Learning to Teach During Uncertain Times - National Council of Teachers of English
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Learning to Teach During Uncertain Times

This post was written by NCTE member Elizabeth Morphis. Her article “The Journey to Teacher: Facilitating Communication Skills in Preservice Teachers to Build Trust, Learn about Students, and Create Literacy Lessons,” appeared in the February 2020 issue of English Language Quarterly.


“How are we going to learn to teach reading and writing if everything shuts down?”

I am a teacher educator who works with preservice teachers before they begin their semester of student teaching. I teach a clinically-rich literacy methods course, which means that the preservice teacher and I meet at a local elementary school and, for the first hour of the course, the preservice teachers work with elementary students.

Specifically, the preservice teachers are responsible for planning reading and writing lessons and then implementing the lessons with the child partner they are assigned to work with for the semester. This course is important for the preservice teachers because they are working in a school, with teachers and children, prior to student teaching, when the stakes are higher. They receive consistent feedback, primarily from me, but also from classroom teachers, on the lesson plans they write as well as on their teaching.

While the goal of this course has been to prepare preservice teachers for the role and responsibilities they will assume during student teaching, and this past semester, it looked a bit different. March 10, 2020, was the last day that the preservice teachers and I met at the elementary school, and the question the students wanted me to answer was, “How are we going to learn to teach reading and writing if everything shuts down?”

This question has continued to stick with me, even as the semester ends and preservice teachers who are entering methods courses and student teaching are facing uncertainty about what schools will look like in the fall.

I’d like to share three pieces of advice for learning to teach during these times.

First, consider this an opportunity to learn new skills and technology that may need to be utilized during student teaching. Currently, there are online trainings for programs that preservice teachers can take either for free or for a fee that will earn them a certification. Two popular online trainings that my students have been signing up for are: Edpuzzle and edX.

Through the courses, the students are learning to build online content so that they can be prepared if there is a component of remote instruction in the fall. By learning what platforms are available, the preservice teachers are being proactive, which is reducing their anxiety about the uncertainty of the fall and building their knowledge of how to teach reading and writing remotely.

Building on the idea of learning new remote teaching skills, I recommend learning how to build digital libraries for students. My former students who completed their student teaching this spring used Google and YouTube to create virtual libraries for the elementary students. In addition, they created videos of themselves conducting read-alouds for the elementary students to watch on their own time. They shared that the children and parents found these pre-recorded videos to be a huge positive because children felt connected to the teacher and the videos could be watched multiple times.

So my suggestion is to continue to read books that would interest students and get familiar with creating videos of yourself reading the books. Think about how you would introduce the book to the students, practice reading the book, pausing at particular points to engage the students, and include your own thinking about what is happening in the book.

Finally, shorten your planning window. The future is uncertain right now. Teachers, students, and parents across the country are not sure what school will look like in the fall. In addition to working with preservice teachers in schools, I am also the parent of a rising kindergartener. In order to manage the uncertainty of what school will look like for my daughter, I have decided to look ahead two weeks at a time and plan just for those weeks.

It may not be a technique that works for everyone, but I find that as developments happen so quickly, it is one way to plan without becoming overwhelmed with the unknown.



Elizabeth Morphis is an assistant professor of Childhood and Literacy Education at SUNY College at Old Westbury, where she is currently teaching undergraduate and graduate literacy courses. She enjoys seeing her students discover creative ways to engage elementary students in reading and writing.



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