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COVID-19 has forced educators to say goodbye to their classrooms and embrace adapting their pedagogy to online formats overnight. They have learned new technology, found creative ways to engage students remotely, and most importantly, kept education moving forward. The current public health crisis has placed a well-deserved spotlight on teachers. As parents struggle to balance work, supervise virtual classrooms, and co-educate their children, a new awareness and appreciation for the influence, power, and value of great teachers has emerged.
We have all read headlines about COVID-19’s drastic impact on the education system. We have seen firsthand the pandemic’s sweeping effect on our education institutions and students. And we have all been challenged to find remote learning opportunities that ensure teacher candidates are well-prepared to enter their own classrooms—whether in-person, hybrid, or virtual. While the hurdles we face are multidimensional, overcoming them is essential. To quote Linda Darling-Hammond, “If you don’t have a strong supply of well-prepared teachers, nothing else in education can work.”
Why we must move forward
Instability in the teacher corps due to COVID-19 has many consequences. According to a recent USA TODAY/Ipsos poll, one in five teachers stated that if their school reopens this fall, they are unlikely to return. We need to prepare for a potential wave of teacher resignations due to health concerns, early retirement eligibility, and trepidations of teaching in a virtual environment. The current shortage of teachers, combined with mass resignations, could put the educator pipeline at even greater risk. Not having enough teachers in our districts and schools reduces classroom effectiveness and compromises our students’ abilities to learn and achieve in high-quality environments. Without a strong supply of well-prepared teachers, the teaching profession cannot renew and improve, and the poverty, equity, and opportunity gaps that many of our children experience will become more profound. And as PK-12 districts face complex pressures to safely and effectively educate children and reassure parents and families, a school’s capacity to host clinical experiences for teacher candidates is fragile even as we are long-standing and supportive partners in the preparation of new teachers.
AACTE’s mission of elevating the profession, advocating for high quality programs, and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion is critically important during this challenging time. As we adjust to the new paradigm of education in the COVID-19 era, our mission to prepare high-quality teacher candidates who are profession ready for the 21st century learner has never been more vital. As teacher preparation educators, the pandemic challenges us to adjust our pedagogy to a remote format. An essential part of educating our candidates in 21st century learning skills involves teaching critical thinking, effective communication, digital learning, agility and resiliency, and the importance of being a change agent working in teams. We want teacher candidates to take the knowledge in their programs and clinical experiences in PK-12 schools with all children and apply these in practice to improve the precious present and transform the future.
How we move forward
While online learning environments can be engaging and collaborative, they often lack real-world practice and problem-based learning experiences such as planning and delivering instruction, managing student behavior, employing culturally responsive teaching, and differentiating teaching techniques for children with ESL backgrounds and special needs. As a result of school closures, teacher candidates are missing out on their crucial in-person field experience, the school-based part of teacher education where our candidates are learning from their mentor teachers, cooperating teachers, principals, school counselors, and parents and families. Good leaders embrace challenges and find ways to overcome them. To address clinical practice challenges, AACTE is collaborating with Mursion, a provider of experiential learning through simulations. The virtual reality technology offers access to field-tested classroom simulations, which provide evidence-based results for improving skills essential to working with human development. The collaboration provides teacher candidates an opportunity to complete clinical field experiences remotely without compromising their health and safety.
Individual state agencies are also addressing the adverse effect the current health crisis has had on clinical practice. Some states are waiving or modifying field experience requirements, and in some cases providing temporary certificates or certificate extensions to students who have completed all requirements except for state certification examinations. As educators, our mission has been, and will continue to be during the COVID-19 era and beyond, to ensure our nation has a strong supply of well-prepared teachers. Not having enough qualified teachers harms students, the public education system, the education workforce and schools, and our society as a whole. We need a highly-qualified teacher in every classroom because that’s what every student deserves.
Ann Elisabeth Larson, professor and special assistant to the president, University of Louisville, is the AACTE Chair of the Board of Directors.