As schools are modifying their classroom structures to function within social distancing policies, many students pursuing education degrees are in a unique situation. Their practicum courses, several of which are required throughout their degree programs, are facing limited availability because of a shortage of local K-12 teachers.

According to the Missouri State College of Education website, practicums are credited courses that allow students to observe a local K-12 teacher in their classroom in order to apply the knowledge from their other courses in a realistic environment. At the cooperating teacher’s discretion, a practicum generally includes interacting with students on an individual or group basis, participating in classroom activities and teaching lessons.

The interaction between students pursuing education majors and K-12 students is limited this semester, to the point that some participating college students no longer have interaction with a live classroom at all.

“Some of the school districts are fine with having student teachers who are there full-time, but they’re more wary of having practicum teachers because the numbers are higher and they come and go a lot,” said Barri Tinkler, associate dean of the College of Education.

Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education establishes the number of credit hours necessary for all education majors. “The state has given us some flexibility, but all of the College of Education’s programs currently exceed the minimum standards,” Tinkler said.

Keigon Bruneteau, junior elementary education major, is taking an alternative practicum placement in lieu of a traditional practicum.

Instead of working with a cooperating teacher and then reporting to her own professor, Bruneteau sends pre-recorded lessons directly to her professor. Consequently, these lessons don’t face the pressure of being delivered live and are unable to receive feedback from a cooperating teacher.

While both practicums require self-reflections after each lesson plan, the virtual practicum’s reflection is based only on self-assessment.

Another missing component from Bruneteau’s alternative practicum is a tool called a running record. This practice traditionally consists of listening directly to a K-12 student reading from a passage and assessing their comprehension and fluency. The substitute version of this is simulating the same method but with a demonstration of a sample student’s performance delivered by the course instructor online.

“It’s disappointing that we miss out on the live experience, but that’s inevitable,” Bruneteau said. “But, in the modified practicum, we’re provided with extra resources that regular placements might not get, such as a database of teaching tools including lesson plans, graphic curriculum organizers and literary assessment tools from a professional educational consultant.”

Although there is not an established end date to the practicum modifications, the situation is being continuously monitored and adjusted to the students’ benefit, according to Tinkler.

“If it is a student’s final semester, it will be ensured that they have had several other placements with live students beforehand. There won’t be anyone going into student teaching without having interactions with students,” Tinkler said.