Pandemic illuminates the power of student-teacher classroom collaboration


When the pandemic shut down school buildings in March, GSE’s 50 teacher candidates suddenly went virtual, along with their teacher mentors. They came together and figured out how to co-teach from home computers—troubleshooting tech glitches, capturing students’ attention with encouragement, and holding office hours and parent conferences.

“There was this sense of two equal teachers operating in the classroom,” said Elisabeth Etopio, assistant dean for teacher education and director of educator preparation. “That power of two is something special when both individuals can kind of embrace that and learn from each other.”

The teacher certification program enrolls 150 students a year with about 50 candidates working every semester as co-teachers in about 15 schools. As they pivoted this spring, so did the state. Certification exams, which include mandatory videos of teachers in the classroom, were modified. New teachers, caught short by the pandemic, could start work this year with an “Emergency COVID-19 Certificate,” good for a year to allow time for finishing video portfolios.

Mentors in the liaison schools were particularly grateful for the extra help. One teacher, who asked if the teacher candidate could stay an extra semester, put it this way: “We’re learning together.” She was grateful for assistance with lessons while she troubleshot tech issues and parent concerns.

“A teacher on their own in a classroom would have had to stop all instruction to navigate all of that,” said Etopio.

Another candidate was commended for attending every department meeting and developing lessons that other teachers used. More end-of-semester praise came in for the student teachers’ steady communication, website management, home lessons, online assignments and instructional videos.

Etopio was proud of them all. “It’s that natural teacher that comes out in our students when they’re put into a situation where they need to be resilient,” she said. “Our students are special. They rose to the occasion.”

The story above is a feature on our Pandemics 2020 timeline:

At first, 2020 seemed like a straight-forward, normal year, new and full of promise.
At UB, research made news, enrollment grew.
Before spring broke, whatever we had in mind for 2020 changed.