Unique Opportunities For Future Teachers

Chelsea Penney
June 17, 2022

Proximity Learning partnered with Lewis University to grow future teachers, combating the teacher shortage issue at its core. Student teachers from Lewis University joined Proximity Learning classes to learn from our certified virtual teachers and impact students around the country. With more varied experience, student teachers are more marketable as they join the workforce.

Virtual Student Teaching

Gina Churchill is a graduate student at Lewis University studying secondary education with an emphasis on middle school math. She has worked as a substitute teacher for 10 years but aspires to be a certified middle school math teacher. Although she lives in Plainfield, IL, Ms. Churchill had the opportunity to teach students in South Carolina and a different region in Illinois via the virtual student teaching program at Lewis.  

As part of the requirements for her degree, Ms. Churchill had to complete two semesters of student teaching. She opted to teach in person the first semester and virtually the second. “I chose in-person the first semester, and I wanted the experience of teaching virtually because I wanted to be more well-rounded as a teacher. I know that there are more opportunities to virtual teach as well.” She wanted to make sure her career path wasn’t limited by lack of experience, so she took advantage of both options. 

“I was used to teaching in the classroom. At first, I was a little bit hesitant because I wanted to get the classroom feeling again. I had mixed feelings about teaching virtually, but I loved it! I love virtual teaching. The students I came into contact with were wonderful. I love the fact that I had the opportunity to meet students all across the country. That’s what made it so interesting. I also love my mentor teacher, Elizabeth Dodds. She was absolutely wonderful. We hit it off right at the beginning, and she was like a family member to me. She was like a sister. We had such a great time. We clicked. She was just an inspiration to me in teaching. She showed me how to be at ease with the students online and how to get them to participate. I just had such a great time working with her.”

Learning From a Mentor Teacher

Ms. Churchill and Ms. Dodds spent a lot of time beforehand getting to know each other and creating lesson plans together before Ms. Churchill took the lead on some assignments. She was immediately able to learn practical skills. For instance, Ms. Dodds taught her how to use Nearpod, which she then implemented both in her student teaching class and in her substitute classes. Once she was settled in the routine, Ms. Churchill spent about five hours per week student teaching and gaining valuable experience before graduation.

Ms. Dodds taught her how to teach math online. She showed her how to use Nearpod, Google Classroom, and Kahoot as tools to foster interaction with virtual students. Ms. Churchill “absolutely” sees herself utilizing those programs in her own classroom in the future. She had a great experience working with Ms. Dodds. “She was such a great mentor teacher. I had such a great experience with her. I was very very lucky. I can’t say enough pleasant things about her.”

Weekly Schedule

Because the students are in different places across the country, she had to carefully juggle time zones with her own substitute teaching schedule. Ms. Churchill describes a typical day, “Ms. Dodds and I would meet at 8:20-9:20 am central time for our 8th-grade math class. She would teach that class, and I would observe or help students. She would sometimes put me in breakout rooms with them if they needed some help one-on-one. I realized I really enjoyed working with students that way. Then from 9:25-10:25, we had the 7th-grade pre-algebra class. I would observe and help those students as well. Then, I would have to substitute teach in a regular classroom in a brick-and-mortar school. Some days from 1-2 pm, I would log back on with Ms. Dodds, and we would teach 8th-grade students. We would help them, and Ms. Dodds would sometimes put me in breakout rooms with the students. Then, I would go back into a brick-and-mortar classroom. I would hop back and forth online and then to an in-person school. I loved it. It was great!”

Virtual Student Teaching Experience

“I went in with a little bit of a hesitation thinking that maybe I might not like it as much as I did. I really really really enjoyed it. I really loved my mentor teacher, Elizabeth Dodds. I loved the students that I got to know across the country. I also got to know teachers in different parts of the country. It broadened my horizons. I got to learn how to teach virtually. It opened my eyes to be a better teacher. I really enjoyed it. I would do it again, and I would definitely recommend it.

Ms. Churchill was thankful for the opportunity to have a virtual student teaching option in her education. She recommends it to university administrators. “Offer it to them so the student teacher has the opportunity to have a chance to teach both in the classroom and virtually. It gives the student teacher more of an option to have a career in both teaching in the classroom and teaching virtually. It makes them more of a well-rounded teacher. We’re still always going to need to teach virtually, whether there is a snow day or some parents want their children to be home. There might be a big need for teachers who teach online. That might be a path for some student teachers to go down. It’s a good option for them to have exposure to it.”

Learn more about teaching virtually here.

Chelsea Penney earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing from University of Colorado Denver and her Masters of Science in Marketing from Texas A&M University Commerce. She loves living in Austin, TX and working on the frontline of the many marketing initiatives for Proximity Learning.

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