Student teacher placement provides an added obstacle to a challenging year

Róisín Cullen

Placement has always been a stressful affair for Bachelor of Education students since the foundation of St.Patrick’s College Drumcondra. The rush to find resources, keep folders up to date, and perform to the best of one’s own ability has always been a challenge, without the added worry that comes with a world pandemic.

The October 28th deadline for finding a school for November placement is weeks away, and many primary schools are uncomfortable taking in student teachers in midst of the current health crisis.

A poll conducted by the placement team and six of the Bachelor of Education (BEd) class representatives found that 20% of the 200 students who responded have yet to find a school for placement.

Many students have expressed concerns about partaking in placement this year, with personal health and the vulnerability of family members being some of their main concerns.

Class representative, Ellen Corr, has received messages from concerned final year students. “A few students have indicated that they have concerns about going into schools and we have yet to be told the exact details and procedures regarding Covid-19 and placement.

It is a very stressful time for students. Some students can’t find placement, some have family members who are at risk and going on placement can cause them anxiety, other students are having to do placement outside of the county they’re living in.”

Recent bED graduate, Margaret Byrne, teaches in a rural school in County Carlow. She feels the classroom she is now teaching in, is completely different to the one she received training for.

“The classroom now is beginning to resemble the classroom from years ago where we just sit and learn. There is no group work and singing should be avoided, but is actually not banned”, said Byrne.

Byrne feels protected by the Perspex surrounding her and the safety procedures put in place by her new school. She is happy to have a set school for the year as safety procedures now vary from school to school.

“I would hate to be coming in on placement not knowing the Covid procedures because every school is different”, said Byrne.

A DCU graduate teaching in the South East  feels that she is in an extremely vulnerable situation within the classroom.

“I feel like we aren’t being protected near enough”, the newly qualified teacher told The College View.

“I know we aren’t frontline workers in the same sense that nurses are, but when would a nurse be placed in a room with 30 odd possible covid carriers?…Obviously we want schools to stay open but if the country is bad enough for there to be a max of 15 people indoors, how can throwing 35 in a room together make sense?”

The young teacher was particularly concerned by the fact that she was not contacted when one of her students was being tested for coronavirus.

“My frustration isn’t with the lack of PPE, it’s with the lack of communication/ acknowledgement. I feel like close contacts for an office worker and a close contact for a class room are being treated completely differently, which isn’t fair.”

A final year student from Mary Immaculate College, told The College View that Covid-19 has become a taboo topic, as junior infants become scared and anxious when the topic is discussed amongst students.

“Covid social distancing doesn’t exist in the infant classroom, we don’t talk about it because they get scared. It’s sad seeing infants tell tales on each other for holding hands”, she said.

The student teacher regulates regular hand sanitisation and other important safety procedures and tries to make her classroom as normal and enjoyable as it can be at this time.

DCU bED student, Sinéad Smyth’s search for placement in her home county was not a straightforward one.

“I had eight schools turn me down”, she explained. “You can totally understand why. Schools are either not taking any student teachers or have all of their allocations filled.”

The placement office told the six class reps that students struggling to find placement can be allocated schools. The students are also in constant communication with DCU Students’ Union VP for Education and Placement, Chloe McMorrow.

“The placement office has contacted some schools and asked them to take in students who are looking for placement, and we have been told that if we are struggling to find a placement to contact them and they will assist.

However, this option may not be a simple solution for all students. Corr believes that some student teachers are reluctant to contact the placement office in fear that they will be allocated a school that is difficult to get to, especially given public transport restrictions etc.”

The October placement deadline has put pressure on schools across the country, who are trying to limit the number of people entering their school community.

Everything is quite uncertain and risk of contracting Covid-19 within a primary school setting is something that will only become clear as research advances.

The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) has raised concerns about secondary school teachers in the high risk category who have been refused the option of staying at home this year.

President of the ASTI, Anne Piggott, told The Irish Times that it is “a life or death situation for some and we have to do all we can to protect their lives.”

Primary school principals have always tried their best to accommodate students hoping to become teachers. The current health advice, has led many schools to refuse student teachers on the basis of protecting their school community.

A vice principal of a rural school, explained to The College View that the number of spaces is far lower than normal.

“We wouldn’t be able to take as many as we usually would, because we have to limit our numbers. Priority is given to past pupils or students in our locality. In the past we would have tried to accommodate as many as we could.”

However, even students who have sorted school placement may not be in the clear. Nothing is for certain, as the R number increases around the country.

If a school is closed or a class has been sent home as a result of a positive case, a student teacher may not have a class to teach.

Every step has to be taken to keep the teachers, students, and parents in school communities around the country safe.

“We may have to refuse people we have already accepted, if a class is sent home in the future or if there is a case in the school. We are accepting people subject to everything being okay at the time of placement”, the vice principal finished.

Róisín Cullen

Image Credit: Monica Sedra Unsplash