Spotlight On Alumni: Allison Bryan ’13


From Beijing to Ireland, Secondary History MAT alum Allison Bryan taught in a variety of settings before coming to Brown. Along with her husband, Secondary English MAT alum Eric Spreng ’13, she is now based at the International School of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. In this interview, she discusses her background and her experience in the program.

What were you doing before the program?
Before the program, I had been working in education both state-side and internationally. The three years immediately before the program, my husband and I were both working at Tshinghua International School in Beijing, China. This school was a joint effort of Columbia University and Tshinghua University. The goal was to create a school that took the best of Western and Eastern education. I was teaching 6th grade social studies and language arts, and my classes had a strong emphasis on learning about the communities and the people around us, but teaching with primarily western methods. Prior to that, I was the recipient of a Fulbright grant to teach English and American studies at La Universidad Nacional de Villa Maria in Argentina. I also spent time working in after school and summer programs in Northern Ireland (working in peace-building between Catholic and Protestant youth) and in the United States (providing tutoring and enrichment classes to immigrants and refugee in the public schools).

What attracted you to Brown’s program?
My husband and I both applied to multiple schools for master’s programs. Brown was ultimately the best fit for both of us. We really liked the small size of the program, the Brown Summer High School component, and the pairing of one course-based semester with one student teaching semester. My goal coming into the program was to get more experience actually doing the work of a historian (during the academic semester) as well as build on the skills I had already been developing as a classroom teacher.

What was the highlight of the program?
There were so many! Once we were actually there, I realized how valuable the small size of the program was. I had a really close relationship with my director at the time, Brian, but also felt strongly supported by Dan and Laura (Directors of Secondary Science and English MAT programs, respectively) as well. The opportunity to work with so many master teachers during the summer program also provided a lot of exposure to new teaching methods and ideas and a chance for me to experiment with them. The semester of coursework was amazing, too. I got to dig into the work of being a historian with great professors like Dr. Remensnyder. I loved getting to work with the primary sources in the libraries at Brown, as well.

Where did you student teach?
I spent most of my student teaching semester at Paul Cuffee Middle School. The teachers there were so friendly and willing to have me in their classrooms and it also gave me the chance to see first-hand some different approaches to education, such as standards-based assessments and student-led conferences.

How did the program meet your expectations?
I firmly believe the program prepared me for the classroom. It was a great balance between theory and practice. I got acquainted with so many thinkers in the field of education, built a great network with other young and motivated teachers, stepped inside numerous classrooms at many different types of schools, and got to try out many new teaching methods. I felt so strongly supported by Brian and the other program directors, as well. It was an incredibly hard year, and I think I could literally feel myself growing from week to week. Simply put, I am a better teacher now. I have a more thorough understanding of current trends, the history of education, and many other facets of teaching.

What do you like best about your work as a teacher?
That is a really tough question. I love so many aspects of teaching. I love building relationships with the students and getting to know them over the course of the year(s) that I teach them. I love it when they have an “aha!” moment, and really get excited about a new idea or understanding. I also love the creativity that is inherent in teaching. Creating curriculum and planning lessons gives me the chance to really wrap my head around different ideas and issues and find exciting ways to help the students learn. For example, we’re making documentaries on the causes and effects of different types of pollution in my 7th grade social studies class. It’s been fun doing the learning myself first; I guess I am a student at heart.

What would you tell someone considering the Brown MAT?
It is a really incredible program. It is, of course, important to be sure that a program is the right fit for you. Only you know that, so do your research. If you want a small program that is flexible and responsive to your needs and questions, Brown is it. The professors at Brown, inside the MAT program and in the other departments, are outstanding, the resources are excellent, and the access to so many master teachers is truly wonderful. I am so glad I chose Brown and Brown chose me. It was the most concentrated period of vocational and academic growth I think I’ve ever had, and it happened in an incredibly supportive environment.

Elementary MAT’s Classroom Hosts Governor of Rhode Island

Jasmine and Claudia with Governor Chafee

Mentor Claudia Jackvony, second grade teacher Pleasant View Elementary, and Elementary MAT Jasmine Meade, host RI Governor Lincoln Chafee in their classroom.

A current Elementary MAT, Jasmine Meade, is teaching a social studies unit on the different between cities, states and countries, in her spring student teaching placement, in a second grade classroom at Pleasant View Elementary School. What better way to bring the unit to life, she thought, than to have an expert on government come to her classroom! An email request to the Rhode Island Governor’s office resulted in Governor Lincoln Chafee visiting Jasmine and her mentor teacher Claudia’s classroom last week, speaking to students and answering questions (ranging from, “What do you do in your job?” to “What kind of car do you drive?”).

Governor Chafee is a perfect person to learn from about the various levels of government because, in addition to serving in Rhode Island’s highest office, he served on the city council for Warwick, RI, as Warwick’s mayor, and in the U.S. Senate representing Rhode Island. Governor Chafee also happens to be an alum of Rhode Island public schools and Brown University.

These aren’t the only students of Brown Elementary MATs to meet a governor this spring. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy visited Wheeler School, an independent school in Providence, RI, and spoke to all students, teachers and staff about his experience with a learning difference and took questions from students, too. One Elementary MAT is student teaching in third grade at Wheeler School, another is in fourth grade at Hamilton, the school within Wheeler that provides specialized instruction for students with learning differences.

We love the real world connections that are engaging students out there in the field!

Governor Chafee and students

Governor Chafee poses for pictures with second grade students after answering students’ questions. These kids know how to present themselves when meeting the governor!

Spotlight on Alumni: Josh Johnston ’10


In this interview, Elementary MAT alum Josh Johnston, now teaching at the Learning Community Charter School in Central Falls, RI, describes how the MAT cohort, MAT faculty, and his mentor teachers supported, and continue to inform, his position as a teacher and learner. Read to the bottom for a program perk!

Why Brown?
I was immediately attracted to the pragmatic benefits. Leaving with a Master’s and a teaching certificate in just one year was exciting because I was looking forward to getting into the work of running a classroom.  When I visited, though, I was floored by the academic rigor of the environment.  I’d only ever worked in a very practical, functional public school, so to spend time with people who were genuinely thoughtful about best practices in education, and their underlying pedagogy, was an awakening for me.

What was the highlight of the program?
There isn’t a doubt in my mind: it was the people. The directors of my program, Jeanette Epstein and Carla Shalaby, shaped the way I think. Carla taught me to look at the world through a lens of justice, which constantly informs who I am as a person both in and out of the classroom.  Jeanette taught me the careful combination of purposeful instructional strategies and human connection that we all need when we practice this work.

My literacy professor, Maureen Nosal, opened my ideas to the joy of literacy instruction and to how empowering it can be in students.  She taught us countless practical, thoughtful ways of teaching literacy and pushed us to live more literate lives, too.  I consider myself deeply lucky to work with her today, as she teaches fifth grade at The Learning Community.  Whenever I imagine good literacy instruction, I see Maureen doing it. Plus, I have a ton of binders of resources in my room from her class that I pull down any time I need a poem for read aloud or a suggestion for a text for guided reading.

I was lucky to have two incredibly skilled mentor teachers, too.  Working with both Michelle Manning and Amy Lopes taught me how to live as a teacher in the world, and I still have their voices in my head.  I use Michelle’s language when I talk to students every day. Even four years later, and I am constantly inspired to respond to students needs in the moment in a way Amy would.

Then there was my cohort, the other MATs going through the program with me.  I treasure the friendships that I started there, as we were able to work together, grow together, and support each other through a fundamentally difficult and challenging year.  I consider the people I met there some of my most treasured friends. I’m marrying one of them this summer.

How did the program meet your expectations?
When I came to the program I thought I was already ready for a classroom but I wasn’t at all. But it was after going through the program, and having inspiring role models like Amy, Michelle, Jeanette, or Maureen, I felt like I wasn’t at all ready! I looked at those inspiring teachers and wondered how I could do work like them.

It wasn’t until I’d been teaching for a bit during my first year that I really was ready – maybe not good yet, necessarily (what first year teacher is?) but having those rich experiences at Brown had taught me how to stand on my own, purposefully and reflectively.  I had developed instructional instincts for how to be in a classroom, how to respond to students, and how to differentiate and respond to them that I never would have had in my first year without the program. I suppose I expected to become a teacher, but I didn’t really know what a teacher was until after I was done.

How did the program help you meet your personal goals?
I knew I wanted my own classroom, and I wanted to focus on literacy.  As I worked during my MAT year, I realized that I wanted to work to empower young people through literacy.

This is my dream school, and it’s an honor to work here.  We teach using reading and writing workshop, and, without going into the thousand reasons why that’s fulfilling to me and my pedagogy, it’s a way of approaching education that lets students have agency and engages them in a dialogue with the goal of making them smarter and more powerful.  It’s a school where we continue that same academic sense of studying the practice of education to get smarter about our work that I learned to treasure during my time at Brown.  It’s a miraculous school, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the program.

What was the job search like after the program ended? What kind of support did you get from Brown in your search? Where did you first work?
I got a job in March. As I said, Brown is the reason I have this job; I don’t question that for a moment. I was able to follow through in the interview and the demo lesson because of the skills I’d learned from the program.

What do you like best about your work as a teacher?
If I’m being socially thoughtful, I’d name the ability to contribute to our society by working to make people more literate and empathetic.  But there’s also the fact that sixth graders are just wonky, weird, and hilarious.  It’s such a human profession that it can be so rich and fun and, yes, hard, too, but so much more worth it than so many other life choices I could imagine.

What would you tell someone considering the Brown MAT?
Do it.  It will changed the way you work and think and live.  I believe that when you sign up to be a teacher, you are morally obligated to do the best work you can for your students, for their families, and for society, and Brown made me able to do that.

Oh, and here’s something else – if you go to the Rhode Island Recycling Center, you can buy really cheap binders. (Seriously, there were a lot of binders.)

Spotlight On Alumni: Waldina Pineda ’11

Waldina Pineda '11

In this interview, Secondary English MAT alum Waldina Pineda, who now teaches in Mamaroneck, NY, discusses her experience in Brown’s program, and how it helped her become the teacher she is today.

What were you doing before the program?
Prior to participating in the MAT program, I was an undergrad at Brown. I concentrated in Education Studies and I was happy to call the Education Department my home for an additional year. When I arrived to Brown as a freshman, I planned on concentrating in Biology and completing Pre-Med requirements. However, after participating in several education projects and taking a few Education Studies classes, I found that I was more passionate about education than I was in medicine. While at Brown, I tutored students at Hope High School and also participated in the College Guidance Project through the Swearer Center. Both experiences gave me the opportunity to work with students as an academic tutor and mentor. Teaching for a summer in Miami with Breakthrough Collaborative also helped me see that working with students was the right fit me.

What are you doing now?
Currently, I am teaching at a high school in the Mamaroneck Union Free School District in New York. Before working at Mamaroneck, I worked at a charter school in the south Bronx. I’m glad to have found the right fit with Mamaroneck. At Mamaroneck, I teach 9th grade English and a class called Academic Enrichment, which focuses on helping students build literacy skills. I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity of helping my department create and build both the Academic Enrichment and English 9 curricula to meet new district initiatives, as well as the new common core standards. Collaborating with my colleagues is really motivating. They and the work they do really push me to be better. I’m really grateful to have found a school that challenges me and gives me the opportunity to grow as a teacher.

What attracted you to Brown’s program?
As a Brown undergrad that concentrated in Education Studies, I was already familiar with all the great work the department and its professors do with students and teachers. Aside from that, I was really attracted to the size of the Brown MAT program. I visited a few larger schools and I could easily see myself getting lost there. I knew that I would get the attention and personal guidance I needed to grow and develop my craft as a teacher at Brown.

What was the highlight of the program?
Definitely the relationships I built. To this day, I still keep in contact with many of my peers from the program and I know that Laura Snyder is always an email away. I still talk through teaching ideas with some of my friends from the program—much as I did while I was in the program. The relationships I built with Laura and my mentor teacher at E-Cubed Academy were also really important. Because they both worked really closely with me, they really knew who I was as a teacher and how I could use that to really develop my craft. Through their support, feedback and guidance, I felt like I learned so much and was prepared for my first year of teaching.

How did the program meet your expectations?
I am the teacher I am today because of the Brown MAT program. I am in my third year of teaching and I still have so much to learn and I look forward to growing as a teacher. However, there are certain aspects about teaching that come naturally to me because the Brown program trained me so well. The program really does meet teachers where they are. Teaching is really personal. In addition to receiving instruction and practice with pedagogy in a whole class setting, I felt like I received support and guidance that was specific to me. I still think about the personal guidance and feedback I received during the program when I plan and teach today.

How did the program help you meet your personal goals?
I had two personal goals going into the program: (1) To gain experience and training in the field of education and (2) To find my “voice” (I am extremely shy). Brown provided me with a great amount of experience and training. Both BSHS and student teaching gave me enough experience to discuss during the hiring process and to inform my planning and decisions during my first year of teaching. Brown also helped me find my teacher “voice.” The Brown program gave me enough opportunities and experience (both inside and outside the classroom, as a teacher and student, in a team or without a team, et cetera) that put me on the spot and challenged me to overcome my shyness.

What do you like best about your work as a teacher?
The students. Working with students during undergrad inspired me to become a teacher, and my students today inspire me to be a better teacher for them. I am very committed to guiding them as they grow as readers, writers, thinkers and young people. I love seeing them grow, and it’s great to think about where they were in the beginning of the year and where they are by the end.

What would you tell someone considering the Brown MAT?
They should know that the Brown MAT program prepares them for success in the classroom. Individual support and guidance is so important for new teachers. This is what you get at Brown. I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else. If anyone has any questions, they can feel free to ask Laura for my email address!

Anything else?
I am really grateful for my experience at Brown!

Current Brown MAT Testifies to RI House Committee

Planning, teaching, assessing, attending seminar and methods courses and completing coursework to further develop your practice not enough? A Brown Elementary MAT said not quite, and gave testimony to the Rhode Island House Health, Education and Welfare committee in her spare time.

Under consideration by the committee is legislation, HB 7490, which would create a commission to develop guidelines for a statewide African-American history curriculum for all K-12 public schools. Lindsay Robinson, currently student teaching at The Learning Community Charter School, a high-performing school in Central Falls, RI, was featured and quoted in a recent Providence Journal article reporting on the committee hearing, at which she gave a first-hand perspective for why this curriculum is important.

Lindsay’s interest in the legislation was spurred by an original social studies unit she has developed and is teaching this spring, as all Elementary MATs do (not a masters thesis, as the article noted). Lindsay explains that the unit was inspired by her students’ interest in the history of African-Americans in Rhode Island, and Rhode Island’s involvement in slavery and the slave-trade. It’s a stellar example of the critical, student-centered education Brown MATs seek to foster.

Congratulations to Lindsay, and the young students who also gave testimony, for your advocacy and commitment to social justice teaching and learning.

Check out the full Providence Journal article: “Bill seeks to incorporate black history into R.I. public school curricula”

Brown MAT Alumni Wins “Rookie of the Year” Award

Ally Miller ’13, poses for a photo after receiving the Green Dot Public Schools “Rookie of the Year” award.

Wondering if the Brown MAT program will prepare you for teaching success? The answer is a resounding yes!

In the same month as we featured Ally Miller, Secondary English ’13, in our “Spotlight on Alumni” series, she has received the Green Dot Public Schools “Rookie of the Year” award! In our recent feature, Ally credited the Brown MAT for helping her to develop her teaching practice in a variety of ways, from a familiarity with popular literature she would use in the classroom to a toolkit of classroom management techniques. Like all Brown Elementary and Secondary MAT graduates, Ally finished the program with the distinction of being officially designated a highly-qualified teacher. Most importantly, in Ally’s own words, “I felt truly prepared for my career after graduation.” Ally winning this award, in a Los Angeles, California, public school network serving over 10,000 students, goes to show that not only are Brown MAT graduates ready to teach in a wide array of school and classroom environments, they have the ability to make an immediate impact as teacher leaders.

Asked how she feels receiving the “Rookie of the Year” award, Ally says, “Teaching is often a thankless profession as many who came before me have said, but this honor was an incredible moment for me and more of a giant thank you than I could have ever expected. The MAT program undoubtedly prepared me for the rigorous challenges of the field, and I know that much of my success as a teacher can be attributed to the mentorship I received during my time at Brown.”

Congratulations, Ally! We are proud of the work you are doing with your students and look forward to more great things to come!