From the Newsletter: Teaching Fellows Adjust to Teaching During a Pandemic
The newest class of WW Teaching Fellows was named in July of this year. Fellows began their master’s programs at Duquesne University, the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, and West Chester University over the summer.
Twenty-eight individuals make up the second cohort of the WW Teaching Fellowship program in the state. The highly competitive program recruits both recent graduates and career changers with strong backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and math—the STEM fields—and prepares them specifically to teach in high-need secondary schools.
“Pennsylvania is committed to investing in science and technology education and ensuring every student has access to great STEM teachers,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in the announcement of the new class. “Our schools need well-prepared teachers more than ever, as they and their students grapple not only with remote learning and new formats, but also with the need to continue preparing Pennsylvanians for high-growth fields that will help to strengthen our economy. The work these Fellows will do is critical.”
Fellows from the most recent class began their programs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, while Fellows from the first class in Pennsylvania had to navigate their first year of teaching with the added layer of stress resulting from the virus. The upside for the first class of Fellows is they got a preview of teaching during a pandemic while still in their clinical placements at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
For Kwesi Vincent, a Weiss WW Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, having a mentor teacher to work through challenges with was crucial for his success when taking over the classroom: “[My mentor teacher] was very helpful at keeping me abreast of the best practices in distance learning as it pertained to math.”
But even with the extra practice of remote and distance learning, Mr. Vincent had to adjust his plans when school was back in session in the fall. “There’s nothing that can prepare you other than kind of being a first-year teacher and going through it there,” he said. “I had really grandiose visions of what I was going to do this school year. But the first time you realize that it’s just you and nobody else there, you realize very quickly that for your own wellbeing, you have to manage your expectations in terms of what you are signing yourself up for when you try to implement certain things that are great ideas.”
Even with constraints, Rachel Miller, a Fellow at Duquesne University, is using remote and hybrid teaching during the pandemic as a way to try different pedagogical approaches, such as community-based video and graphic tools. Some of her inspiration was drawn from her master’s degree coursework. “Throughout our time at Duquesne, we had a lot of online classes that we had to do at night or over the weekend,” said Ms. Miller. “Through those—maybe not intentionally—they gave us these ideas to use things like Flipgrid or Padlet or different apps that we could incorporate into our new virtual classrooms.”
Ms. Miller also thinks that the shift to virtual schooling during her clinical placement gave her a leg up for her first-year teaching. “I feel like I might be more prepared for this than some of our veteran teachers,” she said. “I’ve had experiences with making a lot of the resources, whether it was files or activities, and then uploading them, grading them, giving feedback online, creating the videos and creating audio for students as additional support. I’ve done that and I’m getting better at it. And I get to practice it more now.”
Each WW Pennsylvania Teaching Fellow receives $32,000 to complete a specially designed, cutting-edge master’s degree program based on a yearlong clinical experience—including schools’ current remote and virtual learning arrangements. In return, Fellows commit to teach for three years in high-need Pennsylvania schools. Throughout the three-year commitment as a teacher of record at a public school, Fellows receive ongoing support and mentoring.
“The WW Teaching Fellowship connects passionate STEM experts with the students who need them the most,” WW Foundation President Rajiv Vinnakota said. “Not only will the program prepare each Fellow to be an excellent educator, it will also give them the practice, support, and network of peers needed to succeed throughout their careers in the classroom. And for our university partners, the Fellowship supports their continued efforts to recruit, prepare, and mentor high-quality STEM teachers.”
To date, more than 1,200 teachers have been prepared through the WW Teaching Fellowship program. Pennsylvania joins Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio as WW Teaching Fellowship states.
This story appeared in the fall/winter 202w issue of Fellowship, the newsletter of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars.