As Pandemic Upends Teaching, Fewer Students Want to Pursue It

As Pandemic Upends Teaching, Fewer Students Want to Pursue It

For some young people, doubts about entering the teaching work force amid the pandemic are straightforward: They fear that the job now entails increased risk.

Nicole Blagsvedt, an education major at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, felt a jolt of anxiety when she began her classroom training in a local public school that recently brought its students back for full in-person learning. After months of seeing only her roommates, moving around a classroom brimming with fourth and fifth graders was nerve-racking.

Ms. Blagsvedt’s role also encompassed new responsibilities: sanitizing fidget toys, enforcing mask use, coordinating the cleaning of the water bottles that students brought to school because they couldn’t use the water fountains. In her first week, she received a call from an office assistant informing her that one of her students had been exposed to Covid-19, and that she had to help shepherd the students out of the classroom so it could be disinfected.

“This panic crossed my mind,” she said. “I thought: This was what it’s going to be like now.”

Administrators running teacher preparation programs said the new anxieties were most likely scaring away some potential applicants. “People are weighing whether or not it makes sense to go to a classroom when there are alternatives that may seem safer,” said David J. Chard, dean of the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University.

But for many students, the challenges posed by remote teaching can be just as steep. Those training in districts with virtual classes have had to adjust their expectations; while they might have pictured themselves holding students’ hands and forming deep relationships, they’re now finding themselves staring at faces on a Zoom grid instead.

“Being online is draining,” said Oscar Nollette-Patulski, who had started an education degree at the University of Michigan but is now considering swapping majors. “You have to like what you’re doing a lot more for it to translate on a computer. I’m wondering, if I don’t like doing this online that much, should I be getting a degree in it?”