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During Crisis, Finding the Teachable Moments

Imani Hinson earlier this semester with Dean Jay Lewis.

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the closure of all schools statewide to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Hofstra’s School of Education had approximately 135 student teachers placed throughout Long Island and the New York metropolitan area.

Jay Lewis, Associate Dean for External Relations, Field Placement and Recruitment, believed his aspiring teachers could be a critical resource as schools made the transition to digital learning. So he started working the phones, making calls to his contacts in local school districts – teachers, principals and superintendents – to make sure Hofstra students could continue their placements.

The result? 100 percent of those student teachers are continuing to teach online.

Maryland resident Imani Hinson ’20 is continuing to teach her 11th grade AP history classes at Uncommon Charter High School in Brooklyn from her off-campus home in Uniondale.

Hinson teaching from her off-campus housing in Uniondale.

“The biggest challenge is keeping students engaged,” she said. “We don’t want to make the lessons too long and lose their attention. My cooperating teacher and I have tried using a podcast format for some of the classes to keep them interesting.”

Hinson, who will return to the high school this fall as a full-time social studies teacher, adds that she is lucky to work at a school that embraced technology long before this crisis. “The school was prepared, and the teachers were familiar with the technology,” she said. “That has made a difference. The students already had accounts on Kahn Academy and Google Classroom.”

Dennis Belen Morales ‘20 was student teaching at Uniondale Turtle Hook Middle School when the governor ordered schools closed.

He was among the 20 percent of Hofstra’s student teachers who needed to change their field placement assignment when Cuomo’s order came down.

With the help of Dean Lewis and Hofstra Professor Alan Singer, Morales was able to transition to his high school alma mater, the Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical High School in the Bronx. Unlike Hinson, who already had a strong connection with her students, Morales has the challenge of working with a new class. Fortunately, his cooperating teacher at Alfred E. Smith is Hofstra alumnus Pablo Muriel ’01, ’03, who also happens to be his former social studies teacher.

Dennis Belen Morales

“Because I know Pablo so well, I’m very comfortable with this arrangement,” Morales said. “We hold three 30-40 minute sessions a week with each class. We check in on the students, post assignments, and develop lesson plans together. I’m bilingual, and it’s been very helpful that I can post announcements in Spanish for some of the students.”

Area schools had little time to prepare for the move to distance learning, and Dean Lewis says that Hofstra students in the field were viewed as an “extra set of hands” to help teachers get their classroom instruction and lesson plans in order.

“The great majority of our students are attuned to online resources,” he said. “While we were concerned that the our students would not be a priority in the schools where they were working, they have – in fact – been valued as a great help to teachers who are adjusting from working in the classroom to working 24/7 at home.”

Dean Lewis says that Hofstra students are also getting creative when it comes to online teaching. “I have eight physical education students. They are partnering on a physical activity video that they will use with their classes,” Lewis said. “I also have four dance education students who are using online video to demonstrate choreography.”

Morales plans a lesson from his home in the Bronx with his cooperating teacher, Pablo Muriel, a Hofstra alum who is also his former high school social studies teacher.

Both Hinson and Morales can picture teaching about the coronavirus pandemic to classes of their own.

“We’re actually learning about the Great Depression now,” Hinson said. “I can see myself asking my students many of the same questions about both eras: What was the government doing? What was the president doing? What bills were passed to help people?”

Morales agreed, adding that he is already looking for the “teachable moments – the passing of the stimulus package, the response of the president, and the role the state and federal government is playing in battling the pandemic.”

For Hofstra students the most important lesson is resilience, Lewis said.

“How do you teach in times of adversity?” he said. ‘How do you adjust your teaching strategies when you can’t connect with your students face-to-face?”

“If teaching is truly your calling,” he added, “then you’ll appreciate how important you are to your students, how much they need you, even when circumstances prevent you from being in the same room together.”

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