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.