Campus News

UK Student Teachers Experience Teaching Online Amid Coronavirus Closings

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 6, 2020) — When Deandrae White, a music education major, gets up in the mornings, he goes outside to video record lessons for the K-5 students he teaches with Judi Reynolds at Southern Elementary in Lexington.  

White was on his final leg of student teaching when the semester was turned upside down. Kentucky schools, like most across the nation, closed their doors to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Education created back-up plans for student teachers, even when the novel coronavirus still felt like a distant threat.

Now, student teachers are partnering with their mentor teachers, called cooperating teachers, to keep instruction going for students through Kentucky’s nontraditional instruction program. 

“It’s Mr. White here,” White said into the camera during his first video. “I know it’s been a long time and I’m really glad to spend this time with you. One of the things I have just kind of been doing with all this stuff going on is playing music.” 

With drumsticks in hand, he taps out a groove on a white bucket he found at Lowe's. It has a UK blue logo emblazoned on its side. He tells the students they don’t need a bucket, or even to have drumsticks. Two pencils and a bowl would be fine.  

“The rhythm I am going to teach you sounds like this,” he said, smiling into the camera. “I know it seems kind of fast, kind of hard. Listen one more time.” 

He slowly breaks down the groove, showing the right hand’s beat and then the left. As he speeds back up, he presses play on music and tells the kids the beat will make more sense when they hear the song it accompanies. It is “I Wanna Be Like You” from Disney’s "The Jungle Book," a play the students had been rehearsing before the pandemic. 

His professor in the School of Music at UK College of Fine Arts, Martina Vasil, has been impressed by how student teachers have jumped into exploring and creating resources for teaching music online.  

“They are seamlessly adapting the content and their tone of voice and pacing for a variety of age groups — from kindergarten students to fifth graders. Their energy and creativity have inspired me,” Vasil said. 

White said as soon as he sends an idea to his cooperating teacher, she responds, offering encouragement and working with him to refine the idea. He credits Reynolds and Vasil for supporting him through this unexpected learning experience. 

“I think we all have it tough,” White said. “This is unique, but I refuse to let it stop me from learning all I can to help show students music is everywhere. Now is a better time than ever to look for it.” 

While schools were transitioning to at-home instruction, UK faculty created online learning modules for student teachers so they could continue learning. Some have been so successful that faculty plan to continue using them even after the pandemic is no longer a threat. 

“The modules are allowing our students to spend time with quality content that is research-based,” said Joni Meade, a clinical instructor who works with elementary education student teachers. 

“They have had a lot of time to tackle issues such as emotional health, cultural competency, growth mindset and bias. These are topics they encountered in the classroom, and now have had time to read more research and apply it to their classrooms. They have a variety of interests. Some have spent a lot of time on coding, while others have spent more time on literacy, math and use of music in the classroom. The flexibility to work through modules that they see as growth areas has been nice for them.”  

In future semesters, Meade plans to encourage students to complete the Google certifications before the start of student teaching. 

Despite the challenges created by teaching and learning virtually, it has made student teachers appreciative of what they had. Riley Aguiar, an elementary education senior, said the ability to attend school every day can be easily taken for granted.  

“That schedule just abruptly stopped,” she said. “I think the students definitely miss us and we miss them. You know, teachers can be a really good support system for kids.”  

In the meantime, teachers are doing everything they can to continue making a difference in students’ lives.  

“Sometimes those Zoom calls are so good for students, particularly ones who have difficult home lives,” Aguiar said. “It could be the highlight of their day.”

For more stories about student teachers overcoming challenges due to COVID-19 visit https://education.uky.edu/coronavirus-closings-create-new-opportunities-challenges-for-student-teachers/.

Student teacher Deandrae White records a video for students at Southern Elementary in Lexington.
Student teacher and music education student Deandrae White records a video for students at Southern Elementary in Lexington.

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