, she said, created a video assignment that the middle school students in Gilbert’s class had great success with. “She knew more about creating video lessons than I did when we went to distance learning,” said Gilbert. “She created an amazing video on function tables; the students enjoyed hearing her voice, and did really well with the embedded problems.” Gilbert went on to say that the assessment she used to check student understanding of function tables proved that the work they did through Olson’s video was valuable. Olson said that she’d been looking forward to the semester because it was her first opportunity to create and implement lessons and assist in a real classroom setting. To that point, she had practiced creating lesson plans but not implementing them. The sixth-grade math classroom at Donnell Middle School where she was placed with Gilbert, however, was empty only eight days after her arrival, when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced schools would be closing.
“I wanted to get the best experience I could, so I volunteered for whatever the need would be,” Olson explained. “I was able to explore recording techniques, embedding questions, and the ability to track students’ progress online. This unique experience has helped me learn new tools and confirm my desire to teach even in challenging times.”
Another Findlay City Schools teacher, Mark Shively, shared that UF student teacher Hailey Priest deserves recognition and accolades. “Ms. Priest really helped me and our classes by creating a morale booster for us in the form of a ‘hunt,’” said Shively. “She created a very impressive video where she goes on a successful dinosaur hunt in full hunter’s garb. So many students and adults told me how much they laughed at that and it gave them a smile for the day.” Some students decided to accept the challenge and go on their own hunt, which they then shared with the classes. “This is a nice example of where Ms. Priest shines. She just isn’t teaching, she is building relationships and connections that address the whole child and not just the academics,” Shively continued.
Through the mandated school closure, Swineford said she has learned to look for the positives from a challenging situation. Students, she explained, can sense educators’ anxiety, so the focus must be on the positive and centered in a calm and flexible manner. Thanks to UF’s COE program, the instructors within it, and the students, whether early in their academia, or building on their already successful teaching career, this can no doubt be achieved on the way to more successes celebrated and challenges met.