What it’s like to be a student teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic


As a student teacher during this crazy time, I can tell you that “stressful” is an understatement.

This year I am student-teaching 9th-grade World Studies and 11th-grade U.S. History at the online version of North Thurston High School.

To be granted their teaching certificate in the state of Washington, candidates must complete a grueling process of assessments and internship hours. Already a stressful process, the current COVID-19 pandemic and virtual learning situations make for more hoops that teacher candidates have to jump through to finally gain certification.

Student teaching is the process in which a college degree candidate acquires hand-on teaching experience in a local school. The regular classroom teacher acts as the candidate’s mentor. First guiding the candidate and showing them the ropes, then taking on a more supportive role as the candidate takes over the class completely for many weeks, and finally as a resource when the candidate completes their unpaid 450 hour internship and joins the workforce.

Due to the virtual learning environment, many candidates teach right from their home and have never met their mentor teacher or other staff they communicate with on a daily basis.

Skills Test

While completing a full time, unpaid, student teaching internship, candidates also have to study, take and pass the Washington Educator Skills Test (WEST-E/NES) in their endorsement/content area through Pearson Education (Example: I have two WEST-Es as I wish to teach History and Social Studies). Each endorsement test is roughly 3 hours long and costs $90 each time that it is taken. Many do not pass the first time.

Preparation Assessment

In addition, teacher candidates also have to complete the rigorous process of the Teacher Preparation Assessment (edTPA). This part of teacher certification is crucial in identifying great teachers and focuses on what candidates do to engage, interact with, and nurture students and their learning. The EdTPA is composed of 3 tasks (or parts). Task 1: Planning for Instruction and Assessment, Task 2: Instructing and Engaging Students in Learning, and Task 3: Assessing Student Learning. To give context, each task is made up of 3-5 subcomponents. My entire edTPA portfolio ended up being 142 pages long.

The Stressors

All of those requirements are tough in normal circumstances. Factor in virtual learning and certain components of the overall process are more complicated, if not impossible to do.

Some states, such as New York and Iowa, have waived their edTPA requirements for teacher candidates, allowing certain substitutions due to COVID-19’s impact on schools and in-person learning. Washington has made minimal changes for teacher certification during this time, placing increased stress on candidates to manage it all.

One particular stressor for many has been the WEST-E/NES endorsement test. Mine has been rescheduled 5 times alone and is now scheduled for March which pushes back my potential in earning a teaching position, I know many others also face similar, if not more extreme circumstances. For others, their WEST-E/NES has allowed online testing that can be done from home, but this is not the case for all content areas.

Did I mention that the internship is unpaid? Many candidates cannot afford to spend 4-5 months completing a full-time “job” that is not compensated. Many work part-time on weekends or after school hours to make ends meet. Others save up funds prior to starting the internship. Myself? I’ve saved money for the past three years working various part-time jobs, including Saturdays at Saint Martin’s University gym, writing for The Belltower student newspaper and, of course, writing for The JOLT!

As an eager teacher candidate, I had hoped that more grace would have been granted during these extreme circumstances. As the pandemic continues, and more candidates go through these processes, I can only hope that policy continues to be evaluated and changes are made to accommodate the extenuating circumstances. 

Olivia Alvord, a senior at Saint Martin's University, covers education and other topics for The JOLT. We'll miss her once she gets a full-time teaching job! 


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