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Pandemic changes in-classroom experience for music education majors

By Julia Duggan
Senior Staff Writer

Right now, the music education majors at the College have mixed feelings. Seniors are relieved that student teaching is over, and that they have completed it. Juniors are worried about student teaching since it will be so close to when they graduate.

According to the course sequence guide for music education majors, students must complete three practicum courses and one student teaching. Before the pandemic, students would take the first practicum their sophomore spring semester, and continue to take one practicum course each semester throughout junior year. They would finish by completing the student teaching the fall semester of senior year. This is in general terms and the music and education departments have the ability to adjust when practicum and student teaching occur in a student’s schedule.

Pictured: Jacob Ford (courtesy of Jacob Ford)

“What ended up happening was very far from my expectations,” said Jacob Ford, a junior music education major. “I did not receive my placement for K-8 (first practicum) until 2 weeks before Covid shut down the school, and then my first day of my placement, my cooperating teacher got Covid. So, a semester worth of practicum was whittled down to three Zoom meetings.”

Normally for a practicum, music education students leave the College campus and visit a specific k-12 school where they work with a teacher for the semester to observe and see how to prepare for lessons as well as teaching the lessons.

Pictured: Gaia Hutcheson (photo courtesy of Gaia Hutcheson)

“She (a grade school-teacher) would show us lesson plans and things like that which was helpful, but nothing really replaces the in-person experience in the classroom,” said Gaia Hutcheson, a junior education major. Hutcheson continued by elaborating she still learned a lot from her practicum experience and is grateful that she was able to attend practicum in person once before the schools were moved to online only.

Ford explained that the junior fall practicum was canceled and the student-run music educators club NAfME (National Association for Music Education) hosted professional development sessions with educators from around the country. The third practicum, which was supposed to be this spring 2021 semester, was moved to senior fall and student teaching has been moved to senior spring.

The senior class was able to complete two out of the three practicum classes before the pandemic started, and had completed about half of the third class. The senior class could not delay student teaching until the spring semester, so the students were required to be flexible and work with multiple departments in the College, as well as the school they were student teaching at.

“They checked in frequently to ensure we had placements and were in (a) setting that we could be better equipped to complete edTPA,” said Melissa Schaeffer, a senior music education major. “It was mostly trying to accommodate and keep track of the different guidelines and procedure(s) that each district had, since it had been left to the districts to figure out.”

Senior music education major Bryan Cook talked about the edTPA assignment.

Pictured: Bryan Cook (photo courtesy of Bryan Cook)

“It’s basically one of the final things we need to do to get our teaching certification,” Cook said. “I think most states have it. You have to send in documents, evidence, videos, paper, just pages and pages of this and that of your teaching, reflecting on your teaching, of student work, analyzing evidence and so on and so forth.”

Cook elaborated that the state waived the requirement to complete edTPA due to the pandemic.

“You must pass (edTPA) in order to get the teacher certification,” Schaeffer said. “The state had waived this requirement for those in student teaching when the initial shutdown occurred since it was such a dramatic change to education. But the state had given very little guidance to completing edTPA for those student teaching in Fall 2020. It was very difficult for all student teachers to attempt to fulfill all the requirements of the portfolio.”

Besides completing the requirements for edTPA, the senior class faced the problem of teaching music in a virtual environment.

“Music is a very group oriented in-person activity; large ensembles, chamber ensembles, even one-on-one-lessons with a private teacher, so much of music revolves around being with other people,” Cook explained. “So that stuff virtually, you all can’t play on a Zoom call less you’re muted, you can’t have this group sound, you can’t have people singing, you can’t play orchestra, that it just doesn’t work virtually.”

Teaching specific age groups online can create additional challenges.

“Teaching beginners is very hands-on, making sure they’re holding their instruments correctly and placing their fingers on the correct strings or keys,” Schaeffer said.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic the students are mostly satisfied with how the College responded in helping to navigate through practicum and student teaching.

“The thing I really would have appreciated would have been better communication between the faculty and the students,” Ford said. “I understand that there were lots of things going on and there was more going on behind the scene, but weekly or bi-weekly updates would have been really beneficial for the students to be in the loop.”

Despite the challenges, students managed to find unique and positive lessons to take away from student teaching.

“I’m just a guy behind the screen but they’ve (the grade-school students) never even met (me) and might never, so how can you make it an environment where (students) feel vulnerable and can make music and feel positive about it?” Cook asked. “So that’s something that’s stuck with me, and then when I know that things get back to normal, I wanted to bring this to the classroom, just creating an atmosphere where students feel safe and feel welcome to make music.”

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