In a "win/win" partnership between the Montgomery County School System and the Johns Hopkins School of Professional Studies in Business and Education, nearly 7,000 students in high-need county schools are being taught by enthusiastic, dedicated new "career-changer" teachers who themselves are back in school, earning their master of arts in teaching from Hopkins.
Now preparing to interview applicants for its fourth two-year cohort group of prospective elementary, middle school and high school teachers, the Hopkins Professional Immersion Master of Arts in Teaching program, known as ProMAT, currently has 104 students, with 78 of them teaching in some 60 Montgomery County schools, 28 already as contracted teachers.
Typically, ProMAT has attracted professionals in other fields who are eager to change careers and make a difference in the lives of young people. They range from an attorney and a photocopier salesman to an engineer and a supermarket manager.
"We try to place them in high-need schools," explains Frank Masci, a 30-year veteran of the county school system and award-winning former principal who directs the ProMAT program with Fred Lowenbach, another award-winning former principal, who spent 35 years with the Montgomery County school system.
Rochelle Ingram, director of SPSBE's Graduate Division of Education, notes that because of their experience, Masci and Lowenbach really understand the requirements of principals, teachers and students as well.
Masci says he and Lowenbach meet with county principals to determine where the greatest need for teachers exists. "There's a real teacher shortage, so we need to get teachers in the classroom. Some school districts are so desperate they're placing uncertified teachers in classrooms, but there is a body of information on what good teachers need--and this is what our program provides.
"The teachers who are preparing for Montgomery County are cutting-edge trained and have a great attitude. Teacher attitude is the single most important thing, I think, especially when it comes to believing that all children can learn, no matter what their background," Masci says.
Under the partnership with the Montgomery County School System, the teachers assigned through the ProMAT program receive the salary of a long-term substitute, which is lower than that of a regular teacher, and do not receive the usual benefits. The money the school system saves on salary and benefits is used instead to pay for the teachers' tuition in the ProMAT program, as well as the extra, helpful supervision they receive, Masci explains. "It's a win/win arrangement," he says.
ProMAT is a two-year program that provides course work and support for degree candidates who teach in their own classrooms. The order and content of the ProMAT courses are designed to address the needs of the new teachers and are directly related to classroom experiences. The program is structured to integrate problem-based learning with action research projects in the context of the specific schools where the degree candidates are teaching. The candidates blend theory and practice through classroom instruction with the support of SPSBE faculty, university supervisors who visit them in their classrooms once a week, and site-based mentors.
"They're getting the full Master of Arts in Teaching experience," Masci says.
Cherrie Van Hook, a 38-year-old Howard University graduate and accountant, says she has found the ProMAT program demanding but immensely rewarding, both professionally and personally.
"Even though the ProMAT program is conducted at an accelerated pace, and we are moving through materials and information very quickly, the good thing about it is that as I am learning these theories, I am able to implement them in the classroom immediately. This gives me exposure to new styles and techniques. The more I use them, the more comfortable I become and the less restricted I feel," Van Hook says.
Van Hook adds that ProMAT "has offered a wonderful opportunity for people going through the same experiences to share and grow together. I have a tremendous amount of support from my friends in this program," she says. "I receive much support from my university supervisor. She always makes me remember to make time for myself and to take care of myself."
Michael Kryder, 27, a former financial manager in the school system, says the "best part of the experience is seeing yourself grow as a teacher and helping students learn. Every time you hear a child say, 'Oh, now I get it,' that really hits home the fact that you are making a difference in the lives of students. Each day you watch yourself learning, interacting with students and becoming better at what you are doing."
A graduate of Bowie State University with a degree in Organizational and Technology Management, Kryder says he decided to change careers because he believes that "deep down everyone would like to be a teacher. When you see how hard the students work and how much they care for you, it is easy to see why it is such a great job."