Educators Receive Unique Education at Southwestern
For 15 consecutive years, a Southwestern education major has received one of four scholarships awarded annually by the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators (TASPA), in recognition of the best teacher candidates in the state.
What is Southwestern doing to help these students qualify for and get noticed by the TASPA award committee?
Sherry Adrian, associate professor of education, explains that she and her fellow faculty members strive to create the kind of environment and provide the kinds of experiences through which students gain the knowledge and critical thinking skills that make them desirable candidates for the TASPA scholarships. She says, “We provide experiences that give them a voice to write well about what they think about teaching.”
According to Adrian, one way that Southwestern is unique and different than many other education degree programs is the strong commitment by faculty to providing multiple field-based experiences. Although every educator preparation program requires students to do field work, many do not have the “many, varied and early” field experiences that Southwestern offers and in many cases requires of its students.
At Southwestern, education majors are in a classroom (in an elementary or secondary school) every year if not every semester, beginning in their first year for those concentrating on elementary education; secondary ed majors are in the classroom beginning in their junior year, after they have completed many or all of their content courses. The internship-type experiences that Southwestern students have “look very different than programs that offer only two or three experiences, including student teaching,” says Adrian. “Not only are our students in classrooms early-on, but they have multiple and varied experiences. An elementary ed major might work in classrooms at every level—kindergarten through 5th grade—which enables him or her to see curriculum across grade levels of certification and to clarify where their strengths lie.”
These types of opportunities help Southwestern students feel confident in their strengths and help them develop an appreciation of the scope and sequence of the curriculum they will one day be teaching. They also give the students the “ability to reflect and to think critically,” says Adrian. “The learning curve is steep to develop as a teacher-scholar, which is why we feel it’s so important to provide many opportunities for our students to try different things, to take risks, and even to fail and try again.”
“The learning curve is steep to develop as a teacher-scholar, which is why we feel it’s so important to provide many opportunities for our students to try different things, to take risks, and even to fail and try again.”Sherry Adrian, associate professor of education
For secondary education majors, the seven content classes required by Southwestern (four credit hours more than the state minimum), prepare them to go on to graduate school, which is often required by the state of Texas in certain fields. For example, “to teach high school calculus in Texas, educators must have a master’s degree,” says Stephen Marble, associate professor of education.
Marble also says that the four-semester fieldwork sequence Southwestern requires of it’s secondary ed majors “allows them to delve deeper into teaching, so by the time they are student teaching they’re not trying to figure out the basics; our program provides undergraduates with very similar experiences as most master’s programs.” Adrian adds that Southwestern students also engage in a wide variety of teacher-scholar research approaches. “They are taught to examine their practice in a systematic way, which is unique to an undergraduate program,” she says.
These types of experiences not only prepare Southwestern students to apply for and—for 15 years—receive TASPA awards, but research indicates that they also help Southwestern graduates remain in the teaching profession longer than the average teacher. Adrian says, “According to E3 Alliance, most Texas teachers leave the profession in only 3-5 years. Southwestern grads last much longer because our program is challenging and connects to field experiences in a way that allows them to develop the disposition, resilience and grit that helps them to problem solve in their classrooms.
Kathryn Prater, assistant professor of education, says the mentoring that Southwestern education students receive in the field, along with the relationships they develop with faculty and their peers, provides them with a professional support group upon graduation. She also says that Southwestern’s “Semester of Support for Teachers” is unique in that it “pulls graduates back to problem solve with each other and get assistance if they need it.” For example, Prater was recently asked to help set up literacy centers in a classroom and Adrian was asked to go to the graduate’s classroom to help evaluate student behavior.
Marble works closely with Southwestern secondary education majors and says that they are encouraged to be student focused. “Our students gain field experience and student teaching, which helps them to stop worrying about teaching and start thinking about the learners and their needs. We want our students to think of schools as cultures and to find the culture that’s the right fit for them.”
Although Marble says Southwestern asks a lot and expects a lot of its education students, he believes that prospective students who want to go into the field of education should strongly consider Southwestern for many reasons. Adrian and Prater explain that one of those reasons is the mentoring that students receive from faculty. “We regularly observe our students in the field; we get in there with them, model for them, coach them … this helps our students become desensitized to being watched in the classroom, so when their future principal wants to observe, they are comfortable,” says Adrian.
“We celebrate differences, and help each student to develop and become who he or she is as a teacher.”Kathryn Prater, assistant professor of education
She adds, “Prospective families should know that Southwestern faculty put a lot of effort into knowing our students and enabling them to teach from their heart through classroom content, field preparation, mentoring and relationship building.” Prater says, “We celebrate differences, and help each student to develop and become who he or she is as a teacher.”
Lastly, Marble, Prater and Adrian all say that Southwestern teaches future educators to work with all kinds of students; those with special needs, those for whom English is a second language, and more. In addition, social justice is a component throughout the program as they look at issues from policy to practice. This helps them know “what they are ready to deal with as graduates,” says Adrian. “Problem solving and thinking about issues in advance leads to longevity among our alumni in the field.” Marble adds, “Because we teach our students that there’s always more to learn, we set them up to be lifelong learners.”
Story by Kristina Moore