|• Spring 2003||Magazine Archive & Search • Muhlenberg Home|
Learning is never taken lightly at Muhlenberg. Then again, neither is teaching, and teaching about learning is at the very heart of ’Berg’s education program.
It’s popular too. The Class of 2003 boasted 36 newly certified teachers, but according to Kathleen Milligan, director of student teaching programs, nearly 75 rising seniors plan to student teach during the 2003-04 academic year. And currently there are nearly 280 total students enrolled in Muhlenberg’s teacher certification program, more than any other academic department.
But are they doing it well? Jon Skivo ’00, a third-year teacher of honors world cultures and accelerated psychology at Council Rock High School North in Newtown, Pa., thinks so. “Muhlenberg provided me with the most up-to-date research and pedagogy in preparation for my career,” he says, noting that as a new teacher, he is required by his district to attend professional development programs. “These workshops are intended to build our knowledge base regarding the newest educational practices. However, during each workshop, I realize that I already heard all of this at Muhlenberg.”
The numbers offer a resounding endorsement of teacher preparation at Muhlenberg, too. According to the Educational Testing Service, 95 percent of the 37 Muhlenberg students who took the Praxis (Pennsylvania’s state teacher licensure exam series) in 2001 passed, placing Muhlenberg, for the second year in a row, in the top quartile of Pennsylvania colleges and universities offering a teacher preparation program.
Muhlenberg is in impressive company: Only 12 other schools – including Bucknell, Lehigh and the University of Pittsburgh – registered a pass rate of 95 percent or higher, and only 11 other schools scored in the top quartile overall as well as on the basic skills and professional knowledge exams.
All pre-service teacher candidates must take the Fundamental Subjects: Content Knowledge and Principles of Learning & Teaching (either grades K-6 or 7-12) exams. Those seeking secondary certification must also take exams in their subject area.
While no exam can fully predict the success of a first-year teacher, the Praxis does a good job of setting a basic academic standard for new teachers.
“The exam provides a necessary but insufficient proof that one is ready to begin teaching,” says Milligan. “The subject area exams are not easy, and it’s important that all teachers have the ability to do standard academic work.”
That ability isn’t necessarily something the education department can teach. “The fact that our students do so well on these exams is a testament to the College as a whole,” says Milligan, pointing out that education is not a major at Muhlenberg; education students must complete coursework in a major field of study in addition to education. “We are most proud of the College’s historical insistence that education students master an academic specialty,” she says.
Both current and former students agree. A senior majoring in German, says, “I did very well on the basic skills exam, but my entire Muhlenberg experience contributed to that,” noting that she expects to use what she’s learned in education coursework when she takes the professional knowledge exam. She looks forward to student teaching in the fall of 2003.
“My science background from Muhlenberg has been golden,” says Karen (Greber) Shaffer ’78, who teaches science at Trexler Middle School in Allentown. “Given the Pennsylvania state standards, it’s really important to have a solid degree in a subject area. You need to know what you’re teaching.”
That’s not to say that education coursework at Muhlenberg isn’t rigorous. To be admitted to and remain in the education program, students must maintain a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 overall, while maintaining a minimum 2.5 GPA in the major and minimum 2.75 GPA in all education coursework. Skivo says his preparation for the subject area and professional knowledge exams was due to excellent education coursework. “The content of the exam was right from my coursework, which had become second nature by then,” he says. “I credit the Muhlenberg experience for my success.”
A student seeking elementary certification must complete 12 course units, four of which are undertaken during the professional (student teaching) semester, as well as two college-level mathematics courses, a biology course and a physical science course, a fine arts course – Foundations of the Creative Arts, offered by the department of theatre and dance – a British or American literature course, an American history course, a physical education course, a geography course, a course with an economics perspective and a course with an environmental perspective.
A secondary certification requires nine course units in education, as well as two college-level mathematics courses and a British or American literature course.
All of these requirements, combined with a student’s major – and, sometimes, a minor – can make for a pretty tight schedule. Many students who choose to study abroad for a semester, or those who don’t enter the education program during the freshman year, may need to take a ninth semester for student teaching. But it’s worth it, says Milligan.
“I would never, ever want us to reduce our requirements,” she says. “The opportunities Muhlenberg offers its students, and our focus on a fundamental liberal arts education, are invaluable.”
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