KOKOMO, Ind. — When Allison (McMinn) Sears dreamed about being an elementary school teacher, she imagined gathering close with students to share a picture book, working together in small groups, and maybe even accepting hugs from her small students.
But when you student teach during a global pandemic, you have to adjust.
Sears, who graduated from Indiana University Kokomo in December, could never have imagined having to keep young children separated from one another, wearing face shields or masks, and even teaching remotely via computer. But with flexibility, she was successful and is ready to begin her career.
“Experience is the best teacher,” said Sears, from Russiaville. “Going into it, I wasn’t confident that in less than a year I would be by myself in a classroom full of students, and I would be able to teach them and take care of them. By the end of the semester, my confidence had increased. The thing that has grown me the most is actually being in the classroom.”
Sears taught second graders and preschoolers at Tri-Central Elementary School and found it challenging to explain the necessary safety adjustments that allowed in-person school to happen after being shut down earlier in the pandemic.
Older students were required to wear masks in the hallways, as well as use plastic coverings over their desks to work in small groups.
“That was a little weird to see in the classroom,” she said. “It’s hard to tell an 8-year-old to social distance from other kids when they are naturally drawn to be close to them.”
Virtual learning didn’t last too long, which allowed her to bond with the students — in particular, her second graders.
“I loved being with them,” she said. “They are old enough that they want to connect with you, and they are just really fun. Then you have the preschoolers, who are so little and innocent, and they are learning from you what school is all about. I loved both classes.”
After completing her degree in elementary education, Sears plans to be a substitute teacher for the spring semester, and then start in her own classroom in August 2021. She looks forward to beginning the career she’s wanted for as long as she can remember.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher because I want to make a positive impact in the lives of kids,” she said. “Just seeing their faces light up when you walk in, and knowing they look forward to seeing you and you make their day better, that’s huge.”
An important part of her growth at IU Kokomo was participating in the cross country and track teams, where she holds records as part of the distance medley team and in the women’s 600 meter.
As an introvert by nature, being part of the team gave her a place to belong when she arrived as a freshman, after graduating from Western High School.
“It allowed me to meet more people, and talk to others,” she said. “It allowed me to connect and start out with a community, which gave me confidence to make friends in my major. That will help me grow as a teacher, and prepare me to begin new relationships as I start my career.”