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May 27, 2022

A New Way to Finish Strong: Supporting Preservice Teachers

With a looming teacher shortage, we need to think of more ways to help preservice teachers take charge of their own learning, while providing them with the expert information they need to know.

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How Can We Support Preservice Teachers?

This past semester, students in my Canisius College class were more tired than I’ve witnessed a group to be in my adjunct teaching career. To begin class, we always do a round-robin style check in. About a month before final exams, one of the students said they felt they were being spread too thin, pulled in every direction, and were losing steam (many metaphors to describe burnout!). Another student chimed in that they did not expect to “finish strong” as so many people were encouraging them to do. I asked about the source of their clear sense of being overwhelmed. The usual suspects: workload, their own procrastination, their jobs, COVID-19-related issues, and a lack of motivation. My mentor, Dr. Peter Loehr, a professor in the Educational Leadership Program at Buffalo State College, where I earned my School District Leader certification, taught me one question that has changed my relationship with students: What obstacles can I move to help you? 

When I asked this question, one student jokingly asked, “Can you cancel our final?” I paused and decided to try something really different. I admitted that I could not actually cancel the final for our class, but I could change what we’d do as a final experience. What I was hearing was a desperate cry for relief. They all knew that this is what college is all about, and they weren’t questioning that. They were questioning if they could handle it. I was questioning if this entire “final exam” stress had purpose or was it simply a tradition meant to be survived, instead of finding a way to help students thrive. 

I proposed the following, on the spot, and I will be doing this for all of my college classes going forward. Students should participate in three webinars of their own choosing from Share My Lesson. The webinars could be live or recorded, and the students needed to print out their certificates to hand in on the night of their final exam. That night, they’d share which three they watched, and specifically tell us about their favorite one. I told everyone to bring snacks, and to enjoy their professional development. 

When the final exam night came, I was a little nervous that they might not have completed the webinars. It was a gamble, frankly, since they would likely fail if they did not complete the independent task during their busy end of the semester. Every single student had them completed, and the conversation was lively, and I’m not gonna lie—when one future teacher asked another preservice teacher to repeat the name of the webinar again so she could write it down, my heart skipped a beat. Individualized professional development for preservice teachers! I’m super nerdy here, but I felt a surge of pride for the future of teaching as they discussed the webinars.
 
When the activity was over, I asked the students to debrief me on the final exam. Did this work for them? Was this an obstacle removed? What feedback did they have for me? Students really liked that they had a choice. A few mentioned that it was great to be able to “drill down” to content-specific professional development that will help them in their future careers. They particularly liked Freedom to Teach Honestly, as many are social studies concentration. Another webinar that was mentioned often was Building Community to Center Student Voice. Of course, I was also pleased that several had viewed my Dare to Unplug: Resetting How Educators Use Technology. In the end, the comment that persuaded me to make this the final exam for my college classes was this: “Final exams take so much out of me; it was refreshing that this assignment was my cup being filled with things I wanted to know more about and would stick with me to make me a good teacher.” Every time, that is the goal of my preservice teacher college classes.
 
With a looming teacher shortage, maybe we need to think of more innovative ways to help our preservice teachers take charge of their own learning, while providing them with the expert information they need to know. As for me, this is a huge step in the right direction, and I’d encourage you to explore how Share My Lesson can be a part of professional development. 
 

Your Summer of Learning

Looking for summer PD hours, ideas for back to school, or just ways to relax? Visit our 2023 Summer of Learning page for upcoming summer webinars, teaching resources, blogs, self-care ideas and more.

Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified middle school ELA teacher in Hamburg, New York with a Master’s Degree in Literature, as well as a School Building Leader certification.

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