June 3, 2020

Preservice teachers step up to fill void created by school closures

Werklund School undergrads volunteer their time to tutor K-12 students across Alberta
Preservice teacher Jenny Yuen says that knowing she is making a positive impact in the community during difficult times gives her volunteer work added meaning
Preservice teacher Jenny Yuen immediately volunteered when the occasion arose

When schools across Alberta were shuttered in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, preservice teachers in the Werklund School of Education quickly signed up to volunteer their time as online tutors to ensure K-12 students completed their studies.

To date, 224 Bachelor of Education undergraduates have been matched with more than 400 primary and secondary students throughout the province.

“The fact that over 200 of our undergraduate students have stepped up to volunteer as online tutors during this difficult time might seem amazing to some, but to me, it is just another example of the incredible commitment to children and youth that they demonstrate everyday,” says Dr. Amy Burns, PhD’08Undergraduate Programs in Education associate dean.

  • Photo above: Preservice teacher Jenny Yuen says knowing she is making a positive impact in the community during difficult times gives her volunteer work added meaning.

Tutors provide individualized support that addresses the specific needs of each child based on input supplied by parents and in accordance with the Alberta Government’s Programs of Study. Tutors are assigned one to four students based on their availability and meet virtually for up to three hours a week at mutually agreed upon times.  

Tutors adapted to meet student learning needs

Mike Holden, student and youth facilitator, has been working with families and volunteers to ensure successful pairings. He says the applications run the gamut of subject areas from literacy and numeracy to coding, social studies, science and second languages.

“The diversity of requests has been incredible. Each student also comes with a different set of needs: some students are struggling to stay afloat, others are looking for enrichment or to stay engaged in a specific subject.”

Holden adds that the preservice teachers are grateful for the opportunity to help: “These are involved, active educators who aren’t used to sitting on the sidelines. Tutoring gives them another great chance to think about how to help each individual student be successful, and how to adapt their approach based on where that student is at and what they need.”

Self-described ‘busybody’ Jenny Yuen says she was not content to rest idly at home so immediately volunteered when the occasion arose. She says that changing her approach to involve the two students she is tutoring in setting the learning direction resulted in greater engagement on their part.

“I have discovered my Grade 1 student is a walking encyclopedia of outer space knowledge. Since then, my lesson plans have been space themed and we have even gone on a few virtual field trips together into outer space.”

Daniel Benavides also quickly realized that teaching online necessitated a different approach. “This experience has required me to be adaptable and flexible. One student was having some trouble understanding vector quantities; explaining vector quantities only verbally is very difficult, thus, finding and learning how to use a suitable online white board was necessary.”

Having the chance to get to know my students and meeting them where they’re at has opened my eyes to the diversity of needs amongst students, even within seemingly similar subject areas.

The diverse needs of the students is a matter Holden is well aware of as many families requesting assistance have identified their child as being on an Individualized Program Plan or having specific learning, cognitive or physical disabilities.

Relationship-building integral to successful exchanges

No matter the ask, the preservice teachers have met the challenge by building relationships with parents as well as the children. Consequently, the undergraduate program office has received numerous notes of appreciation.

“Our involvement with the program and the tutor’s excellent and expert care in assisting our son with his Mathematics has been, hands down, the best academic decision we have made all school year,” says Jennifer Crawford. She also credits the tutor with inspiring her son’s increasingly positive opinion of the subject.  

After having tutored her students for several weeks now, Erika Born believes everyone involved has benefited from the opportunity and that, as a result, she and her fellow volunteers will be better teachers when they step into the classroom.

“By designing and implementing lesson plans and supporting students with their learning, this opportunity is, in a way, like our mini practicum. I think I can speak for many of my fellow education classmates when I say that this has been a valuable experience for our growth as preservice teachers.”

Tutors will continue to assist students until the completion of classes in June, and discussions are underway for continuing this initiative through summer and the start of the 2021 school year. In addition, the Werklund School is now offering free counselling and intervention services to children and youth who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Details can be found on the Integrated Services in Education website.


UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.