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Future teachers adapting in strange times
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Future teachers adapting in strange times

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In the days leading up to the what later turned into the full cancellation of the current school year, it looked like a staple of the Carthage College curriculum would temporarily fall by the wayside.

But as happened throughout the country in the days, weeks and months that followed, it was time to adapt.

And it turned out to be a win-win for all interested parties.

Led by professor Rebekah Johnson, a group of future physical education teachers continued a popular spring program with several home school students. Only this time, instead of meeting on campus, the three-week class met through Zoom.

Johnson said she was about to click the “send” button from an email to officially cancel the program when she pivoted and reached out to Amanda Paul with the Kenosha Racine Home Educators Support Team to see if something could be done.

From there, an educational experiment was born — and one initial buzzword Johnson used with her students was “flexibility.”

“I tried to tell them this is the first in many opportunities for you to be flexible,” she said. “As a physical education teacher, you’ll walk in and find out, ‘Surprise, we’re having an assembly today, you don’t have your team and you need to figure out how to teach your classes in the cafeteria, the music room or the classrooms.’

“This is something they’ll experience. I have four students in that class who will be student-teaching in the fall, and I said, ‘You might end up student-teaching remotely.’ ... I tried to make this experience meaningful, not just for the moment but for their future as well.”

Paul, who has nine children ranging from 20 years old to three months and has been involved in the Carthage program since its inception, said the experience for the home schoolers certainly was beneficial.

“It was great, because a lot of them haven’t seen each other,” she said. “Just because we home school, they’re still used to seeing each other at our group events and things somewhat regularly, and it was all canceled.

“We had been in the middle of our spring enrichment schedule. They were all so excited to see each other and then it was pulled out from under us. They got to see their friends in their age group, they got to interact with (Johnson), and then they got to meet the cool college kids and learn some things.”

Junior Rachel Walecki, a secondary physical education major, said she is pleased to have this new skill available to her moving forward.

“We talked about that a lot,” Walecki said. “(Johnson) said this could be our future in a way. Me, personally, I’ve never done anything like this before. It was kind of a cool way for me to see teaching from a different lens and realize this might be what’s to come. It definitely helped prepare me, and I feel like my classmates as well.”

In a normal spring, about 80 kindergarten though 12th-grade students are involved for a six-week physical education course, Johnson said, and are divided by age group and taught by the Carthage students.

This year, there were between 15 and 20, and Johnson said four classes were scheduled on Wednesdays throughout the day, which gave her a chance to evaluate how things were going.

And there were very few hiccups along the way, she said.

“Often I served as the ‘mute (button)’ commander so all the kids could hear the teacher,” Johnson said.

Having the classes taught virtually did require a change in the normal curriculum that can be put into place in person, she said.

Some lessons included yoga, how to complete a proper jump and landing, how to do a number of different pushups and squats, instruction about different muscle groups and nutrition — and everything was based on hitting the proper educational benchmarks.

It was important that the home school students walked away from the experience with skills they can use down the road, Johnson said.

“That was our point, was what we could we give these students that they could take with them and use to be active beyond our three weeks of instruction,” she said.

The social interaction aspect for the home school students cannot be overlooked, both Johnson and Paul said.

And Johnson was pleased to see her students roll with the punches when the younger children, as they are apt to do, occasionally got off course with one story or another.

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“All of my teachers who taught those younger groups would start with a ‘Question of the Day,’ so every kid would get a chance to respond,” Johnson said. “... There was always a chance for all students to talk, to answer questions, to have that personal connection that we missed when we were face-to-face.

“... The kids were really pretty great, other than the normal elementary kids who always want to raise their hand and tell a story, but my students rolled with that really well.”

Different view

From a future teacher’s perspective, the experience was valuable, Walecki said.

Walecki worked with fourth- through sixth-grade students during the three-week class.

“I thought it went really well,” she said. “At first, I was kind of hesitant. I wasn’t real sure how it would go, but after the first week, it was really cool to see them all engaged. They all looked like they had a really good time. I think they learned a lot.

“Obviously, it’s kind of hard to put on full physical education lesson for them, but we thought of creative ways to still teach them the content.”

Walecki, who hails from West Bend, agreed with her instructor regarding the main challenges her fellow classmates faced.

Having to adapt to teaching online wasn’t always easy, she said.

“That was very challenging,” Walecki said. “When I was creating my lesson plan, I wasn’t sure how I would present information to them or what I would present. You don’t know what kind of equipment the students have or what kind of space they’re working with.

“You kind of just have to play it by ear almost and go with what you think is best. There’s a bunch of different resources you can use to work up different activities.”

Looking ahead

While the main hope is that life soon returns to some kind of normalcy soon, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that education could take on more of a virtual feel from this point forward.

And with this three-week stint in the books, now there’s a foundation in place to return to that style, not only if it’s needed, but maybe as a combination of teaching skills.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to the larger educational system after experiencing so much remote learning,” Johnson said. “Is more going to stick and continue? Will this be a valuable skill for students to have outside of this current moment?

“I think there might be some opportunities to incorporate some of the other courses in preparation, maybe as a lead-up experience. I have an elementary PE methods class that this could be a good fit for to get a small experience and for those home school students to get an experience, maybe in the fall semester. I would love to see it continue.”

Paul had a similar observation.

“This format may have more carryover for the kids,” she said. “When we meet to do it at Carthage, it’s more group games, learning and things right there. Because we switched to this format, I think the kids learned some things they could do at home.”

And from the perspective of a home school teacher, Paul said the chance to break up the day through this program was important.

“That’s one of the harder things that was a challenge for home school families, even those of us who have done this for a long time, was to just get them outside, get them active, get them up and moving,” she said.

“Of course, there’s so many outlets to doing that on the internet, but the Carthage program has really helped us legitimize that.”

And advice for parents whose roles have changed to add educators during this time?

Paul said be sure to take a deep breath now and then.

“Relax, and don’t try to create a pseudo-public school in your house,” she said. “It’s just never going to happen. It’s better to think about your individual kid, what their needs are, what interests they have and go from there. Do the work, obviously, but don’t think you have to recreate the entire school experience from home.”

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