As one of her 24 second graders straightened a ruler along yellow construction paper, Elise Oren bent over their desk to help with the student’s block art, a project that uses squares and rectangles to teach math measurements.
Oren, an elementary education major, began student teaching second grade with Johanna Artz at the beginning of February. She started one lesson at a time slowly phasing into what was supposed to become a full day of teaching.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down public schools across South Dakota the week of her classroom takeover.
Oren would never again see the Eugene Field A+ students she spent weeks building trust and respect with, as her student teaching was moved online at the end of March.
But Oren isn’t the only student whose classroom experience moved online, as Governor Kristi Noem recommended April 6 that South Dakota schools should finish the school year online, according to the Argus Leader.
The coronavirus cut short classroom experiences for all senior education students at Augustana. Forced to continue online, but without direct student contact, student teachers miss practical lessons and connection with children, according to Oren.
“I feel like I’m missing out on the big part of student teaching, which is that classroom takeover where I am in charge all day, every day,” Oren said.
As these education seniors leave school sooner than expected, each is planning for teaching positions and tutoring where they can.
Instead of a full school day, students are expected to complete two, 10 minute lessons each weekday.
Oren helps with the online curriculum for science and social studies, compacting environmental issues into 10 minute lessons.
“Honestly, it makes me worried about having a classroom of my own, just because I have not been able to have that full experience,” Oren said.
Oren said she’s worried about not being able to look over students’ work individually and answer their questions. Without teachers doing this, pressure is on parents, many of whom Oren said hold essential jobs at grocery stores or hospitals and cannot teach their child all the time.
Julia Knight, a senior education and Spanish major, is living in Chicago with her oldest cousin to ease those tensions by helping their three children with online learning and tutoring them.
“I feel like I get the best of all worlds because I get elementary, I get to do my student teaching, I get to tutor a highschooler, and now I’m even going to a middle school placement next week,” Knight said.
However, Knight will never meet the students at her second placement at Memorial Middle School teaching Spanish and Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS).
Knight began teaching full days halfway through her second week student teaching Spanish with Brent Jung at Roosevelt High School.
“We co-taught, collaborated and worked together,” Knight said. “That’s kind of what we’re doing now with the online system, is working a lot together.”
Knight said teaching a language is different online. Instead of bringing real food to class to learn vocabulary and create an omlette recipe, Knight is confined to videos.
“It’s more like a skill that they’re learning — to learn another language — instead of exact facts that they can memorize,” Knight said. “[There] just is a lot more to it than we can do online, sadly.”
She said she plans to move to Costa Rica to teach English when the border reopens, saying teaching in another country has always been a goal of hers.
Jacie Rueter, an elementary education major with a minor in K-12 reading and K-12 ENL, was teaching kindergarten at Laura Wilder Elementary when South Dakota public schools moved online. Rueter moved home to Spirit Lake, Iowa, and recently accepted a middle school teaching position at Sibley-Ocheyedan school in Iowa starting next fall.
Before the online switch, Rueter had begun teaching lessons, including having the class create their own “ABC Book” during Dr. Suess week.
“I kept it, and I think it’s pretty memorable because I came up with that idea,” Rueter said.
Rueter said instead of reading and recreating Dr. Seuss’s ABC Book, she reads Froggy books by Jonathan London over Google Hangouts.
“We, as the teacher and student teacher, have been coming up with different little assignments for them to do.”
Rueter said lesson plans include students reading for 10 minutes then telling their parents about the story or acting it out.
“Checking in with them to see if they’re doing okay, just seeing them and being able to be with them is what I miss the most,” Rueter said.
Oren said building relationships and trust with the kids was most important when she started student teaching.
“The students can’t learn if they don’t feel like you care about their needs,” Oren said.
Those connections allow Artz and Oren to transition into a smooth new routine for the children.
“I do miss being in the classroom because I miss those little moments and just some of the things they say,” Oren said. “It’s just tough. I liked being able to see them, and now, we don’t get to see them at all for the rest of the year.”
Oren still lives in Sioux Falls and, in her free time, applies to teaching positions in the surrounding area and tutors students online.
“A big part of being a teacher is being willing to be flexible,” Oren said. “So this experience has taught us that more than anything.”
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