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News Feature: The Masters of Teaching program

Part I: An indepth look at one of the University of Calgary's most controversial new programs

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Are you afraid your degree will only get you a job at a hot dog stand? Thinking of becoming a teacher instead? What you want out of your teaching program will establish whether the University of Calgary is the right place for you.

The U of C recently revamped its education program, creating something innovative and different. The Masters of Teaching program piloted in fall of 1996, and the last of the U of C's old program graduated last year. Since this program is a serious departure from traditional old-school programs, are children safe in the hands of those graduating from this radical new program?

Despite the somewhat misleading "Master of Teaching," title, the program is actually a Bachelor of Education after-degree. The premise behind it is that the face of education is changing, and these changes demand a different breed of teacher. To prevent burnout and encourage a more "cooperative" type of environment, teachers need preparation in problem solving, lifelong learning, cooperative endeavours and a strong sense of self-security to protect them from the harsh world of the modern-day school. Some of the professors took a long, hard look at the program that existed before, and found it lacking.

"We need to break students out of their 'student' mode and bring them into a professional faculty," stated Bruce Clark, Associate Dean of Teacher Preparation. "In the old program, students only spend 13 weeks in schools. Now, we put them in schools right away for some 'culture shock 101' and from then on, their time is divided between their field experience and campus."

Education is not something that's limited to the four walls of a schoolhouse."

First-year students observe and experience both a classroom setting and a community workplace setting, like immigrant societies, jails and the YMCA. While at these places, they examine management issues, teaching and learning and student needs, and then bring them to their discussion groups and classes the other three days of the week.
Much onus is put on students to choose an area of study and learn independently.

"There is a lot more leniency at the U of C," noted first-year student Tonia Bates. "You find an idea and pursue it... sometimes the only way you will learn things is hands-on and that's what this program gives you."

For those less enamoured with the new program, "more hands-on" translates into less direction from the University. Instead of offering methods or educational psychology classes, the MT program offers group discussions in tutorials and seminars, along with a full-year lecture series. Not everyone is happy with the lack of concrete methods given to students. While teaching is an art adaptable to the personality of the teacher, there are methodologies that give teachers tools for dealing with the classroom. So why doesn't the program teach them?

"Methods have been a magnet that has attracted criticism for years," stated Clark. "Teachers used to say 'why do you bother teaching them methods? We tell them to forget it so they can do it our way, anyhow.' After you fundamentally understand what it means to be a teacher, the how-to flows from that."

And if it doesn't? "Students are told if they are doing poorly and how to fix it. Teaching isn't rocket science. If you're bright and you work hard, you'll catch on."

"You learn all of your classroom management from your partner teacher," noted Heather Wolfe, a first-year teacher and graduate of the MT program. "If you don't have a good partner teacher, you're really out of luck."

Lynn Raizada, a second-year student in the MT program, agreed. "It's a lot of learning as you go along... we owe a lot to the fieldwork schools. Moreso than to the University."

This kind of "choose your own adventure" learning is significantly different from any other education program in Alberta and most of Canada, and the U of C likes it that way. While nobody claims that the program is flawless, its mandate is to be flexible and meet education's changing needs.

"The old system is now inadequate," said Principal Pat Worthington. "The U of C students' quality will depend on their experiences and the people they are taught by. If this causes people to re-examine their notions of teaching and learning, it's good."

Once people have adjusted to the program, the overall reaction is positive. "A friend of mine went home and cried every night in the first week of the program because it was so new and scary," said Bates. "It takes some getting used to, but I really enjoy it."

Second-year student Lisa Bonhege agreed. "It's the kind of program that you appreciate more in retrospect. Now that I'm close to the end, I really see the benefits of my first-year experiences."

Unfortunately, the impact of the program won't be fully felt in the public domain until enough people have graduated and obtained jobs to truly make a difference. However, one thing is clear. If you prefer your classes with a course outline and a final exam, go to the University of Lethbridge. Even Dean Bruce Clark has "huge respect" for their program. But, if you think you've got what it takes to make it here, then welcome--and prepare yourself for something completely different.

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