For Trevecca education major Anna Cawthorne, field experiences have looked a little different during COVID-19.
“This year, I’ve been in a virtual kindergarten class,” Cawthorne said. “I learned so much, especially how the teacher had to work to still teach [despite distractions outside her control].”
Cawthorne is majoring in elementary education with a minor in math education. Field experiences have been a part of her Trevecca education since the beginning. During her freshman year, Cawthorne spent time in a self-contained sixth-grade classroom at Meigs Middle School in Nashville.
With both in-person and remote learning field experiences under her belt, Cawthorne is simply thankful for the opportunity to learn by doing.
“Some of my friends are education majors at other schools, and they don’t do field experiences as early as us,” Cawthorne said. “Requiring us to go into schools [for observation and learning] is so helpful. Being exposed to teaching is one of the best ways that you’re going to learn to be a teacher, if not the best.”
Field experiences are a vital part of Trevecca’s education curriculum, says Dr. Marcia Walker, coordinator of clinical practices and field experiences for Trevecca’s School of Education. From observation hours to student teaching, field experiences help students prepare for their future careers while gaining real-world classroom experience.
And while the pandemic may have changed the way field experiences look, it hasn’t changed their value.
“Field experiences afford our candidates the chance to experience the responsibilities of a teacher,” Walker said. “These experiences include tasks such as instructing individual, small group, and whole groups of students. Field experiences also grant our candidates the possibility of executing their classroom teacher mentors' duties and preparing instructional materials for the students.
Dr. Amy Conditt agreed.
“We really try to give our students a diverse experience,” she said. “We want them to be exposed to everything—affluent districts, rural districts, English as a second language, inner-city schools,” Conditt said. “We really do try to walk the talk and be partners with our schools, and one of the ways we do that is through our field experiences.”
Students start their field experiences early in Trevecca’s education curriculum, Conditt says. From classroom observation to building lesson plans with cooperating teachers and more, Trevecca teacher candidates complete a minimum of 100-160 hours of field experiences prior to student teaching, Conditt estimates.
“We get students into the classroom early on,” Conditt said. “I see this from the perspective of a mother with girls in college. [Our candidates] are exposed to the classroom early on and can determine if this is what they want to do for the rest of their lives.”
Field experiences during COVID-19 do look a little different, Conditt and Walker said. While some education students have proceeded with in-person observation and student teaching, others have gained hands-on experience with remote or online instruction. During the Fall 2020 semester, Conditt was teaching a course on curriculum development, which included 30 hours of observation and required students to teach lessons they have developed.
“My students go to Metro Nashville Public Schools for these particular placements, and they were entirely remote,” Conditt said. “So we contacted teachers and asked them to give us the curriculum and standards they needed to teach. Then our students collaborated with the teacher to design a lesson and taped themselves teaching that lesson. The cooperating teacher could then use that lesson on his or her online platform.”
Cawthorne says that her field experiences have all been valuable to her training as an educator, but teaching kindergartens in a remote instruction setting did force her to think creatively.
“I think it’s really important with kindergarteners—to not just have them sitting down in front of a screen all the time, but finding ways for them to move and engage with learning,” she said. “I taught three lessons and it was challenging because I had to think of things they might have at home to use as manipulatives, like counting pencils or markers.”
In addition, Cawthorne says she’s also gained experience with various online teaching platforms and remote teaching philosophies.
“This experience has taught me about making videos and what platforms to use for making a video,” Cawthorne said. “We’ve learned how to make our remote lessons accessible to students and how to make accommodations for students who might need to watch the video again or might have trouble reading. You really learn how to be engaging, which is good whether you’re on a screen or in person.”
That’s all part of the goal of the School of Education’s curriculum, Walker says.
“While our courses and coursework prepare our candidates for the classroom, there is no replacement or substitute for real classroom contexts,” Walker said. “Field experiences are a crucial part of our program at all levels—they afford our candidates the chance to experience the responsibilities of a teacher.”
Learn more about the programs Trevecca’s School of Education has to offer.