Education students adjust to both learning and teaching online

Noelle Nee is teaching students online in her role as a long-term substitute teacher in Old Orchard Beach
Noelle Nee is teaching students online in her role as a long-term substitute teacher in Old Orchard Beach

It all happened so quickly. Students went from sitting in classrooms and learning out in the field, to being confined at home and learning online because of the coronavirus outbreak.

For sixteen student-teachers at UNE, not only did they have to get accustomed to learning online, they had to figure out how to teach remotely.

After working with fifth graders at Loranager Middle School in Old Orchard Beach since September, Noelle Nee (Elementary Education/Middle Education, ’20), just started a new long-term substitute position in February for a sixth-grade teacher who was going on maternity leave.

“I was really just getting into my new role as a language arts and social studies teacher, planning lessons, and getting to know the students better, when our world was turned upside down,” she explained. “I was also working to maintain my studies at UNE.”

Kayla Thoits (Education/Elementary Education, ’20), was well into her solo student-teacher position at Westbrook Middle School when the classrooms shutdown.

“I was pretty much taking over the classroom,” she said. “I was teaching five days a week, and I had my class at UNE on Wednesday nights.”

Both Nee and Thoits had to switch gears quickly and come up with lesson plans that their students could complete at home.

“We were going to have to start teaching our actual curriculum online,” Thoits stated. “So, as teachers, we had to start breaking down our curriculum so that it was feasible online. I am not actually fantastic with all the technology pieces, but I am getting a lot better at it now.”

“I would consider myself pretty good with technology, but certainly there has been a learning curve,” Nee commented. “It has been challenging, but I think we're doing what we know best in trying to maintain connections with students and provide engaging academic opportunities where we see fit.”

Nee says school administrators have helped make the transition a lot smoother than she expected.

“Just the whole Old Orchard Beach school district and community has, honestly, in my opinion, been amazing,” she said. “They are providing a lot of guidance to all of us and constantly keeping us and the families of the students updated.”

Nee and Thoits are taping videos of lessons, sending assignments home, and connecting with their students live via Zoom as regularly as they can.

Nee says a big part of teaching is being aware of the well-being of your students. That is not something that has been lost by moving to online learning.

“We are still emphasizing social and emotional learning,” Nee said. “We are trying to be very understanding of our students and the fact that they are going through a lot right now. I think UNE has done a great job with this in the Education Department, just helping us to be really compassionate and have empathy for our students and everything that's going on in their lives.”

For Thoits, the biggest downside to the transition has been the absence of in-person classes with her fellow UNE students.

“We would talk a lot about what we were doing in our student-teacher classrooms and discuss ways we could help our situations,” she said. “I just miss being able to share experiences with my classmates who are also student-teachers.”

For now, teaching, learning, and catching up with classmates will have to exist in a virtual world.

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Nee says remote teaching is challenging but she's maintaining engagement with students and providing academic opportunities
Nee says remote teaching is challenging but she's maintaining engagement with students and providing academic opportunities
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Thoits was teaching five days a week at Westbrook Middle School when the pandemic struck
Thoits was teaching five days a week at Westbrook Middle School when the pandemic struck
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Kayla Thoits is taking a UNE course online while also teaching middle school students remotely
Kayla Thoits is taking a UNE course online while also teaching middle school students remotely

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