Are you someone who is considering pursuing a career in teaching? Maybe you are even considering becoming an elementary or secondary teacher through the Brown Master of Arts in Teaching program!
This interview with Brown Elementary MAT alum Margot Miller, now teaching fifth grade full-time at the Wheeler School, an independent school right here in Providence, may help you with your decision. In the interview, Margot shares that she not only felt prepared for her first year teaching (because the Brown MAT produces highly qualified teacher leaders), she says she’d do the MAT year all over again!
The Brown MAT blog will have a new “Spotlight On Alumni” every so often for potential MAT candidates to get a sense for what alumni now working as teachers and teacher leaders are doing after the program, and for other alumni to keep up with the great work of their colleagues! Also look out for “Spotlight on MAT Candidates” to find out how our teachers in training are progressing through the yearlong intensive.
What were you doing before the program? (Were you a recent grad, career changer, how much were you in the classroom?)
The year before the program I was an undergraduate at Bowdoin College in Maine, where I majored in visual arts and minored in teaching. I graduated in May, and three weeks later started Brown’s program. Bowdoin was a place-based program so I worked in high schools, and in an elementary school doing observations. My last placement was in a mentoring position. I also worked for the school newspaper.
What attracted you to Brown’s program? (What were your goals going into the program?)
The continued correlation between practical work and coursework was the biggest draw. Most other programs do one year of coursework and one year in the classroom. I think they should be done together, so Brown’s program made more sense. Brown also offered a much more reflective learning process, where you could go in the classroom during the day, have a great lesson or a tough go at it, and then come to the group, debrief together, and discuss where to go from there. That pairing made the most sense – it needed to be done together. And it was a bonus to do it in one year! Brown’s program also exposed me to a variety of educational settings, which I needed since I had mostly a private education. I wanted different experiences and to push myself to see a different side of education. Finally, I definitely wanted a job, and knew that candidates don’t stand out without an advanced degree.
What was the highlight of the program?
The whole thing was really amazing. I would go back and do it again in a heartbeat. My cohort experience was unbelievable. Coming from just being an undergraduate, thinking I’m not here to make friends, I’m going to get my degree, in and out. On the first day, the directors said, you’re going to have to lean on your cohort. And they were right. There was solidarity and I think having a group that relied on each other prepared me to be a better colleague today. My cohort had fourteen people with very different backgrounds, so that was a serious learning experience in itself and was great exposure to the real world. The faculty was also amazing, and they had my bests interests at heart. Since the program highly focuses on respecting students as learners, the faculty modeled it beautifully. They seemed so conscious of how to push us and aware of when we needed support. I think I was surprised by that in a Masters program, but it all makes sense because they’re teachers. They were modeling for us the whole time. It was hard. It was one of the hardest years of my life.
How did the program meet your expectations?
I definitely went into my first teaching job feeling over-prepared. In a way nothing can prepare you, there are a lot of curveballs, but I had a really good sense of what I was getting into. The program gave me a sense of classroom management: I not only knew how to plan a lesson, but how to plan a whole unit. You learn not only how to talk to kids, but also how to build relationships with parents, administrators, and colleagues. That year felt like two jobs through my placement and student teaching experiences. You really do feel like you started your career already, so that your first year of teaching feels like your second or third. And then the workload, teachers are overworked wherever you go. Working so hard the first year of the Masters program – it only gets easier after that. Because I learned how to do it then, I can do it much easier now, and am able to improvise. I can switch what I’m doing from 11am to 1pm in a school day now. It feels authentic in 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?
It was challenging having the job search going on during the program. You’re teaching and taking a heavy course load, so to add a job search is stressful. There’s a sense of doubt and apprehension, but that’s another place where the faculty totally support you. By having good relationships, they’re going to hopefully be able to write a recommendation or reference for you. Coming from people in this program means a lot. Overwhelmingly, it seemed more gloomy than it actually was. All through the year, when someone worried about getting a job, the program directors would say, “Every year, everyone gets a job.” I think the program produces great candidates. Our resumes stood out. We all got jobs!
What are you up to now?
I work at the Wheeler School. My first year here I was teaching in another homeroom and was brought on as a co-teacher in a large classroom, for this school. There were students with special needs, then they added a third homeroom. I’ve stuck around since then. I go to bed early on Fridays. I like to travel on breaks. I get home to St. Louis when I have awesome school vacations. Fly fishing, photography. I have a dog! We go on hikes.
How is living in Providence?
Providence is an easy city to live in. It’s not as expensive as metropolises where other young people tend to find themselves. It’s easy to get around in a car and is close to Boston. There are great restaurants and a good music scene. And winters aren’t as harsh as Maine!
Any other comments for people considering the program?
Just do it! You’ll work harder than any year in your life, but the payout and the relationships you build can’t be topped anywhere else.