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The Graduate

Class for the Teacher

Katelyn Phelan
MSM Class of 2011

(2/2012) The start of this month brings back a years long tradition for this new teacheróclass. Being a student is one of the things Iíve missed as Iíve begun my first year of teaching. Unfortunately due to the kind of course it is, Iím not as thrilled to be a student again as I could be. This semester I start the first of many classes Iíll take to become a certified teacher in Pennsylvania. My process is a little backwards because most people take education courses before they walk into a classroom ready to teach a class.

As of this date the only education course I have to my name is one three credit class my freshman year at the Mount. At the time I took that course I was considering art education. But I changed my mind about mid-way through the course, namely because I couldnít bear the thought of taking education courses my entire undergraduate career.

I found the education major very limiting, and, Iíll be honest, dry. I had little desire to fritter away precious credit hours on things like Content Area Pedagogy or Educational Technology Lab when there were classes like Age of Dante or Religions of the World available. As much as I dreaded taking education classes, I was passionate about taking other thingsóart, English literature, theology, and history. If I stuck to art education, that was all I could do. Because the art education major required so many courses, I would have had few, if any, electives available.

I decided it wasnít worth it. I didnít want to spend my precious years in college, the years where I could devote myself to exploring history, culture, religion, human thought, and so much more, on learning something I didnít much care about. I wanted to take advantage of the plethora of courses available to me; I wanted to do too many other things.

Additionally, I felt very strongly that taking education classes does not in itself make one a good teacher. In my opinion, the best teachers are the ones who know what theyíre talking about and are passionate about it. If someone is standing in front of a class with little to say, then who cares if that person knows the stages of development according to Piaget or the proper format for a lesson plan? To me, the most important thing for a teacher to have is thorough knowledge of content and passion for learning themselves. Not that people who major in education donít know what theyíre talking about or donít have passion, but the education courses didnít do that for me. I would have worn out plodding through a mountain of mundane courses.

So what did I do instead? I took on two majorsóart and Englishóand two minorsótheology and history. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy where I was able to investigate Dante, see famous artwork, and travel extensively. It wasnít much of a competition between all of that and an education major which frankly bored me.

I didnít see this path as an elimination of my becoming an educator, but rather as following things that I was passionate about. Which is what youíre supposed to do when youíre young, right? I figured I could always do a masterís program and get my certification and masters in one fell swoop, or I could get a job in a Catholic school where requirements for certification and things arenít as stringent, or I didnít have to do education at all. I ended up in a Catholic school, certification-less.

So not Iím on the hunt for my certification. Iím completing it through Wilson College, in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and I have a slew of classes to complete. Iíll work on these in the evenings and over summers. The first class Iím taking will be on Tuesday nights, from 6-9. Which means that after getting up at 6 in the morning, driving an hour to school, teaching all day, and driving an hour home, Iíll have to go to my own course at night once a week.

Unfortunately Iím not any more jazzed about these education courses than I was about the ones at the Mount. Iím still dreading them, but at least there are less of them and Iím not missing out on taking things I love. I donít think Iím the worldís most wonderful teacher and "above" education courses, but I do think Iím doing a decent job so far. I also do not believe for a second that I would be better if I had taken education courses before teaching.

I think that the reason I have been successful thus far is because of teachers that I have had in my own life, both wonderful and terrible. From sitting in classrooms for sixteen of my twenty-two years on this earth I saw plenty of teachers with distinct styles, lessons, projects, tests, forms of organization, comments, and everything else you can imagine. I saw what worked and what didnít and saw what I liked and what I hated.

As a student I devoted a great time to analyzing different teaching methods and approaches to material, when it came to designing my own classes, I was (more or less) a natural. I emulated the teachers who were most effective for me and stayed far away from things that horrible teachers did. Do I think there are some things I can learn in this education program Iím about to start? Probably. Will it change my life and make my experience as a teacher so much easier? Probably not.

Do I regret the path I took to my teaching job? Absolutely not. While this path meant a bit more stress my senior year as I fretted about what I was doing next with my life and extra coursework to complete in the evenings after work, I think what I did made me a far better teacher than I would have been otherwise. I think my experiences and interests have served me well so far in the classroom. Photos of my travelsóRome, Assisi, Venice, Florence, and Athensócover my bulletin boards and are even blown up to 2x3 foot posters hanging on my classroom wall. Other posters include famous paintings I studied in art history, like van Goghís "Starry Night," Raphaelís "School of Athens," and Velazquezís "Las Meninas."

Iíve used pieces of art to introduce themes in literature, to serve as inspiration in creative writing, and to talk about interpretation of events. Iíve used information learned in history classes to offer background on different pieces of literature weíve read in class. Iíve used my own stories of traveling, people I met, and things I saw to help explain concepts or give students ways to remember content. Iíve even used pieces of my own art to tell stories to my class.

Iíve seen these things spark the interest of my students. Itís prompted them to think differently and ask questions. Itís exposed them to culture and other ways of life. I think that this is one of the most important things for a teacher to doóexpose students to the vastness of learning and prompt them to want to explore it on their own. This is one of my goals as a teacher, and itís something I hope Iíve been able to achieve, even on the smallest possible scale, education degree or not.

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan