Heading into the 2020-2021 academic year it was unclear what placements might look like for teacher candidates. As school boards worked tirelessly to prepare for incoming students, teacher candidates eagerly awaited to find out whether they would be teaching in-person, virtually, or at all. Recognizing the challenges that all of those in education were facing, the School of Education quickly pivoted to create a space for a small group of teacher candidates (TCs) for whom teaching placements could not be secured.
Speaking about the program, instructor and Trent Virtual School of Education (TVSoE) coordinator Lloyd Schoenmaker explains, “The vision for the TVSoE placement was to provide TCs with practical experiences in lesson planning and lesson delivery in an online, micro-teaching setting by creating the environment and structure for delivering lessons to peers. Because we anticipate that our teacher candidates will be teaching in-person post pandemic, the goal was that the skills and resources that were acquired, would be transferable between an online (synchronous and asynchronous) setting to an in-person, classroom setting.”
Teacher candidates were assigned teaching responsibilities within a grade 3 – 8 virtual school setting based on their stream and their interest. Five micro-teaching groups, of seven or eight teacher candidates were created to represent TCs assigned to grades 3 – 8.
Building a community of learning
Though the TVSoE placement was not something that teacher candidates would have envisioned prior to joining the program, the experience was very rich in both learning and community building. First-year TC Andrea Houssin spoke about her experience as one of high quality. “I left the Trent Virtual School with a bank of high quality, peer-reviewed lessons, and a swath of digital knowledge I didn’t have before. I feel ready to confidently deliver these lessons in future placements. Best of all, I got to engage in and review my peers’ lessons while witnessing the growth in confidence and practice of my peers.”
In a similar position, having not yet taken part in any in-person teaching placements, first-year TC India Boudreau felt the experience provided her with the curriculum and content knowledge she needed, along with a greater sense of community. “The virtual school placement allowed TCs to get comfortable navigating curriculum documents in a low pressure setting. As a result of this, I felt more comfortable taking risks and teaching in ways that I would have considered 'out of my comfort zone' in an actual classroom setting” Ms. Boudreau said. “Without the virtual school, I wouldn't have met the seven other members of my teaching group. I felt and still feel, so much support from them. For me, forming these friendships was the highlight of the virtual school placement.”
Become more resilient and adaptive
Like many educators, being thrust into an online setting was new, with its own set of challenges. As a second-year TC with in-person placement experiences, Ace Reynolds was grateful for the opportunity to build his virtual skills. “These workshops paired with numerous teaching opportunities helped me overcome my apprehensions about virtual education. While I still have much to learn, I am now confident enough in my application of technology, and I feel much more prepared to take on a real remote teaching position in the future.”
Of the many positive outcomes of this program, School of Education acting dean, Claire Mooney maintains the message they have been sharing with its TCs since day one: “Having gone through the challenges of teaching and learning during a pandemic, especially in a virtual capacity, we are all more well-rounded and resilient educators who will adapt and thrive. We know we will be faced with this situation again as the academic year progresses; this experience means we are very well prepared to face it again next semester and at any point in the future.”
The School of Education would like to thank Lloyd Shoemaker for his leadership, along with additional support from instructors Alison Webb, Karin Schmidlechner, and Brenda Schepper in making this placement such a success.