Meredith College has long educated future teachers for the classroom – and for the reality that the nature of the profession is change.
So teachers educated at Meredith know how to respond to recent changes, such as North Carolina’s implementation of the Common Core standards, as well as legislation impacting teacher pay and assessment, according to Mary Kay Delaney, head of Meredith’s Department of Education.
“We’re teaching very few of the same classes we were five years ago,” Delaney said.
As a student of education, Amy Kay Nickerson, ’07, who teaches high school English in Smyrna, Tenn., saw her professors model the expectation for change in the teaching profession as faculty learned about and adapted instruction to the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
Nickerson said, “we got that sense that education changes constantly, and they prepared us for that.”
Kelly Roberts, ’91, associate professor of English and program coordinator for English licensure candidates, pointed to the relatively recent expectation that teachers provide different kinds of instruction to students in the same classroom.
Meredith is helping teachers provide this instruction, according to Monica McKinney, ’12 (M.Ed.), director of graduate programs in education. “We’ve created a palette of programs that serve different kinds of learners,” she said.
These programs include, at the graduate level, specialties in special education, academically and intellectually gifted, and English as a second language.
“We’ve been responsive to what our community needs in terms of teachers, and we’ll continue to do that, through whole programs or course offerings,” McKinney said.
Meredith has a history of embracing changes in education. In 1983, the Board of Trustees approved the master’s degree in education. Today, not only is the graduate program going strong after three decades, but it has expanded.
Meredith offers a Master of Education (M.Ed.), a degree for teachers who are already licensed and, in 2008, began offering a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), a degree for people making career changes into teaching.
At both the graduate and undergraduate levels, Meredith teaches students to recognize that there is always something to learn.
“You always have to be learning,” said Wetonah Parker, director of teacher education at Meredith College. “How you teach and what you teach change.”
Preparation for change is just one of the qualities of Meredith’s education program that has helped build Meredith’s reputation in the education community.
“Our goal is for students to be excellent teachers in their first year,” Delaney said.
Often, Meredith students impress principals even before that. “What we hear from principals over and over is that our student teachers look like first-year teachers,” Roberts said.
When Allynna Taylor Stone, ’74, became the principal at Washington Elementary in Raleigh, she saw Meredith’s reputation from the other side of the hiring desk.
“As a principal, when I had a Meredith resume, it went to the top of the list,” said Stone, now retired from the public schools and from a stint as director of Meredith’s Teaching Fellows Program. “You know they’re well prepared and that they’ve had the practical piece of it, as well.”
Karen Baker Burden, ’81, who served as the English department chair at several high schools in Wake County and is now retired, said that the principals and assistant principals at her schools gave priority to resumes from Meredith-educated teachers.
“It was unlikely that we’d have a Meredith graduate applying who wasn’t notches above everyone else and who wouldn’t be of a higher caliber,” Burden said.
Meredith’s reputation in the community isn’t just talk. According to Parker, Meredith graduates have been named teachers of the year for schools, school districts, and the state, and they’ve been recognized nationally. They go on to become administrators and leaders in education.
Part of what makes Meredith graduates strong is the confidence that the education program at Meredith gave them.
“I felt completely prepared coming out of Meredith,” Nickerson said. “I knew my curriculum, and I was much better off than many of my first-year teacher peers.”
Catherine Pate, ’98, and ’13 (M.Ed.), credited her graduate school experience at Meredith with helping her become what she called a “lifelong learner.”
Pate, who plans to return to the classroom later this year, said, “I’ve got the confidence that I will be successful.”
Tricia Willoughby, ’90 (M.Ed.), a member of the North Carolina Board of Education and former professor of education at Meredith, also used the word “confidence” to describe how her master’s degree from Meredith helped her career: “As doors and windows opened to me, I had this master’s from Meredith that gave me a lot of confidence.”
Carol Swink Wooten, ’98, a science and math teacher at Hunter Elementary in Raleigh, noted, “Meredith provides teachers with confidence when they leave the education department because their ability to apply skills in the classroom is outstanding.” In 2009, Wooten herself was the recipient of a national Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Bill Bastin, ’11 (MAT), the specialist for academically and intellectually gifted students at Washington Elementary in Raleigh, credits the faculty at Meredith for his growth during his graduate studies.
“They encouraged us to become teacher leaders,” said Bastin. “They showed us that we could be teachers who changed the profession for good.”
Said Nickerson, “I can think of so many of my classmates who are leaders in education, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The education department definitely helped facilitate that.”
Much of the success of the education department at Meredith comes back to the faculty who teach in the program, according to students and alumni.
When Ben Gootman, a current MAT student who is seeking a special education license, was deciding where to get his master’s, sitting in on a class and meeting the faculty solidified his choice to attend Meredith.
Bastin, too, said that the quality of the faculty made his decision to attend Meredith an easy one: “I have a real gratitude and respect for faculty there. Meredith is a great place for men, as well as women, to study and become teachers.”
Nickerson said that her professors at Meredith gave her something that all teachers need: self-reliance: “I learned how to figure it out, and that was important – no program can teach you everything.”
The need for Meredith’s education offerings does not seem to be going away, even as teacher pay for those with master’s degrees remains an issue in North Carolina. Over the past four years, an average of 50 students per year have earned graduate degrees in education, McKinney said.
Burden said that her Meredith education connects her with a special group of teachers.
“There are so many teachers like me, so many Meredith graduates,” Burden said. “We run into each other all the time at meetings, and we wear our rings. I’m very proud to tell people I graduated from Meredith.”
Parker recalled a story about the role a Meredith ring played in one Meredith graduate’s job as a teacher.
“It was the beginning of the school year, and one of the children saw her ring and said, ‘You’ve got the good-teacher ring.’”
Parker noted that the faculty at Meredith see their goal in a larger context so that Meredith-educated teachers can continue to be recognized for their skill and professionalism: “Our students recognize that all of us in the education department have a commitment to giving the best education that we can to public school children and that we are committed to developing in our students that same sense of commitment.”
Mary Kay Delaney, head of the education department at Meredith, started teaching at Meredith in the mid-1990s as an adjunct professor. In 1997, she joined Meredith as an assistant professor of education and taught through December of 2001. Then, she left Meredith to become the principal of a school in Durham, N.C., and stayed there through the summer of 2007. She rejoined Meredith’s faculty for fall semester 2007 as department head. Meredith Magazine spoke with Delaney recently about the education department at Meredith.
Meredith Magazine: How is Meredith’s education program perceived in the state?
Mary Kay Delaney: Our graduates are known for being able to come to school on the first day and know what to do. Our graduates get jobs. All of the students who graduated from undergraduate or graduate programs who sought teaching jobs are teaching.
MM: Why is Meredith so good at teacher education?
MKD: First of all, we have really awesome public school partners. They include public school teachers and administrators, our cooperating teachers, and the administrators at schools with which we have partnerships. We constantly ask them for feedback, and they are honest about giving it to us. That happens on a program level and on an individual student level. The Meredith supervisor and cooperating teacher [at the school] work closely together to make sure the student teacher learns what she needs to learn. Another thing is that all of our faculty have had public school teaching experience. All of our faculty are familiar with how public schools work. The other distinguishing feature is that Meredith’s Department of Education has one mission, and that’s teacher education.
MM: What sets Meredith teacher graduates apart from graduates of other teaching programs?
MKD: Meredith graduates stay in teaching. They want to be teachers. We have great students working with great faculty working with great public school partners.
MM: What role does teacher education play in Meredith’s mission (“Meredith College, grounded in the liberal arts and committed to professional preparation, educates and inspires students to live with integrity and provide leadership for the needs, opportunities, and challenges of society.”)?
MKD: Teachers who have liberal arts backgrounds understand their work in a larger context. I think that has practical repercussions. The student who understands history understands that there are ebbs and flows in political circumstances. If you are unhappy with something that is going on, it helps you understand how to react to that constructively, and it gives the bigger picture that it is not going to be like that forever.
It also gives students the understanding that they actually have a hand in helping to support learning in people who are going to be the future of our democracy. It’s really fashionable today to talk about the link between education and work, but to me, that’s a subset of a way bigger picture, which is that education contributes to the development of a democracy. We’re passionate about that and to making sure that our teachers are prepared to teach every kid in the state. We want our graduates to be excellent teachers for all students. That fits into our mission, in my opinion.
Meredith College has a strong education department with a stellar reputation. But no undergraduate student at Meredith majors in education. Instead, students choose a content area as a major and seek licensure in a field or grade level. For middle or high school teachers, students choose a major in line with the subject they would like to teach – for instance, a student planning to teach high school math would major in math and seek a 9-12 teaching license. Students choose a major and apply to the education licensure program, typically in their sophomore year. At Meredith, in addition to their major courses, licensure-seeking students take between 28 and 38 hours of course credit in education and education-related courses, depending on the level they intend to teach.
In this way, students are experts in both a content area and in the tools of teaching.
“Our education department is not a silo,” said Kelly Roberts, ’91, associate professor of English. “We all share those students, and we are very invested in them before they do student teaching.”
Former Meredith Teaching Fellow Directory Allynna Taylor Stone, ’74, noted the importance of the entire campus in Meredith’s education department: “All of these folks are stakeholders in the Meredith education program.”
Wetonah Parker, professor of education, said that having the content knowledge and the pedagogy ensures that students start strong after they leave Meredith and enter the classroom.
Alumnae say that having the content and licensure area has helped them as teachers.
Amy Kay Nickerson, ’07, said, “All of my English classes were instrumental in helping me teach the content. The education department helped prepare me for the role of ‘teacher.’”
1902-11: Meredith awards three master’s degrees, according to Carolyn Robinson’s The Vision Revisited.
1982: In November, Meredith faculty voted to approve graduate degrees, including education. The spring 1983 issue of Meredith Magazine featured part of the faculty’s recommendation: “The offering of post-baccalaureate studies is consistent with Meredith College’s mission, purpose, and history.”
1983: The Board of Trustees approved of the Master of Education (M.Ed.) in February. That August, the first cohort of M.Ed. students enrolled at Meredith.
1985: The first cohort of 17 M.Ed. students graduated from Meredith.
2008: Meredith began offering the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), “designed as a program for career changers,” according to Monica McKinney, ’12 (M.Ed.), director of graduate programs in education.
2013-14: The graduate program in education celebrates its 30th anniversary. Through 2013, 360 graduates have completed either the M.Ed. or MAT program since 1985. In the past few years, approximately 50 students per year have earned graduate degrees in education from Meredith College.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Meredith Magazine.