The field of education has faced many challenges in the past years, due to a teacher shortage. The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped with this issue. Not only are students heavily affected, but so are professors. While students have to adapt to the new environment of online learning, educators have to learn and create a new way of teaching.
The challenges presented during the pandemic have led to concerns regarding the future of the profession. COVID has affected the number of students entering teaching programs, but the number of students pursuing education also has declined dramatically in previous years.
Since 2010, there has been a decline in teacher preparation programs nationwide by one-third, according to the Center for American Progress, and New York’s programs have seen a decline of approximately 10,000 students. As of 2017, New York faces a teacher shortage and will need 180,000 new teachers to fill the positions that teachers are expected to retire within the next decade. These numbers are striking, and the pandemic is not helping.
The school of education at SUNY Plattsburgh is a popular major on campus. With a multitude of specializations within the childhood and special education and adolescent education programs, students entering the profession aspire to work with children and form connections.
“As long as I can remember when I was in elementary school, I just always wanted to be a teacher,” Sophomore Childhood and Special Education major Delaney Boulrice said. “I thought their job was really cool. I love helping people and kids are fun.”
Due to the pandemic, some students were wary of entering the program. Department Chair of Childhood Education programs Yong Yu answered concerns from prospective students about entering the program at this time. But, the program has not seen a decline in enrollment.
“Last year we were a little concerned because of COVID we thought the number probably would drop, but it didn’t,” Yu said. “We’ll see what is going to happen this year. I think there are students who are interested and they are willing to join education, but the impact probably will be reflected in terms of whether they want to start this year.”
SUNY Plattsburgh’s childhood education program allows students multiple opportunities to gain experience in the field first-hand. During the pandemic, students have adapted to virtual learning and work with students one-on-one during Cardinal Classroom. This new program was created in the fall 2020 semester and it allows students to empathize with educators currently teaching during the pandemic.
“Once I started Cardinal Classroom, that’s when I really started kind of actually teaching and getting an understanding of how students were learning and just seeing the students,” said Junior Childhood and Special Education major Elizabeth Martin. “I have a student that I’m tutoring in math, seeing him almost have like the light bulb go off when he understands something is just the best feeling.”
Students currently in the education program do have concerns about the possibility of virtual learning since they have experienced first-hand the various modes of learning. Some find the possibility of being online as an advantage if a student is sick or the school has a snow day.
“It’s hard because everybody learns differently,” Boulrice said. “As an educator, I would try to do both. If there are kids who learn better online and they’re out sick, I can send them a video. It’s more or less like a personal decision.”
While the presence of online learning is at the forefront, it is time that accessible education is re-evaluated. With the presence of technology, educators should adapt and use it to their advantage, instead of pushing it to the side. Technology should be embraced, and this time is the best place to start.
“I think the opportunity of this pandemic has really started us to think and push us to know that every one of us has potential,” Yu said. “It’s probably high time for higher education to embrace some of the technology. I do believe regardless of what level, K-12 or higher education, I think teachers will be more willing and comfortable and confident to integrate technology into their classrooms because students grew up with this technology. I think things are going to change.”
Students currently enrolled in the education program are also learning to adapt to using technology. Students like Martin, who are closer to graduating, feel more comfortable and prepared to enter the workforce with the possibility of teaching virtually.
“I feel like I’ve really learned how to teach during a pandemic, which is really good because this is something that our professors have never had to do,” Martin said. “They’ve never had to teach through a pandemic. So I feel like I’m learning how to teach through a pandemic from someone who was just thrown into it.”
Becoming an educator is not an easy task, especially due to COVID. Prospective students who are considering joining the education field should be willing to stand up to the challenge, even if virtual learning is still needed.
“I definitely would encourage people to join because it’s worth it in the end,” Martin said. “If it’s something you’re passionate about, go for it. COVID is going to restrict all careers, essentially, so if that’s the only thing that would be holding someone back then just go for it.”
While the pandemic may drive prospective teachers away, the students at SUNY Plattsburgh are up for the challenge. Without their dedication to the program, the future of education would be bleak.