In this Spotlight on Alumni, English MAT alum Eric Spreng shares his insights for those considering the MAT program. Along with his wife, Allison (History MAT ’13), he is now based at the International School of Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso. Both Allison and Eric exemplify the wealth of life experiences you’ll find across the Brown MAT cohorts.
What were you doing before the program?
Before coming to Brown, I spent three years teaching 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts at an international school in Beijing. The professional environment at the school was supportive and collaborative, and the experience pushed me into the questions that ultimately landed me at Brown: How can I facilitate an environment that is more conducive to learning? How do I foster a sense of belonging in the individuals in a learning community? How can I better account for disparate student backgrounds? What can I do to promote human sensitivity as well as knowledge and skills?
What attracted you to Brown’s program?
I was attracted to the program’s emphasis on mentorship, reflection, and personalized feedback. The fact that the MAT year includes two practicums was important, as was the teacher research component. But most importantly, perhaps, was the fact that the program is intentionally small. As the teaching placements are central to the MAT experience, I wanted a director who actually knew me personally and could advise me based on my own interests, strengths, and areas where I needed to grow.
What was the highlight of the program?
To be honest, the whole year was great. The program is well-designed to develop a strong understanding of pedagogy and to provide the chance to develop expertise in your content area as well. That said, the professional relationship that I had the chance to cultivate with my mentor teacher has proven a tremendous resource to me since completing the program.
Where did you student teach?
I student taught at Classical (a Providence public school) and had a really positive experience there.
How did the program meet your expectations?
The MAT year is intense. There is so much to learn and to process and before you know it, it is over. Since completing the experience, I have found that many of the questions that arise in my teaching practice were in some way addressed by the MAT program. One year is not long enough to answer all of these questions, but I do feel the program provided what I need in order to pursue the philosophical and pragmatic questions through further research and practice.
How did the program help you meet your personal goals?
The program provided the chance to push myself toward excellence in a close-knit, supportive community. The friendships that I was able to make with young teachers have been a tremendous professional asset to be sure, but also a source of personal joy and inspiration. Spending a year with such inspiring, brilliant people was awesome.
What do you like best about your work as a teacher?
I love that teaching is never boring. It is always a challenge. I love that I get to work with talented young people who have something to say, and that I can help them develop the skills to say it. And I love engaging on the big ideas that matter—both in my classroom with my students and in the faculty lounge with my colleagues.
What would you tell someone considering the Brown MAT?
Do it! The Brown MAT program is well designed. It is flexible enough to provide the chance for you to pursue your own areas of interest within the field as you strive to develop the competencies that are necessary to be a great teacher.
As an MAT, go to lots of talks and events, and make connections beyond the department as well. As a teacher, at some point in your career, consider teaching abroad. My wife, Allison (History MAT ’13), and I are currently at the International School of Ouagadougou, and we are loving it. Our classes are full of kids who come from countries all over Africa, Europe, North America and beyond. We are learning a lot about what it means to be teachers in the 21st century, and what skills are most important for success in a more connected world.