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Lessons Learned From Starting a Teaching Career In a Pandemic

by Lynn Burdick with the Communications Office / May 27, 2021

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The College's cohort of 2020 Elementary Education graduates began their teaching careers during this most unusual, pandemic-affected school year. Six of these first-year teachers have kept in touch with Lynn Burdick, ElEd program coordinator, over the past year through regular Zoom gatherings. During these informal conversations, the alumni talked about the ups and downs of their first-year experience:

Describe some of the challenges these first-year teachers encountered.

Lynn Burdick: The remote instructional configuration made establishing relationships with their students more challenging. An online learning environment often filled with toys, siblings, and other distractions—coupled with varied levels of parental support—sometimes impacted the success of their online instruction. The teachers described their challenges providing effective, differentiated instruction and assessments that measured and met the needs of all their students.

In the pandemic environment, traditional first-year induction and support for these brand-new teachers was somewhat inconsistent. There were times when the challenges of the year affected their wellbeing and blurred their work-life balance. They all experienced feelings of stress, frustration, and uncertainty at various points during the year.

How did these teachers handle these difficult circumstances?

LB: Through it all, these teachers have come up with the most amazing strategies to keep their own spirits high and their students happy and engaged in learning. Teachers worked to develop relationships with their students through remote “lunch with the teacher” and daily community-building activities to address students’ social-emotional needs. The group described endless creative supports and accommodations they designed for all students, including students with disabilities.

These alumni shared with me that because their student teaching experience turned fully remote midway through the Spring 2020 semester, in many cases, this made them resident experts in online learning. They talked about taking advantage of the features of video conferencing platforms for differentiation, using break-out rooms to address varied student needs, even designing learning centers and rotations in Zoom using multiple computers. One teacher even used Zoom while teaching in-person to facilitate small group work with social distancing constraints.

What stood out to you most during your conversations with these first-year teachers?

LB: The thing that was most amazing during our conversations was that every one of these alumni smiled as they talked about their students and their first-year experience. One teacher even said that although the year was full of challenges, she doesn’t want it to end.

Congratulations to all our first-year teachers for surviving and truly thriving during a very difficult school year!