With restrictions in place across Victoria Meg was finding it increasingly difficult to fulfil the placement requirements of her teaching degree. When a last minute remote placement became a possibility, she got in touch with her old primary school and former teacher, Scott.
Katamatite is a rural Victorian town, roughly 50km northeast of Shepparton. Meg now lives in metropolitan Melbourne. While not originally intending on completing placement at her former school, the circumstances of COVID-19 have given Meg a unique opportunity to return (digitally) to Katamatite Primary School for a four-week placement.
Having completed two rounds of placement in person prior to this year, Meg acknowledges the online placement isn’t quite the same.
‘It’s obviously very different, I think being one on one, teaching in the classroom you get a lot more…But I have still been able to reach my goals, taking on lessons and controlling the class. It’s just in a different way, different learning approaches and teaching approaches.’
For Scott, supporting Meg’s development, despite the challenges of the online setting, has been a positive experience.
‘I haven’t seen Meg for probably 15 years, but as a 12-year-old I knew what kind of person she was… So that filled me with confidence. She’s great with the kids. She’s been a great listener. She’s been developing her skills, which obviously is the idea of it.’
Meg was concerned in the beginning, about how she might fit into the digital classroom, and how the students might respond to her presence.
‘At first I was like, “Oh I don’t know if I’ll just be a distraction,” but they’ve responded really well to it. Just having that new person there on the online class some students will say “Hey, can I ask you a question?”’
While knowing it’s difficult to recreate the classroom experience, Meg has found value in developing her online teaching skills.
‘So many teachers as well took [online teaching] on this year, and have been thrown in the deep end of working it out…So I guess a positive of it is getting the experience and understanding of it. Some teachers and schools are talking about using certain aspects of online teaching more in a classroom, so just having that approach will definitely be beneficial in the future.’
In order to facilitate the placement, and the logistics of sharing the online class, Meg explains there has been a lot of back and forth between her and Scott.
‘We discuss what lessons I want to take on, what I’ve taken on planning and then I just email him, documents and things I’ve designed or lesson plans. It’s a lot of communication via email, or calling or texting through ideas. We’re just using the google suite for the class and that’s how I do all my lesson plans and activities for the kids.’
Scott highlights this constant back and forth as a useful tool in giving feedback and reflecting on the classes overall.
‘The students leave the classroom at 11 o’clock, so we have a chat about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it at the end of the session. And at one o’clock when we finish, we’ll hang around and have a chat about what we’re going to do the next day. And actually that has worked well. It’s something you probably don’t get the opportunity to do in school because normally you’ve got to run away and do yard duty or something else.’
Scott, Meg and students in an online class.
‘Normally, you would wait until after school to do it and by then you’ve forgotten anyway.’
While there have been good outcomes for both Meg and Scott, the remote placement has fallen short in some respects. Remote learning has reduced the amount of time students spend in the (digital) classroom, and as a result there is less time for teaching practice.
‘Meg was meant to be teaching the equivalent of three days a week. We finish at one o’clock, so she would have to be teaching the lot. It’s not even practical, I don’t teach them four hours…we do things that they can do themselves.’
The changed circumstance of remote placement, however, have been an opportunity for Meg to adapt to a new teaching environment and unique restraints.
‘It’s been interesting. I went to plan a lesson, and realised, “Well that won’t work, we’re not in a classroom”, it has really made me have to think about, “Ok…we can’t do that”. You’ve got to really think about how you plan the lesson, which has been a good challenge.’
In allowing Meg to run her own lessons and develop her own learning, Scott has found opportunities to compare their approaches. On one feedback occasion, Scott explains, he had a chance to learn.
‘It’s not what I would have done but it will be great for both of us because if the kids can handle it, I will learn that they can handle something that I didn’t think they could and if they can’t handle then you will learn more about what sort of things they can handle’.
Overall the placement has been, despite the circumstances, a good experience for Scott, Meg and the Katamatite students. Additionally for Meg, the placement has been a welcomed opportunity to return to her former community.
‘It was really cool to come back and be a part of the school for a little bit and I’ve thought it’s been a really good experience, definitely a positive one.’