Zooming In: Teaching During a Pandemic

When stay-at-home orders were issue to prevent the spread of COVID-19, closed schools had to readjust practically overnight. DePaul Magazine spoke with Paul Zionts, dean of the College of Education, about how distance learning is affecting students, educators and education.

What is the College of Education doing to help students and alumni during this unprecedented time?

Paul Zionts, dean of the College of Education

You should check out our website. We have tons of resources for teaching, learning, mental health and wellness for all of our stakeholders—students, K–12 teachers, counselors and the general public. We have organized a Chicago Survivors Virtual Camp, which will provide support services to families affected by ongoing violence in Chicago starting in late June. Our students are also offering valuable services, from virtual tutoring and homework help for students who are struggling to online individual counseling for the children of health care workers.

We’re also anticipating how we will be able to help our graduating seniors in the fall when they’re going to have to teach, since many of them were forced to miss face-to-face student teaching this quarter. What we’re going to do is provide a community of faculty, graduate students and alumni who will volunteer to help these students. We’re going to invite the students to get feedback virtually on lesson planning, classroom management and other topics followed by some questions and answers, and a chance to share their experiences and struggles.

Do you have any sense of what the short- and long-term effects will be on K–12 students? Will they be behind once school starts up again in person?

When a student asks, ‘Did I miss anything in class last week?’ the answer is always, ‘Yes, and it’s all going to be on the test.” So, yes, they’ll be behind as they are not getting the contact time, the instruction that they normally receive. It’s going to be our job to catch them up. There are always going to be some students who are succeeding and ones who are struggling. It’s going to be a challenge for us to help each student learn.

The virus has heightened the gap between schools with adequate resources and those without them. How does the college play a role in alleviating this disparity?

We are in the schools that represent both “haves” and “have-nots” around Chicago. We are partnering with the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which is a teacher residency program that to help failing schools turn things around. We’ve just become their sole partner, and we will be educating all of their new residency teachers. In the 2020–21 academic year, we’ll have more than 75 teachers who will be getting their master’s degree and teaching certification with us. And while they’re doing it, they’ll be working in a school four days a week.

How will this pandemic change teaching at DePaul in the long run?

It’s an interesting question. We are now, obviously, adapting. I think what’s going to happen is that remote learning will become more incorporated into our overall curriculum, but it won’t replace in-person teaching. There is something so unique about the university, on-campus experience, especially the DePaul experience, and this can never be replicated online. There are lots of reasons why students come to DePaul, but I promise you that when you come to DePaul, you’re going to learn how to teach in Chicago. Our belief is that if you teach here, you can teach anywhere.

What are some of the unexpected positives from this horrible situation?

If anything, teacher status is really becoming elevated because we have a number of parents who are having difficulty overseeing schooling for their children while also working. Now multiply your kid by 20 or 30. This is what a teacher has to do every day. Teachers deserve so much respect. They really make a difference in children’s lives. It’s not an easy job and it’s a job that requires skill and the proper training. I’m happy that teachers are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

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