From the front board to the student desk

Feb. 14, 2009, 1:18 a.m. | By Rose Wynn | 11 years, 8 months ago

Blair instructors take seats in the classroom to improve teaching

As Dr. Allan Wigfield peruses his classroom, his eyes scan the 17 faces at the desks in front of him. They grip their pencils at the ready as they wait for his lecture on human development to begin. A level of knowledgeable understanding is visible on the students' faces, a level of professionalism is unwonted in the normal college environment. Then again, the students aren't living in dorm rooms and aren't underage - they are teachers from Montgomery County schools, hoping for county recognition for their extra efforts to improve their teaching.

Photo: Blair's Emanuel Charles balances his teaching job with homework from the class he attends at UMD.

The teachers in Wigfield's class represent a handful of over 100 instructors within Montgomery County who currently participate in the Master's certification program at the University of Maryland (UMD). The two-year program has expanded significantly since its humble beginnings nine years ago, and recently graduated 119 teachers from the 2005-2007 class. This is a near-50 percent increase in students from two years earlier.

Many Blair instructors take classes as a part of this program, making up about 30 percent of Wigfield's current class. Other Blair instructors decide to attend different programs throughout the county, to recertify or to improve their teaching in hopes of a wage increase.

Blair math teacher Lisa Dunham is one of the teachers hoping to receive extra pay for extra effort. This past semester, she spent her Monday and Wednesday evenings at the Shady Grove Campus in Wigfield's class. "The class focuses on adolescents and how to best teach them during this time of human development," Dunham says. Along with five other Blair teachers in her class, Dunham is working towards a Master's in Human Development for the Educational Professional and will graduate and receive her degree in May 2010.

Teacher by day, student by night

Among the Blair instructors in her class is physical education teacher Emanuel Charles, who enjoys the class because it incorporates group conversation. "The class is half group discussion, which makes it a lot more fun," he says, pointing to the company of Blair teachers as the main enjoyable factor. English teacher Michael Horne agrees. "The best part is that I am taking these classes with some other Blair teachers," he says.

But the friends never become too chatty. "We're all adults, so we don't talk over each other," Charles jokes.

These teachers may be more willing to focus than their own high school students are, but they are just as irritated when an intimidating essay looms over their heads. Dunham attests to the aggravation of her overwhelming workload during the past semester. "The only part I didn't care for was all the papers we had to write. Together I wrote a total of 14 papers in a two and a half month period," she says. "Ugh!"

Horne also recalls the challenge of completing the coursework for his Methods of Teaching Reading class, which included weekly reading and writing assignments in addition to large final projects. "The toughest part about the class is that it is challenging to go to school and do homework after you finish your normal workday," he says.

Best of both worlds

Despite the extra trouble, Blair teachers in general feel the classes are well worth their time and effort because the subject matter relates directly to what they do in Blair classrooms on a daily basis. "The focus of the course is adolescent development - we can discuss intrinsic motivation in kids and I can use it tomorrow," Charles says of Wigfield's Human Development class.

Fine arts teacher Jonathon Verock, who attends a reading class separate from the UMD program, also appreciates how the information he accumulates provides insight on day-to-day student interaction. "My favorite part is the real world application," he says. "Anytime I can take something away and use it in the classroom, it's a bonus."

A Master's motivation

Charles appreciates the class because of the connection he can establish between classroom material and his role as a teacher, but he also acknowledges that his primary motivation for taking the course is the pay raise that will accompany his Master's Degree. All teachers taking masters classes are promised wage increases because of their extra efforts, according to Dunham, who, like Charles, admits that the financial returns played a primary role in her decision to take the class.

"I think many of the students would be in the program even if there was not a pay raise," Wigfield says. "But I also think the pay raise is necessary and important because it is one way to recognize all the hard work the teachers did to improve."

Pay raises aside, teachers will still gain access to many opportunities through their Master's Degrees. "The credentials will transfer no matter where you go," Verock says. "A Master's Degree opens so many doors."

Charles agrees, acknowledging the specialty of a degree as effects of the countywide budget deficit perforate through MCPS. "Some teachers are going to lose their jobs," he says. "I can leave teaching and still get a good paying job and be able to support my family."

In the meantime, teachers have continued to demonstrate a desire to improve their teaching, regardless of whether or not they will receive an acceptable pay raise. Horne attributes this to teachers' persistent aspiration for knowledge and ways to improve. "Teachers, especially the ones at Blair, have always struck me as life-long learners," he says.

Wigfield believes that this desire stems from a genuine concern for their students' well being. "I think the students in our program are very committed to working successfully with the adolescents in their classes," he says. "They are all very committed to helping all their students achieve."

Rose Wynn. I love piña coladas, getting caught in the rain and the ladies of the Blair Pom Squad. More »

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