Alumni stay on board to host English education majors to complete student teaching placements

Roger Coda
teacher at computer

Alumnus Justin DiLoro, a cooperating teacher at West Seneca West Senior High School, flanked by computers.

Seniors majoring in English: Adolescence Education at Fredonia are completing their student teaching placements in Western New York schools on schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to Fredonia alumni who didn’t want to see them miss out on their student teaching experiences.

Like teachers at every level, these five students and their cooperating teachers have pivoted to a virtual learning model for the students’ fourth quarter placements, which began March 16 – around the time public school buildings were closed to students.

Alumni who stepped up to the plate, either confirming student-teacher placements or offering to fill a newly created void – include Matthew Hewitt, Jennifer Hewitt, Cara Abbey, Elizabeth Abbey and Justin DiLoro. A sixth cooperating teacher, Bella Zuroski, a middle school colleague of Ms. Abbey, offered to take a student teacher when there was a need for another middle school placement.

Four of the five English Education placements are in the Maple Grove School District, the fifth is the West Seneca Central School District, near Buffalo.

“When the news rolled out that schools will not be meeting face-to-face until at least after the April break or through the end of the school year, Maple Grove contacted the Office of Field Experiences, offering to still work with the student teachers who were scheduled to be there for their fourth quarter placement,” said Associate Professor Ann Siegle Drege, who is the English Education coordinator.

“Most of the cooperating teachers are SUNY Fredonia English Education alumni who didn’t want student teachers to be left in the lurch and unable to complete the requisite number of days in the classroom required for licensure,”

Dr. Ann Siegle Drege

“Most of the cooperating teachers are SUNY Fredonia English Education alumni who didn’t want student teachers to be left in the lurch and unable to complete the requisite number of days in the classroom required for licensure,” Dr. Siegle Drege said.

Associate Professor Susan Spangler and Siegle Drege, who are English: Adolescence Education supervisors, set up three-way meetings with each student teacher and cooperating teacher to help think through how a virtual student-teaching experience might work.

Ms. Hewitt and Mr. DiLoro had in-person meetings last fall with their prospective student-teachers, while the three others, Mr. Hewitt, Ms. Abbey and Ms. Zuroski got to know their student teachers through Zoom sessions and email.

It wasn’t a given that all fourth-quarter placements, set to end on May 14, would be undertaken. Cooperating teachers could have declined with all that was happening with the shift to distance learning, Siege Drege acknowledged, but they stayed on board. Third-quarter student-teaching placements were over before COVID-19 restrictions were put into place.

“I feel indebted to the Department of English at SUNY Fredonia. They guided me on this path, especially Dr. Patrick L. Courts and Dr. Joan Burke (both emeritus); and I only hope I can give a prospective teacher a fraction of the guidance these two gave to me.”

Matthew Hewitt, ’02, ’99

“The reason I stepped forward is simple,” said Matthew Hewitt (M.A. ’02, B.A. ’99). “I feel indebted to the Department of English at SUNY Fredonia. They guided me on this path, especially Dr. Patrick L. Courts and Dr. Joan Burke (both emeritus); and I only hope I can give a prospective teacher a fraction of the guidance these two gave to me.”

Jennifer Hewitt (M.A., '09, B.A. '97) also high school English, Cara Abbey and Zuroski, both middle school English at Maple Grove, and DiLoro, English, West Seneca West Senior High School, all wanted to support current students in this unsettled time, Siegle Drege said.

Zoom sessions key tool in online teaching

Like many Americans, cooperating teachers and student teachers are working remotely. Each classroom is a little different in how they are navigating lessons, the material, and student participation, Siegle Drege noted.

“Depending on their school situations, student teachers are leading live Zoom lessons with students, conducting Zoom conferences to discuss grading student work, responding to student writing, and creating materials for students as they read ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ or ‘Romeo & Juliet,’” Siegle Drege said.

Cara Abbey (M.A. ’12, B.A. ’09) and Zuroski are the designated cooperating teachers of Miquela Chudy and Caitlyn Cadwallader and are joined by Elizabeth Abbey (M.A. ’08, B.A. ’06, ’99). All three teach English Language Arts in Maple Grove at the middle-school level; each is assigned to one section in each grade, so they all work with both student teachers.

“I remember clearly how stressful and exciting student teaching was for me, so when asked to help someone else during this pandemic, my team and I didn’t even hesitate to take on a student teacher,”

Elizabeth Abbey, ’08, ’06, ’99

“I remember clearly how stressful and exciting student teaching was for me, so when asked to help someone else during this pandemic, my team and I didn’t even hesitate to take on a student teacher,” Elizabeth Abbey said.

As a team of five, cooperating teachers and student teachers meet with students using Zoom, prepare prerecorded mini-lessons and communicate with students electronically. “These ladies have done a remarkable job providing feedback and suggestions to our students on how to improve their writing and analysis of texts,” Elizabeth Abbey said.

Cara Abbey indicated everyone is learning how to adapt during this unprecedented time. “It seems like each week something new happens to which we have to learn how to respond. None of us have ever taught in these ways before so it is a new experience for all of us.”

While teaching remotely is a new experience, Cara Abbey said student teachers are also “learning the ropes” of a middle school classroom, grades 6 to 8. It lets them see the scope of reading and writing abilities across an entire middle school.

“As someone who experienced student teaching, which can already be such a challenging time, I felt the urge to help these two women have as positive and 'normal' of an experience as possible for their second placement,” Zuroski said. “As a team, Cara, Elizabeth, and I were also eager to work with these student teachers because the three of us have such a strong support network together as colleagues, which we knew would help one another as well as Caitlyn and Miquela through this process.”

One of Zuroski’s favorite moments so far has been all getting on Zoom together and recording performances of the play version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” that their 8th graders can watch and listen to as they read the play.

“Although this is a challenging time to be a student teacher, I am confident that it is also a time in which student teachers have the opportunity to learn so much,” Zuroski said. “All teachers are currently going through the process of re-learning how to do their jobs all over again under unprecedented circumstances, so we are learning right alongside our student teachers.”

Cara Abbey volunteered to host a student teacher during the coronavirus pandemic because there was a need, and it gave her another teacher to bounce ideas around with during such an unexpected time. “No one knows exactly what to do right now – we’re all trying to learn how to navigate together. I’m learning from my student teacher in the same way I hope she’s learning from me.”

Both student teachers posted videos introducing themselves to their students on the school’s Google Classroom pages. Cooperating teachers and student teachers meet multiple times a week to plan content, pre-record lessons to post for students and discuss grading and giving feedback on student work.

“The teachers I am working with always work together whether they are outside the classroom or not, so they have worked together to create three separate units for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. They do this by creating what they call ‘hyper docs’ which are Google slides with links to different readings, poems, videos and any other materials needed for that day’s lesson,” Ms. Chudy explained.

“We have been making a lot of videos with screen sharing of us teachers reading to students so they can follow along. We’ve made videos explaining their work as well so they can understand better and have not only written directions to read, but also auditory directions to help them,” Chudy said.

Remote learning not without challenges

DiLoro (M.A. ’06, B.A. ’04), who is working with Jack Rosen in freshman English classes at West Seneca West Senior High School, acknowledges the student-teacher experience “has been a unique one, to say the least.” Remote learning experiences make this a bit more challenging, as it takes a bit longer to communicate ideas via e-mail, phone calls, text messages, and Google Classroom, DiLoro said. “However, those messages are still getting through, allowing us to create effective materials for students to complete.”

The biggest drawback of the remote learning experience is that student teachers do not get to hone their class management craft, DiLoro said. They don’t receive the immediacy of responding to students’ needs in real-time. “Nevertheless, they can still hone many other skills. Student teachers can craft materials, evaluate work, provide feedback and revise lessons for future instruction,” DiLoro said. “This is a valuable instructional loop.”

“If a student teacher can work through this seemingly disruptive time in education and get students to learn at a high level, then he/she has an inside track to further create meaningful lessons in all contexts,”

Justin DiLoro, ’06, ’04

Teachers must have the ability to adapt to the needs of students. A student teacher can review assignments and adapt additional materials to help students meet learning goals for the course. It is valuable for a student teacher to address this issue, DiLoro said. “If a student teacher can work through this seemingly disruptive time in education and get students to learn at a high level, then he/she has an inside track to further create meaningful lessons in all contexts.”

These times are very uncertain, and education and some alterations will probably be made in education, DiLoro observed, “but that’s why we become enamored with this profession. It’s a challenging time, but education is a challenging profession. Nevertheless, the payoff of aiding preservice educators in finding their power and voice for their craft is extraordinary.”

Mr. Rosen, who had the opportunity to spend a week teaching a unit in a DiLoro class last fall, prepares lesson plans for his cooperating teacher. Rosen incorporates activities that will be fun for students when he can in his lessons. He also provides guided questions to assist students in their reading assignments and reviews their work.

Matthew Hewitt indicated the transition has been difficult for everyone, but his student teacher, Brianna Thompson, is working quite hard in trying to establish a connection with students. The biggest hurdle in this adjustment is not having students physically present, so interpersonal relationships, which are paramount in teaching, suffer in a virtual setting, Mr. Hewitt said.

teacher at desk
Matthew Hewitt, English teacher at Maple Grove, cooperating teacher and a Fredonia graduate.

Mr. Hewitt is nonetheless impressed with his student teacher’s ability to adapt to a difficult situation and is pleased with the content she is displaying. She is currently teaching a unit on environmental literature to 10th grade English students through Zoom sessions and Edmodo.com.

Jennifer Hewitt (M.A. ’09, B.A. 97) corresponded regularly with her student teacher, Kylie Kittner, through email, but once everything changed, initiated Zoom meetings to discuss their plans for classroom instruction.

Ms. Kittner provides English instruction to 9th grade students through Zoom and Google Classroom, Ms. Hewitt said. “Just as expected she would, she is doing an outstanding job, even under these very unusual circumstances.”

Ms. Hewitt indicated that Fredonia, which she said provided her with an exemplary education, holds a special place in her heart, and by serving as a cooperating teacher for many years, she sees that Fredonia continues to provide a high standard of learning. It’s also where she met her husband.

“We recognize that the school serves as an invaluable resource to the community, and we are quick to support it,” Ms. Hewitt said. She chose to step forward to serve as a cooperating teacher in these circumstances for many reasons.

Student teachers show they can adapt

Ms. Kittner said almost everybody is facing the same challenges. “We are all trying to navigate a digital teaching world, so everyone, especially my cooperating teacher, has been extremely patient,” she said. In Zoom meetings held three times a week, Kittner and Ms. Hewitt discuss reading assignments and the reading itself. Kittner senses that students miss being academically challenged, so participation in their Zoom meetings is incredibly high.

Reflecting on the exchange of in-classroom teaching for digital teaching, Kittner believes student teachers are demonstrating that they can adjust quickly and work to keep students engaged in learning.

“Someone whose student teaching experience has taken place during this pandemic will certainly be ready to face anything that gets thrown at them while teaching,”

Bella Zuroski

“Someone whose student teaching experience has taken place during this pandemic will certainly be ready to face anything that gets thrown at them while teaching,” Zuroski said. “Adaptability, resilience, flexibility, communication, patience, and persistence are all traits that are all vital right now as an educator.

“Most of all, I think this time reminds me as a teacher what I love most about my job – the relationships I form with students,” Zuroski said.

Siegle Drege also believes Fredonia student teachers are benefitting from their experiences.

“This is a valuable experience for our student teachers because this is what education looks like in this moment. The student teachers are able to participate in how this is unfolding for teachers and students. There are challenges and many dynamics that inform student learning and our student teachers are a part of helping figure this out,” Siegle Drege said.

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