UTEP Student Teachers Help with Shift to Online Ed
Last Updated on April 17, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published April 17, 2020
By Daniel Perez
Good classroom teachers need knowledge, presence and patience. They also need to be adaptable and willing to be team players. This spring, student teachers from The University of Texas at El Paso needed all those attributes to serve their campuses in the face of the coronavirus.
While most of today’s college students are familiar with online learning, each probably will claim – and rightly so – that there is a big difference between taking an online class and leading one. These 121 student teachers assigned to schools across the region needed to draw on whatever limited experiences they had with lesson plans and technology to work alongside their mentor teachers during the spring 2020 semester to craft curriculum that engaged and instructed students from pre-kindergarten through high school.
Several of the student teachers saw this period of transition as another opportunity to learn how to do their jobs differently, but effectively. The new tools and methods created some confusion, but the goal remained the same: educate students. Each day generated a stronger sense of normalcy for administrators, teachers, students and families.
Adan Contreras, a senior applied learning and development major, started as a seventh-grade math teacher Jan. 6, 2020, at Parkland Pre-Engineering Middle School. His face-to-face classes had gone well. He taught geometry and business concepts to about 120 students divided among six classes. When he learned in late March that his campus would switch to online education, he was anxious but ready to move forward because that was what he was trained to do.
“We are taught to keep open minds, to be flexible and collaborate,” Contreras said recently after an online session with some of his students. “We know that as educators, nothing in the classroom will remain set. Change is constant. We learn from the bad as well as the good, and we will use what we learn to help our students.”
He said his department chair asked her teachers during a conference call to share ideas to teach online and to look for possible online education websites. He found an interactive program that would work for students and teachers and suggested it to his mentor teacher, Erica Garcia, who agreed with him. Contreras also helped assemble lesson plans and electronic worksheets.
Garcia, who earned her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from UTEP in 2011, praised Contreras for his contributions and his eagerness to help during this online transition.
His peers Janet Quiroz and Rodolfo “Rudy” Lozano had similar experiences. Both El Paso natives were energized by their jobs. They saw each day as an opportunity to learn more about how different materials presented in diverse ways could influence students. When told about the planned change to an online education system, both leaned on their own distance learning experiences as well as their UTEP education. Both agreed that the situation had challenged them, but that their focus remained with the students.
Quiroz, a member of UTEP’s inaugural yearlong Miner Student Teacher Residency Program, started in August 2019 as a fourth-grade dual language student teacher at Mesita Elementary School. She said that she was confident about her ability to assist with the transition because she had learned about technology integration and online resources through her teacher preparation courses. The senior interdisciplinary studies major said she has continued to assist where possible with online education from posts of science assignments to participation in the virtual classes. She continues to search for online resources and activities that will better engage students.
“Seeing how we (teachers) can adapt to new circumstances from one day to another, it is very motivational and inspiring,” Quiroz said.
Lozano, a senior history major, started his student teaching job at Canutillo High School on Jan. 6. He helped teach 10th grade world geography. By mid-March, his supervisors alerted him to the planned change to distance learning. His duties included preparation of online lesson plans for his cooperating teacher, Anthony Lopez. Since the resumption of classes, he has helped to grade online assignments.
Lopez, a retired soldier, has taught at Canutillo for three years. He praised Lozano for his assistance with the lesson plans and for his participation in online class conferences, where he interacts with students to ensure that they understand the academic material. They are responsible for about 180 students divided among six classes.
Erika Mein, Ph.D., associate dean of undergraduate studies and educator preparation and associate professor of literacy/biliteracy education, said that the college was pleased with the initiative that its student teachers have demonstrated to maintain virtual communication with their mentor teachers and their students, as well as how they learned new platforms to teach students such as Nearpod, Schoology and Google Classroom.
She added that the situation also led UTEP faculty members to convert their courses to remote/online delivery, and to learn new course tools such as Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate to interact with and support their students. It also caused the college to form a virtual faculty learning community focused on the integration of fundamental clinical practices into online teacher preparation courses.
“This is a process of change, adaptation and learning to continue to meet the needs of our students and to continue to uphold the high standard of quality in the preparation of teachers for our region and beyond,” Mein said.