July 22, 2020 by HCDE-Texas
Preparing teachers to be virtual educators is a relatively new task for the team of education professionals who staff the Educator Certification and Advancement Division at Harris County Department of Education.
Recent college graduates or second career seekers enrolling in the longstanding teacher preparation program can expect to be greeted through Zoom meetings by an assortment of veteran educators who will help them prepare to become in-person and virtual teachers.
In the coming weeks, millions of students will go back to the classroom, but most of those classrooms will be in their own homes. ECA teachers-in-training will work virtually with the class of 2020-2021 until meeting their students in person.
“It’s a challenge as an educator preparation program,” ECA Director Lidia Zatopek said. “We are tasked with teaching our teachers how to be traditional educators but at the same time with COVID-19, we’re providing them with tools and strategies to use in a virtual setting. Those learning platforms vary district to district.”
ECA’s teacher alternative certification is a program designed for college graduates who decide to become teachers by gaining certification credentials. During the first five to 10 months, students train in small cohorts with veteran teachers who are also content experts in areas like math, science, bilingual education and language arts. Afterwards, the aspiring teachers gain positions in area school districts where they are paid while teaching. They continue to be mentored and trained.
The division also provides personalized principal training and certification preparation. A superintendent training program attracts approximately a dozen students statewide each year.
“Things are changing, and we have to adapt,” Zatopek said. As director, she brings several decades of leadership as a teacher, administrator and alternative teacher certification program veteran.
Teaching educators to teach virtually is now embedded into the curriculum of the teacher alternative certification program provided by ECA. Zoom is used for face-to-face, virtual teaching. Moodle and Power School are used for asynchronous or module-based teaching which may be accomplished at any time. Integration of technology into instruction is taught throughout the pre-service and internship phases using smart boards, mobile devices and Web 2.0 tools such as Kahoot, Padlet, Nearpod, Ouizlet, and Google Docs.
Educators gain the technology competencies along with skills like classroom management and curriculum planning. Another important element of teacher training is social-emotional learning, the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions; set and achieve positive goals; and make responsible decisions.
Social-emotional learning is a critical component in education as students, their families and teachers navigate COVID-19, Zatopek explained.
She uses this social-emotional analogy to tell new teachers about selfcare in the profession:
“When the plane experiences turbulence, the oxygen mask drops. You must put the mask on yourself before you can help your students,” she said. “Self-care is extremely important for teachers.”
Zatopek urges teachers to keep a pulse on their emotional and mental health as they embark on this new school year.
“It’s just as important for teachers to find places where they can get that support,” she said.
Classes for prospective teachers, principals or superintendents begin in September and information sessions are currently being held through ECA staff. For information about ECA’s alternative teacher certification program email firstname.lastname@example.org. For principal or superintendent certification or leadership training, go to email@example.com.