M.A.T. Program Makes Learning an Expedition

Monday, October 21, 2013 - 11:30
M.A.T. students on an expedition to the Springfield Armory Museum

Good teaching involves much more than chalk and talk—it should be a joint adventure for teacher and students. That’s the premise behind MHC’s master of arts in teaching program (M.A.T.).

In a single intensive year, students become licensed and learn how to teach well from professors who model engaging and innovative instruction. M.A.T. candidate Rose Levine ’05 says, “What I loved as an undergrad and love now is that the faculty are totally invested in teaching. I’m excited to be doing course work that’s challenging and engaging with professors who are right in there with you.”

The M.A.T. program adopted an approach developed by Expeditionary Learning, “an up-and-coming education reform group” according to M.A.T. director Beverley Bell. It emphasizes projects that take place in students’ communities as well as in classrooms. “You learn all the core competencies and all the standards you need to know, but they’re not your prime focus,” explains Bell. “Expeditionary learning is connected to real life and authentic learning.”

Consider two ways of teaching students how to write a five-paragraph essay. Traditionally, the teacher just assigns a topic. Expeditionary learning-trained teachers might approach it instead through an interdisciplinary project about the need for more bike paths near the school. Students identify potential locations, calculate the likely cost, and discuss who would benefit. Then teachers help students compile data into well-written reports that could be used to advocate for real changes in their city or town. M.A.T. student Parmatma Khalsa appreciates that Mount Holyoke’s program is “explicitly geared to educate and motivate potential teachers to become agents for social justice.”

It’s an effective approach, agrees Levine, who has three years’ elementary school teaching experience. “Expeditionary Learning combines the best of what’s worked in education for a long time: students need to feel connected to what they’re learning, to have hands-on experience, to reconstruct material in their own words, and to have a reason to care about what they’re learning.”

Program faculty and staff are also developing U.S. and international opportunities—such as a prepracticum experience in South Africa—to help future teachers prepare for increasingly global classrooms. Morgan Pool ’12 says the program “is preparing me to take on a job in any environment by giving me tools to work in many different types of schools. I am learning how to differentiate my lesson plans for diverse learners, to find my voice in administration hierarchies, and to respond to the changes in curriculum.”

Unlike some M.A.T. programs, this one doesn’t put students at the head of a classroom immediately. Instead of that sink-or-swim approach, there’s a phased-in teaching model. Students spend 12 hours a week in an elementary, middle, or high school classroom during the fall, observing how theory connects to practice.

When school starts, M.A.T. students are already in classrooms as observers and aides. During the fall, they assist teachers in all aspects of school life, slowly taking on teaching and nonteaching tasks. In January, they start teaching, and continue in the classroom as teachers and coteachers until the end of the school year in June.

And at each step along the way, advisors, professors, and fellow M.A.T. students are helping one another learn and navigate the rigorous curriculum. Khalsa says he feels “blessed to be part of an intimate program that is small enough to give a real sense of connection with all the other program members and the program director.”

The whole M.A.T. experience, in fact, mirrors the kind of exciting, engaging, collaborative experience these future teachers hope to provide for their future students… in short, they learn to make education an expeditionary adventure.

Learn more about the M.A.T. program, and get application materials.

—By Emily Harrison Weir