I vividly remember completing my senior student teaching assignment many years ago at a junior high school in the Township of Union in Union County.

I was nervous and anxious about the journey of becoming an educator, and was eager to put into practice all that I learned from my professors as I was preparing to become a special education teacher.

Without a doubt, the experience in Union Township had an incredible impact upon me as a young person interested in teaching children with learning challenges. Soon after beginning my practice teaching, I realized how significant this experience was and how necessary it was for me to be properly prepared for the classroom. The important lessons I learned from the faculty members and the administrators who helped me — and the children with whom I was working — have stayed with me throughout my life.

This process of mentoring aspiring young teachers, and preparing them for the trials, tribulations and exhilaration of the classroom, is a critically important professional obligation for the future of education.

After I moved into my first administrative position as an assistant principal — and then as a principal and superintendent of schools — I realized an ancillary benefit of having student teachers in our schools. It gave me ample opportunity to evaluate the aspiring teachers, and recruit the best and the brightest of the group. Some of the most talented educators I hired were those who came to us first as college students.

This issue of School Leader spotlights the experiences of student teachers during the pandemic in the article, “Teacher Education: No Classroom Required.”

Not surprisingly, it has been an unusual time to complete a clinical teaching experience.

Instead of standing in front of a classroom of children, student teachers have learned to effectively use a variety of apps and tools, found websites that are both engaging and age-appropriate, kept a close eye on students in virtual classrooms and reached out to children who were  having trouble. They were able to provide extra instruction to small groups of students in virtual breakout rooms, while their cooperating teacher helped other students.

The teacher candidates that School Leader spoke with are aware that there are teaching techniques and competencies, such as classroom management, that they have not been able to develop fully. However, since it is likely that the role of digital learning in education will continue to grow, these fledgling educators have built valuable skills in that area.

Most important, like all of us, they have learned to adapt to a new environment and a new way of doing things. That adaptability will be essential to them as they continue their 21st century careers.

Like all professions, education is constantly changing. But what doesn’t change is the most significant aspect of education: the interaction between a teacher and a child.