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Student teaching a different experience for Millikin senior during pandemic

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DECATUR — Max Barrows did not foresee having to student-teach over Google Classroom.

“The first thing I noticed was, it is really weird to get to know students,” said Barrows, who graduated from Millikin University in May. “A lot of them don't have their cameras on, so I learned to recognize voices. That was not what I expected. Once we started back in person, it was like meeting them for the first time. I knew them for 10 weeks but didn't know what they looked like. That was a little bit of a trip.”

Like so many things during a pandemic, student-teaching was very different this year. Barrows worked with Sara Nave at Dennis School, and she didn't quite know how it would go, either.

“Having a student teacher during a pandemic could have gone either way,” Nave said. “It could have been another workload, but instead it was like having another partner in education. Somebody to bounce ideas off of, somebody to co-plan with, somebody to grade with. It was honestly the silver lining to a generally gray and weird year.”

The two first met last year when Barrows did an internship with Nave, and when she saw his name on the student teacher list, she said, she knew it would be a great fit.

“We knew going into this that student teaching would definitely be different due to the school year starting off being remote,” Nave said. “Max and I met virtually a few times to get things in order and we hit the ground running. He taught a full lesson his second day in the classroom. He was extremely flexible with the uncertainty of being remote or going back in person; a characteristic that most administrators look for in their candidates. I would definitely say that we co-taught the entire semester. I taught him the inner workings of Google classroom, we work together to find a grading policy that worked best for both of us that could be done together or remotely. He taught me a lot, too. Not only about different uses of technology, but also how to effectively co-teach in various ways. After just a couple weeks we really got into a rhythm and it was natural.”

One of the most important pieces of advice she had for him, Nave said, was to see the students not as his “responsibility,” but as his “teammates.” Once the students have that mindset, they pull together and it allows the teacher to concentrate on teaching.

Flexibility is important in education, Barrows said, and because he had never taught a class normally, he didn't have any habits to break while learning to teach remotely. He only had a couple of weeks of teaching in person combined with remote teaching after students came back to Dennis in person on March 22, and being adaptable, learning to engage both the students in the classroom and those at home simultaneously, will be useful as he graduates and goes into teaching in a classroom of his own, he said.

“So much of teaching is getting up in front of a class and walking around, interacting hands-on, group work that we know is so important, and not being able to get to do that, you can't replace having students in class,” he said.

He chose middle school because he particularly enjoys that age group, he said.

“They are literally the funniest people on the planet,” he said. “And also I think it's kind of the perfect in-between age. They're kind of kids but not fully into high school, and it's a really fun age to teach. They still kind of want to be kids, but they're mature enough for more adult conversations, and you can still do the things you do in later elementary as well. There are no boring days in middle school. I learned that after student teaching. Every day's going to be a fun day.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter


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