OLIVIA FOSTER, TRUMPET STAFF WRITER
Plexiglass dividers. Spaced-out desks. Sanitizing buckets in every corner. No touching allowed. This is the reality of an elementary school classroom during COVID-19.
Wartburg students Lexi Monahan and Caitlin Dreismeier are currently student teaching in elementary schools, and they have witnessed firsthand how the pandemic has affected their students.
“You never know when someone might get sick or a family member gets infected,” Dreismeier said. “One of the girls in the class I’m teaching, her mom got Covid, so she had to Zoom in to class and I could tell how much she felt left out.”
The third- and fourth-grade students that Monahan and Dreismeier are teaching don’t always understand what is happening when a classmate isn’t able to attend class in person or why they have to wear masks inside.
“I think they understand that everyone needs to wear their masks,” Monahan said. “But I think that the reasoning behind it is more confusing for them, especially since they are so young and the pandemic can be a confusing concept for young minds.”
The daily routine of classroom life has also been altered because of COVID-19. Each day at St. Joseph Community School in New Hampton, where Monahan is student teaching a third-grade class, students must get their temperatures taken at the entrance and use hand sanitizer between school activities.
These changes to daily routines were confusing to many students when the pandemic became widespread in March 2020. Now, most students have adjusted to the regulations and have become used to wearing masks and distancing from their classmates.
Becoming accustomed to the limitations caused by COVID-19 doesn’t mean that students are happy about the separation that now exists between themselves and their classmates.
“I just want to be able to hug my students,” Dreismeier said. “And sometimes I can, but it’s always short. There’s one girl who will hug me but she will keep one arm out so there is still a separation. And I’m a huggy person, it’s how I show love.”
Monahan said she has also sensed frustrations from her students when it comes to
“I don’t think that COVID has really impacted their learning,” Monahan said. “But they’re definitely getting sick of wearing masks every day. We had students write down goals for 2021 and three or four students wrote that they wanted to stop wearing masks. That broke my heart.”
The changes Covid has caused in the student teaching process have also been a transition for the Wartburg students and professors involved.
Dr. Stephanie TeKippe, the co-chair of the education department at Wartburg, said that covid caused an obstruction in many aspects of the student teaching process.
“No one could have predicted a pandemic in the middle of the spring semester and there was a scramble to figure out how to accommodate student teaching in these unusual circumstances,” TeKippe said.
As part of the student teaching program, education majors are required to complete 14 weeks of student teaching to earn a teaching license in Iowa. COVID-19 has put a dent in many students’ abilities to complete a full 14 weeks of student teaching experience.
“Many of our students are opting to take a fifth year to complete their student teaching,” TeKippe said. “It gets complicated, though, if a student gets quarantined or something comes up. And student teaching needs to happen during the final year of college, so that’s also been a problem.”
“I’m very lucky because I haven’t gotten quarantined and I’m able to be in the classroom every day,” Monahan said. “Teaching over Zoom and trying to connect with the students that way would be so hard.”
Despite the difficulties, student teachers have been able to find ways to connect with their students.
“I absolutely love teaching, so even though things are weird right now, I do everything I can to help my students have fun and feel comfortable while learning,” Dreismeier said. “The kids like to play games, so I try to bring distanced games into my lesson plans.”
Monahan has a similar mindset when it comes to creating a fun environment for her students to learn.
“After lunch I always read them a part of a book,” Monahan said. “We just finished ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and they absolutely loved it. Those kinds of activities that bring the whole group together are very important, especially now.”