Students majoring in education engage in a series of distinctive teacher-education requirements that may increase risk of infectious disease exposure and transmission. Some of the differences between general education and teacher education activities include working in simulated learning environments, attending student teaching internships and coming into contact with students and faculty in a public-school setting. The aforementioned activities are in addition to general student risks such as residing in shared living spaces, riding communal transport and engaging with others in crowded college classrooms.
Risk of exposure and transmission chains becomes larger when considering the diverse, crowded and changing environments education students navigate. While our previous article, “COVID-19: Risk to Nursing Students” reviews student risk generally, multiple requirements of the education major path may place education students in a separate, increased risk category.
Prior to beginning a student teaching internship, education students train in simulated classrooms. These classrooms use shared equipment among groups of students, making social distancing difficult. Necessary group work is often a facet of teacher education, even outside of the classroom. Policy and procedure for simulated learning and group work will need to be implemented to ensure health and safety measures are considered.
Additionally, education students participate in an internship where they perform student teaching as a requirement of their education. Student teaching is where theory and skills taught through simulation are applied in an actual classroom environment. Risk of infection and transmission is high due to the nature of the work setting including the requirement to work with students in one-on-one and whole-group settings, attend parent-teacher conferences, and hold regular consultations with both the classroom partnership teacher who is guiding the student’s on-site experience and the education professor and mentor who is assessing his or her work.
Education students may spread the virus on campus, in their communities, at their student teaching sites, and even between student teaching sites. Schools that host student teachers will need confidence that students are not significantly contributing to infection rates and putting students at risk.
Schools are well documented sites of viral outbreaks.1,2 It is paramount that these risks are considered and that education students be given the proper training, protocols, policy and procedures to prevent the spread of the virus.
A responsible plan for bringing education students back to campus, which accounts for the unique experience at student teaching sites and within the classroom, should be a condition. Additionally, institutions of higher education should prepare to enact a plan that supports testing, isolation, quarantine, contact tracing, reduced movement between multiple teaching sites and enhanced disease surveillance. This plan should foster strong communication with teaching sites. Furthermore, there is a moral and ethical obligation for schools to protect the health and safety of students, their communities and their partner organizations.
1.Calatayud, L. et al. Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus outbreak in a school in London, April–May 2009: an observational study. Epidemiology & Infection 138, 183–191 (2010).
2. William S. Jordan, J. The Mechanism of Spread of Asian Influenza1. American Review of Respiratory Disease (2015).