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COVID-19 Gives Kansas City's Student Teachers A Crash Course In How To Run Online Classrooms

Courtesy of Moriah Stonehocker
Student teacher Moriah Stonehocker says she keeps looking at photos of her fourth grade class, unsure if she'll see them again this school year.

The spring semester is when most soon-to-be educators do their student teaching, but now they’re trying to figure out distance learning even as their own education has been interrupted.

Moriah Stonehocker is in her final semester at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a student teacher at J. A Rogers Elementary in Kansas City Public Schools.

“It's 2 p.m., so I should be at recess right now with my kids, but I'm here at home,” she said last week.

Stonehocker has been with the same class all year, and she said she really misses seeing her fourth graders every day.

“I just love this age because I'm still kinda cool. Not a lot. I'm not super cool,” she said. “I think they're old enough to have a sense of humor that's not just fart jokes.”

Stonehocker’s students are also old enough to notice everything that’s going on right now. In the days leading up to spring break, she said they had a lot of questions about COVID-19. 

“This heightened sense of fear was very prevalent in my classroom, and it was really getting in the way of learning, so we did all this research, what coronavirus is, how can you protect yourself.”

Then KCPS and other metro schools started closing to stop the spread of the virus. Since then, Stonehocker has been able to talk to most of her students’ parents. But actually teaching her students has been a challenge because many of them don’t have computers at home. 

Credit Screenshot
Moriah Stonehocker laughs during a Zoom meeting as she describes how her fourth graders have incredible senses of humor.

"Right now we’re just trying to give them a piece of normal. Trying to send them packets, trying to get them connected on Google classroom, trying to get them their devices,” Stonehocker said. “Even though they can't physically come to school, they can still feel part of the community. They can still feel loved and cared for by myself and other teachers.”

KCPS and other school districts on the Missouri side of the metro are set to reopen April 27, but Stonehocker doubts they’ll actually go back. (Classes in Kansas have already been canceled for the rest of the year.) She hates the thought that she might not see her class again.

Jennifer Waddel, the director of the Institute for Urban Education at UMKC, has heard that from almost all of her student-teachers, not just Stonehocker. 

“The thing I hear the most is how hard it is to not physically be able to be there with their students, but otherwise, they’re really taking this on as a learning challenge,” said Waddell. 

She says with UMKC students teaching all over the metro, their experiences trying to connect with their classes during the shutdown have been as varied as their school districts’ approaches to distance learning.

“So that's anything from fully participating in the lessons that are being delivered online or preparing innovative packets of learning that students can do at home that are beyond the traditional worksheet,” Waddell said.

‘The need to be flexible.’ 

Missouri’s educator preparation programs have been given flexibility from the state to make sure students can graduate this spring and get licensed even though they won’t be in the classroom for several weeks.

University of Missouri College of Education Dean Kathryn Chval isn’t worried about the class of 2020 graduating with enough experience. She says at MU, future teachers start working in educational settings, like tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club, long before they get their own classrooms.

“Back in the day when I was an undergraduate, you had pretty limited field experiences and then went into student teaching for a semester, but it’s very different today where your whole program you’re doing with students, with families, with communities,” Chval said.

Saint Louis University School of Education Dean Gary Ritter said the COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for faculty to model how student teachers should react to the challenges they will inevitably face.

“We're trying to communicate to students throughout the need to be flexible. The need to be compassionate. The need to be understanding,” Ritter said.

Of course, schools of education are still trying to figure things out, just like everyone else. SLU is trying to launch a new Master of Arts in Teaching program for career changers who want to enter the classroom. What that looks like if SLU can’t do face-to-face instruction this summer, Ritter isn’t sure.

But in spite of all the upheaval, student-teachers may actually be better prepared because of COVID-19. Todd Goodson at Kansas State University’s College of Education certainly hopes so. His own daughter is part of the class of 2020.

“When they come out the other side, they’re going to have an unprecedented skillset in online programming in the K-12 environment,” Goodson said. “If we want to see the glass half-full, (those are) skills that will serve them well over their careers that are just beginning.”

An uncertain future 

For now, however, Moriah Stonehocker has paused her job search. 

The UMKC student and aspiring teacher is helping her fourth graders settle into this new reality. And for the first time in her life, her own future feels uncertain. She’s not sure if after all her hard work, there will be a graduation ceremony, let alone if her family will be able to make it to Kansas City from where they live in Seattle, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus.

“I'm a planner, I'm a go-getter. Any wall I've met, I've just bulldozed through it,” Stonehocker said. “But I can't with this. I feel antsy. I want to be in the classroom.”

After she said this, she paused.

“It’s hard,” she said finally. “What this experience has shown me is I don’t think I could do anything else.”

KCUR is licensed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators and is an editorially independent community service of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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