More Than Grades, A Student Teacher’s Relationship With Her Students

Story by Meagan Alford

Kalani Cannon’s refrigerator at her home is adorned in several drawings, doodles, and notes from her students at Soddy Daisy middle school. It’s called “Miss Kalani’s Fridge of Fame.” One amongst several students whose artwork is on display drew a rainbow with them and Miss Kalani standing underneath. To its left is a mermaid with blue hair, little hands that have been made into a camel and a dinosaur, and a note that reads, “Miss Kalani is fun, kind, helpful, cool, sweet, loving, outgoing, weird, funny, crazy, awesome, amazing, and kid-friendly.” 

Kalani Cannon shares details about maintaining the balance between being a college student and a student teacher. Video by Nessa Parrish.

Cannon is twenty-one years old. She’s an artist, sitting in front of a colorful backdrop that she created herself in her basement. She’s a skateboarder, kicking her Vans back and forth underneath her seat. And now, she is in the second phase of her residency as a full-time student teacher for sixth-grade science at Soddy Daisy middle school.

Kalani Cannon poses with some of her favorite art pieces given to her by students. Photo by Kalie Shaw.

There are several things that make the education process difficult for Cannon, and many other teachers around her. Isolation and teaching online has proved to be a challenging task for both teachers and students, with an emphasis on mental health.

Cannon says that due to COVID restrictions, teachers have had to be highly creative when it comes to problem solving, keeping the students engaged, and wanting to learn. 

Cannon says, “when we were teaching online, grades drastically dropped and we had more students struggling with suicide.” She says that the duty of a teacher is doing many rounds of well-fare checks and reaching out, as COVID has complicated the communication between student and teacher.

Kalani Cannon shows off the latest projects from her students in science class. Photo by Nessa Parrish.

 “They are also just having a hard time virtually learning so they just don’t show up because they feel so defeated,” Cannon says. Cannon shared that she also knows what it feels like to feel defeated, and shared that it is hard to be the strong one in the room sometimes. Cannon says that she has the support that she needs at Soddy Daisy, as the teachers have a strong bond, and go to one another for help when they need it. 

“It’s okay to not be okay,” Cannon says, “Check in with yourself. How am I doing?”

With all the damage and devastation that COVID-19 has left and continues to do to education, Cannon is still eager to make a difference in her student’s lives. “I’m a teacher,” Cannon says, “to love on my students and be a person who supports them and encourages them to be the best version of themselves.” 

She feels that she has a platform to reach out, saying, “everyone is struggling. It’s a really good time to love.” 

Cannon says that she feels encouraged that she isn’t alone, and her students are not alone. She wants them to know that she is a safe place and a rock that they can come to when they need a friend–someone to listen to them and to help.

Kalani Cannon discusses what student teaching is like during the COVID-19 pandemic. Audio by Kalie Shaw.

Written by Kalie Shaw

Training and preparing the teachers of tomorrow is unquestionably an important job. It takes a dedicated individual with an understanding of the K-12 world and in-depth knowledge to navigate potential teachers through the licensure process. Chris Brown takes on all of these responsibilities and more for UTC as the School of Education’s Field Placement Coordinator. 

Chris Brown answers emails from student teachers. Brown is the Field Placement Coordinator for UT-Chattanooga. Photo by Kalie Shaw

Student Teacher Support

Brown does everything from placing students in the field for residency and observations, coordinating students’ professional development and training, to partnership conversations with Hamilton and Marion counties. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, UTC students studying education have had their time in the classroom cut in half as Hamilton and Marion county schools needed to eliminate risky exposure for their students. 

This semester, Brown is managing 118 K-12 teacher-hopefuls. 

In a usual semester, Brown meets with the student-teachers regularly. Now, everything that Brown is doing to prepare these student teachers is done virtually. Because of that, it’s been a struggle to engage with students. While Brown believes that there will continue to be some aspect of virtual learning moving forward, he’s hopeful that the School of Education will soon be able to incorporate more in-person professional development meetings. 

“You’re not just a teacher,” Brown explains. A teacher is expected to fill roles like confidant, counselor and, occasionally, surrogate parent. Students carry with them the weight of an unstable home life or other burdens that create obstacles in their learning. It is a teacher’s duty to help them overcome that. 

An important element of the professional development that Brown organizes for the student teachers, is 10 hours of self-care. According to Brown, this is to help future teachers avoid burnout and mental exhaustion. 

One of the best ways to support teachers, according to Brown, is by being there to listen to them. Teachers are asked to do a lot, but despite how superhero they may seem to their students, they’re still only human. 

Nessa Parrish

Nessa Parrish is the Editor for Rising Rock and is currently a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is a highly adaptable and dedicated individual with over 10 years of videography experience. She seeks to highlight and document the stories of individuals whose stories deserve attention through visual storytelling. Contact her at

Meagan Alford

Meagan Alford is a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is a Creative Writing major, with a minor in Communications. Her strengths include bringing people’s stories to life on the page and leaving readers with something they will remember. She specializes in works of creative nonfiction, and short stories. She is patient, observant, and works well in teams of other like-minded creatives. She enjoys coffee and long discussions with friends on her front porch in Chattanooga, TN. If you have a story that you would like thoughtfully and carefully written, please contact Meagan Alford via email at

Mark Drinkard

Mark Drinkard has 3 years of experience in student media. From those experiences, he has gained skills as a videographer and video-editor. He has used his knowledge of creative tools such as Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, and Audition to make and produce videos and audio projects. He is also adept in his knowledge of lighting, audio recording, and audio editing. Mark Drinkard currently lives in Chattanooga TN as he attends college. Photography is a passion of his and the rural landscapes offer a great backdrop to find and make photos. His goal is to provide a voice to everyone and use his skills to tell the stories of the voiceless. For questions, collaboration or to hire Mark Drinakard, contact him at markdrinkard2@gmail or (865)407-3317

Kalie Shaw

Kalie Shaw is an audio editor based out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. She works primarily editing podcasts but also has recently begun work as a sound producer on a short film. In her free time, Shaw likes to cuddle with her cat Clementine, enjoy a nice cup of coffee and discover her new favorite podcast. View her portfolio and reach out to her on her webpage,

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