The Johns Hopkins Gazette: August 6, 2001
August 6, 2001
VOL. 30, NO. 41


Teacher Immersion Program Helps Career-Changers Help Children

By Neil A. Grauer
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

They have succeeded--sometimes spectacularly--in diverse professions but feel something is missing in their lives. After careers on Wall Street, in journalism, private industry, the military or federal government, they decide they want to do work that is more fulfilling, even if it pays a lot less.

So they enter the School Immersion Master of Arts in Teaching program in the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education and undertake an intense 13-month program that will turn them into elementary or secondary school teachers.

"They all say almost the same thing--especially those who've had six-figure jobs," says Lenore Cohen, cohort coordinator for SPSBE in the Howard County Public School System's Professional Development School program. "They say, 'I thought money would make me happy. It hasn't. I want to make a difference in children's lives.' "

Begun in response to the 1994 redesign of Maryland's teacher education and school system structure, the partnership between Howard County's Professional Development School program and SPSBE's SIMAT program was "the brainchild of Ralph Fessler," then director of SPSBE's Graduate Division of Education and now the school's dean, Cohen says. "He was the one who was willing to jump into the pool without knowing how deep the water was--or if there was water."

The SIMAT program requires its students to work full time under the supervision of a mentor teacher while pursuing graduate courses in teaching at night. "I don't know of any other program in the country that is so intense," Cohen says. Approximately 230 students have completed the program in the past seven years. Currently, 46 are enrolled in it.

"Predominantly they are people who are career-changers, but we're getting more and more people right out of college, particularly those who studied business or computing," Cohen says.

There is a burgeoning need for the teachers now interning in all of SPSBE's graduate education programs, Cohen says. "We have 100 percent placement for everyone who wants to teach. The state of Maryland trains about 2,500 teachers a year, and some then go elsewhere to work. By 2002, the state will need more than 11,000 new teachers because of more elementary schools opening and more current teachers retiring."

At present, the SIMAT program is affiliated with two elementary schools in Howard County, a middle and high school in Montgomery County, two middle schools and a high school in Baltimore County and a high school in Baltimore City. These are professional development schools to which a SPSBE faculty member is assigned to coordinate the interns and work with the mentor teachers--or any other teacher--to improve the educational experience for the children, Cohen explains.

Anita Gallitano, a former stock research analyst for Paine Webber and for Alex. Brown, who gave up a six-figure income to enter the SIMAT program and teach at Swansfield Elementary School in Howard County, praised the program as "really a partnership" with the schools.

"There are things we can do at Swansfield with interns that can't be done elsewhere," she says. "We're combining theory with practice. We'll learn about something Tuesday night and apply it the next morning in the classroom. The school can almost be a research lab for Hopkins, trying out innovative teaching ideas in a real environment."

Calling the SIMAT program "fantastic," Gallitano, 39, says, "It does an incredible job preparing you to teach. When I started full time, I didn't feel like a first-year teacher. I absolutely love it. I have not had a single regret leaving my former job. I had a great career, but the time was right to start giving back to the community."

Brian Fuller, a Swansfield Elementary teacher in training who received his MAT degree in May, won Howard County's First Year Educator Award for his work with 23 fifth-graders.

A former data analyst for TRW, a major defense contractor, Fuller, 28, says, "I left for idealistic reasons. I've said to many friends that if in 30 years, I'd made a difference in one kid's life, then it's all worthwhile." He called the SIMAT program "impressive," adding that its intensity was valuable. "The timing was important. You could get it all done in 13 months--the master's degree, the certification, everything. And growing up in Maryland, I knew the Hopkins name was worth it."

Mike Wills, a 35-year-old former federal agency employee, left his position to teach 27 second-graders at Ronald McNair Elementary School, the largest in Montgomery County. "It comes down to being happy with what you're doing. I decided to go with my heart and not the money."

Wills says that the concentrated program was one of the things that made him decide to go to Hopkins. "The immersion was a big plus for me. I had to quit my job and go without a salary for a year, but it worked out for us," says the father of two children whose wife works for the federal government. The SIMAT program is "extremely busy, but it sets you up for what teaching involves," Wills says.

SPSBE's Cohen says, "What we're really giving to individuals who think they want to teach is an excellent view of what teaching is really like. Teaching is not a 9-to-3 job. Most teachers I know get into work at 7 a.m. each day. You don't have coffee breaks. You have 20 minutes for lunch. You have to deal with parents. Then you have to go home every night and work, either to prepare for classes or do graduate work.

"It's not easy at all," she says. "I think it's one of the most difficult professions to do well. But the rewards also are great, knowing that you have made a difference in the lives of children and the future of your community."