PUBLISHED: 4:48 PM on Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Teaching teachers
UAS program gives public schools a boost

Photo by Rosie Milligan
  Sarah Brooks prepares for the first day of class at Dzantik'I Heeni Middle School, where she has taught for three years. Brooks is a graduate of the Master's of Teaching program at University of Alaska Southeast.
Southeast Alaska teachers give back to the community by continuing to enrich education in their classrooms by both instructing their students and the future teachers of the districts.

The combined efforts of the University of Alaska Southeast and the southeast school districts has developed a teaching program that both prepares the teachers of the future for the demanding profession and continues to educate the teachers of today.

The Master of Arts in Teaching graduate program at UAS has proven to be successful in its teaching methods, as shown by reviews from the graduates and participants in the program.

Students enrolled in the MAT program at UAS undergo an intensive full year of educational training featuring a nine-month internship in public schools.

The program also entails the completion of 36 graduate level credits and a final work portfolio representing the 12 months of grueling work.

"It's great. It really prepares you for what teaching is really like," said Jessica Robins, who graduated last year and now is the detention teacher at the Johnson Youth Center.

David Marvel, director of secondary education and the MAT program at UAS, would like to thank the district for their involvement in the graduate training and guarantees the internship provides the most beneficial experience.

"We are so appreciative of their (the school district's) support of the program. It's all a partnership program and would not be possible without the continued support of the partnership," Marvel said.

The classes may be completed in Juneau, Sitka or through distance education. The internship must be completed in the public schools but there is an option to teach abroad or in rural Alaska during the second semester.

UAS has offered the program for 11 years and continues to see enrollment increase, with 75 percent of their students coming from outside Alaska. Thirty students started the program this year in July and have now been placed in classroom all over southeast.

Acceptance into the program requires students to have completed a bachelors degree in a field commonly taught in public schools. The student population is varied in age, ethnicity and background with the average age being 30.

The number of MAT graduates teaching locally is a significant representation of the practicality of the program and it continues to grow annually.

Marvel said that 97 percent of the MAT graduates at UAS go into teaching and of that 95 percent are still teaching today.

In traditional teacher education programs, 30 percent never teach after graduation and of that national average another 40 percent quit teaching after four years.

Marvel credits that sinking rate to disenchantment caused by burn-out when teachers are put in a class without the experience of doing the internship, acknowledging the real-life work experience as the program's greatest strength.

The influence of the MAT students in the classrooms is respected and brings new ideas, personalities and characteristics to the learning experience.

"They (MAT students) reach out to students and the kids can connect with another personality. It brings a balance of personalities into the class and keeps me from being complacent," said Ali McKenna, a host teacher at JDHS and professor for the MAT program.

"It's a service and it helps give back to the profession by giving your experience to other people," McKenna said. "It's an intense relationship. I get attached to my interns, they become my sisters. In the end everyone benefits."

The internship requires the involvement of a host teacher, who must volunteer to have a student assist in the classroom throughout the entire school year. The MAT student must prepare lessons, teach class and live the life of a full-time teacher Mondays through Thursdays and attend university classes on Fridays.

Host teachers report the difficulty involved in having a student teacher is the constant job-shadowing and trying to teach both their students and teaching someone else how to teach these students. They have to be aware of what they say in varying aspects.

Jamie Marks, a teacher at Dzantik'I Heeni Middle School who team-teaches with his wife and who are both graduates of the program, said that this difficulty also made him a better teacher and was a rewarding experience hosting a student teacher.

"It was a fantastic experience to be a host for a student teacher," Marks said. "He made me a better teacher, being so conscientious of what we are doing in the class and why. I had to ask myself why we were doing it and if I could not think of a good answer I realized we did not need to be doing it."

The university's rigorous schedule seems to prove the MAT program one of the best graduate programs for a career in education and the overall consensus is that the real-life in-class experience is it's star attribute, thanks to the cooperation of the public schools.