While coronavirus changes have been drastic for students, parents and educators, they’ve also brought an unexpected challenge for University of Wisconsin-Superior education majors completing their student-teaching.

UWS students Johnathan Erickson, Kayla Raboin and Kristiina Thums have spent the fall student-teaching in the Maple School District and experienced the ever-changing academic landscape that began in the classroom before transitioning to remote learning in November.

“I was not anticipating I would be student teaching in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Thums, a senior majoring in instrumental music education. “Student-teaching is such a pinnacle part of any education major’s journey, and I have been looking forward to it for years. I thought that initially, it would be radically different and maybe even completely virtual. However, I was open to whatever circumstances were to come.”

Since its inception as a normal school in 1893, UWS has prepared future educators. Today UWS offers on-campus undergraduate and graduate degree programs and pathways to licensure. The university's Department of Education has an extensive support network, especially when it comes to the student-teaching experience, which helps place students in the best situation for success.

This fall, 43 UWS students throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota participated in student-teaching. For the spring semester, that number will expand to 70 — the largest increase for the university from one semester to another.

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The student-teaching experience is the final step students take toward becoming licensed, and one that also comes with many details for UWS to follow with the partnering school. The university's relationships with its partner schools are especially crucial as students take their first steps off campus and into the real-world experiences of classrooms.

Sara Croney, superintendent of the Maple School District, described the relationship as "a win-win for all involved" because of the quality of student teachers from UWS.

UWS students fulfilling student-teaching requirements this fall said they had to adapt quickly. The middle and high schools in the Maple School District began in a hybrid format with two groups of students spending time in school each week. Safety precautions such as masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer became classroom staples.

For Erickson and Thums, teaching music students added additional precautions with music rooms traded for gyms, the use of special masks and intense sanitizing of equipment.

“At times it is challenging, especially in a music setting,” said Thums. “But adapting to the new safety measures also encourages us to discover and adapt teaching in ways that could benefit our teaching when we are not in a pandemic. I have had the opportunity to learn and work with different technologies and resources that will benefit me later in my career.”

For UWS students, a highlight of their time so far has been working with students.

“By far, my favorite part about student teaching has been being able to witness the students applying their knowledge to their own lives,” said Raboin, a senior elementary education major. “It has been these moments that have provided the utmost joy. When I experience these moments, I am excited to know that I played a role in their education and even helped them learn. Having had these experiences in the classroom, I know that I am in the right career path. I truly love what I am doing when I am helping the students learn.”