Dr Paula Stone is a Senior Lecturer for Canterbury Christ Church University’s Faculty of Education. Following the lockdown, she decided to gather the personal accounts of student teachers through a research project that not only aimed to document the experiences of the students during this unusual time, but also intended to provide a means to help understand and support them as they started their new careers in the real, or virtual classroom.
Dr Stone explained: “As the schools started to react to the pandemic, I invited the students to undertake an autoethnographical research project to illuminate the unique experience of being a student teacher during lockdown. This was a brave undertaking because autoethnography, as a research approach, whilst offering a means of giving voice to personal experience, connecting the personal and the social, also invites the reader to connect morally, emotionally and intellectually with the narrative.
“In this current unprecedented climate student teachers, like all school staff, have had to learn a vast array of new skills quickly, but what becomes clear in the narratives is that this pandemic has been – and will continue to be – experienced in very different ways by our students. As schools closed some students were asked to leave the school in accordance with DfE guidelines, whilst others were given on-line teaching and marking, and pastoral responsibilities. The students’ narratives are enlightening and immensely moving.”
One of the common themes to emerge from the study was the student teachers’ concern as to whether they would be able to gain their qualified teacher status (QTS), coupled with a sense of fear, anger and frustration at not being able to support their students.
“When enrolling on this teacher training programme, student teachers could never have envisaged that they would be gaining their qualifications from the confines of their bedrooms, relying solely on technology that they may, or may not, be able to figure out for themselves.” (Primary school student teacher)
“Our [all the teachers] anger came from fear and frustration at not being able to provide for the pupils. This was an eye-opening moment for me, as it illustrated that no matter how long someone has been teaching, nothing can prepare them for such an unexpected and extraordinary event.” (Secondary school student teacher)
“I had become someone that certain pupils would come to, or would be a port of call for many of the classes I had taken over. The lack of ability to ‘be there’ for these pupils has been quite upsetting and unsettling. In my practice, I had become used to seeing these pupils every day and fitting my work around pupils coming to me with questions, complaints, worries etc. Whilst at home, I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I wasn’t available for these pupils and they now have to go through the designated staff who will deal with any issues.” (Secondary school student teacher)
However, the lockdown also produced many positives for the student teachers, helping them to gain a greater understanding of the many ways they can support their students, and helped them to develop and re-affirm how important their roles are and their dedication to their new careers.
“These events have made me aware that although this year has not panned out as planned, I have learnt a huge amount from this pandemic. I have learnt of my ability to rise to a challenge; that I am not entirely useless at new technology, and my love of standing in front of 32 teenagers and seeing them develop into well rounded humans.” (Secondary school student teacher)
“Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We do not need little changes. But, however grand the scale of change we seek, we cannot lose sight of the individuals that enter our classrooms each day. Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees, but sometimes it all begins with a leaf.” (Secondary school student teacher)
Dr Stone continued: “Like many of us, the lockdown has impacted upon the student teachers in many ways, but with the support of their University tutors and mentors in school many were able to reconcile their feelings of initial shock and anger when it was first announced, through to accepting what had happened, and getting on with qualifying to be a teacher, and the best teacher they could be. As these students recount.”
“There is a part of me that believes had it not been for this tutorial and the motivation and direction I gained because of it I might not have found the energy and will power to get on with what was required to do in order to pass both my teaching training year and PGCE assignments. To that end the writing of this autoethnography has been a therapeutic one as well as reflective.” (Secondary school student teacher) .
“My mentor afforded opportunities in the day to maximise my learning thereby pulling me back into role, connecting with my teacher self. This illustrates the vital role played by supportive and experienced colleagues.” (Primary school student teacher)
“The student teachers in this small scale study are now starting to recognise the positive outcomes of the experience through the process of autoethnography.” Dr Stone added. “They are able to recognise their remarkable resilience having completed their initial teacher education training in the most difficult of circumstances, and have come out with a stronger belief in their abilities which will support them for their entire career. This is encapsulated by this final quote.“
“This trying time has set me in good stead to take on more challenges in my future teaching career, and to be able to cope when faced with the unknown challenges I will be sure to meet.” (Primary school student teacher)
Dr stone concluded: “As a teacher educator I am tremendously proud of all of our student teachers. The last few months have been immensely challenging for each and everyone, but with no exception they have risen to the challenge and exceeded the expectations of their tutors by showing resilience and desire to continue their professional development in the confines of virtual networks with positivity. They are all confident about their ability to be the teachers of the future and are all preparing themselves for school in September, whatever that may look like. I am certain that this cohort of students will be an asset to any school and any group of young people.”
The full research paper will be published later this year.