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Understanding teachers' experiences of working during the global pandemic from the perspective of a KURF student

SooYeon Suh is an undergraduate student in the School of Education, Communication and Society. Suh studies on the BA Social Sciences and as part of the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship scheme (KURF) had the chance to work on a research project in the School. Suh details her experiences of the project below.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all in one way or another, transforming our everyday life to one of uncertainty and requiring us to adapt to a new ‘normal’. As a student, I did not necessarily consider the other side of education. I was more caught up with how the pandemic has impacted my learning and my education. I hadn’t thought about what COVID-19 might mean for teachers and those training to become teachers.

As part of the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship scheme (KURF), I was given the opportunity to work alongside leading academics from the School of Education, Communication and Society (ECS) on an inspiring project. It has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of teachers’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project documents the substantial changes and sustained disruption caused by the pandemic on secondary school teachers, during their Initial Teacher Education (ITE) year and subsequent two years as an Early Career Teacher (ECT). The project has a strong focus on mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 by producing research-informed recommendations to enhance teacher quality and retention.

My role in the project was to support data analysis of the 36 interviews that formed part of the pilot study. This involved reading the interviews, identifying themes and collating quotes. The data analysis process gave me an insight into the experiences of trainee teachers during the pandemic and the ways they have adapted and responded to periods of challenge as they seek to support their school communities. The early research findings demonstrate the need for ongoing, personalised professional learning for ECTs so that they can thrive as they continue to develop as teachers during this challenging period.

Reading through the interviews, I realised that the role of a teacher was more multifaceted than I had previously considered, including academic study, and developing skills and experiences as those with pastoral care and responsibility for young people. The interviews demonstrate the strong values which teachers bring into the classroom, including a desire to make a difference in the lives of young people and engaging students with wider ideas such as global citizenship and environmental sustainability. Choosing to train to become a teacher during COVID-19 also clearly underlined the societal contributions schools make through education, supporting young people experiencing periods of challenge and difficulty in their lives. This further demonstrates the need to support all teachers, but particularly teacher trainees, especially during this period where the educational outcomes of pupils have been impacted by COVID-19-related disruptions.

Not only did this project provide me with valuable insights, but it also gave me a new profound respect for trainee teachers and those who mentor and support them. They have shown so much resilience and perseverance during this time despite the many challenges they have faced. Supporting the team with data analysis meant that I was able to gain new skills as a qualitative researcher which also allowed me to gain a better understanding of the values of the qualitative paradigm. Being involved in a research project in this way has been hugely valuable as I enter my final year as an undergraduate student and begin my own dissertation research. This was not only an inspiring experience but was also a reflective one. My experiences of being part of the research team has taught me how to be a reflexive researcher, one that strives to have deep engagements with the dataset, and this is something I will take forward in my future development as a researcher.

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