Students pursue teaching careers despite virtual learning

Baylor education majors continue to gain teaching experience amid COVID-19. Photo illustrated by Brittany Tankersley

At the end of the 2020-2021 school year, one in four teachers were considering quitting their job, according to a RAND Corporation survey as reported by Robert Preidt at US News.

“In Houston ISD, the state’s largest district, there were more than 700 open positions at one point during the summer, an unusual amount,” Brian Lopez said in a Texas Tribune article.

However, Dr. Jenifer Johnson, director of recruitment and first-year experience, said Baylor’s School of Education has not experienced this, despite the national decrease in students choosing education as a major.

“Even though we have seen our numbers lower in the education field, we’ve actually been able to remain pretty steady in the School of Education,” Johnson said. “Over the past couple of years, we have actually seen an increase in the amount of entering students.”

Additionally, Dr. Suzanne Nesmith, associate dean of undergraduate education, said many Baylor students who majored in something else decided to pursue a master’s degree in education in response to the pandemic.

“When students went home and parents had to take over that role of helping to instruct their students more, it actually is going to show them the need to have these teachers,” Johnson said. “My hope is that students will see that and start to pursue the field more.”

Nesmith said she thinks the pandemic forced progression in the field and is allowing students to learn a new skill set by teaching virtually.

“A lot of the students appreciate it — that they got to teach virtually with the students last year,” Johnson said. “Especially our freshman students, our freshman students actually became the teacher on the other side of the screen while they were the student just a few months prior as a high school student.”

Austin sophomore Lana Brady is one of the students who transitioned from being a student to a teacher during COVID-19. She said she chose to pursue education during her junior year of high school and had some hesitations when the pandemic hit.

“It is daunting, I’m not going to lie,” Brady said. “It’s daunting to know all of the tasks that are going to be asked of me and just the ability to teach online and in-classroom. Now that I’m in education and I see the depth and the intricacies of what it means to be a teacher — meeting the needs of every single student in your classroom, trying to know them each personally, doing that online or in a world where we’re all still in masks — it’s hard. It’s scary.”

Despite the changes in the field, Brady said she continues to pursue education because it brings her joy, purpose and energy.

“The joy isn’t gone,” Brady said. “The joy is still there, and the kids are still the same kids they were pre-COVID, and I do it for the kids. I don’t do it for what’s easy for me. So I am still all-in because it’s not about me, and it’s not about what’s easy for me; it’s about that there are kids out there who need someone to encourage them and someone to be a rock in their life and someone to tell them they can when the world tells them they can’t. So that’s why I’m still going to be a teacher.”

Nesmith said teachers have always been her heroes, especially during COVID-19.

“The heroism that was shown by teachers during the pandemic, I think may make people aware of the power, the incredible opportunity to just show the calling and the passion of teaching,” Nesmith said. “It’s not a job. It is a calling. It is a passion.”