Monday, February 11, 2008

The Brown MAT (circa 2000) in a Nutshell

It has changed some, but this is how we rolled at the end of the 20th century in the high school half of the Brown Teacher Education Program.

You've got about 30 Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT's) and 10 seniors in the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (UTEP's), and three clinical professors, one each for English, social studies/history, and biology. You end up with 10 to 15 in each group in the humanities, 5 to 10 in bio. The MAT's have a one year (12 month) program, starting in June.

You show up, have two crash weeks or so and then do Brown Summer High School (BSHS) for a month, which is run as an enrichment program for local high school students. It is heavily subsidized, so most of the kids pay little or nothing. If anything it is a more diverse crowd than in the Providence schools because you get a few random affluent students in BSHS. There are usually a few kids from various alternative programs in the city who get credit for BSHS classes, but basically, it is enrichment and the kids who are there want to be there, so it isn't hardcore in terms of behavior, but in terms of ability, skills, etc., it is an extreme range.

Classes are held in the morning, from 8 to 12, two classes, an hour and 50 minutes each. Teachers teach one section a day, in teams of three, who work together for the month. Each team is observed throughout the month by a mentor teacher. Each year each subject has an essential question and a text, and is expected to finish with an exhibition, but other than that teach team has great flexibility in the direction the curriculum goes.

The secret sauce in the whole summer program is the mentor teachers. They've got a cadre of experienced master teachers who come back year after year, and not only participate in planning, observing and intensively debriefing BSHS classes, but they also attend and help teach methods classes.

So for students in the program, a day during the summer is something like:

  1. Get up, go to Brown.
  2. Team teach a 110 minute lesson with two other students.
  3. Debrief every frickin' thing that happened during the lesson with your team and mentor for the next 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Lunch.
  5. Methods class or educational psychology for two hours.
  6. Dinner.
  7. Planning the next day's class with your team.
  8. Homework.
  9. Crash.

One thing that is probably lost in translation here is the intensity of teaching a long class with loosely defined objectives in a team of three novices. You get a little microcosm to argue out theory and put it into practice the next morning.

So that goes on for a month, with all the MAT's and senior UTEP's together, then everyone presents their best lessons and goes away for a month. The summer is the heart of the program.

Then you spend one of the next two semesters either student teaching or taking mostly content area classes at Brown. The student teaching takes place in a variety of public and private schools in Providence and the suburbs, depending on your needs. The cooperating teachers can be a little spotty compared to the inner circle of BSHS mentors. The student teaching has a couple differences from the standard model (as I understand it). You only teach two classes a day; you're expected to observe one other class a day, from as wide a variety of classes as you can in the school and visiting others if you can; the remaining time is for planning and reflection. You also have a methods class and usually one at Brown in your subject area. You also do a "personal inquiry" project, which tends to be a kind of weak action research kind of thing. I know mine sucked.

I found the non-student-teaching semester at Brown to be useful. I filled in some gaps in my English background. I hadn't been planning my course selections at CMU and Pitt around a teaching career, so I had no Shakespeare, for example. So I had a Shakespeare course, a Comp Lit course which introduced me to Walter Benjamin, an educational philosophy class with Richard Archambault which kind of ruined me for putting up with blogoshperic stemwinding, and... a British poetry or something course of which I remember none of the content, but where I did learn to do close reading, which none of the other courses I'd had had focused on. It is helpful to just take content area courses in a different school. Brown and CMU (and Pitt) have rather different approaches.


Jill Davidson - CES National said...

Hi Tom,

I'm curious about why you posted your reflections of Brown's teacher ed programs from 8 or so years ago. Just to capture the memories, to record what you think worked well (if that is what you think)? It caught my attention for sure, as I'm just now wrapping up an issue of Horace for CES (it'll be released to affiliates and subscribers in early March, on the CES website toward the end of March) that looks at teacher ed programs that prepare teachers to succeed in and stay at Coalition schools, and what happened back in the day at Brown strongly influenced a lot of what's happening now at CES schools and centers that are taking seriously the mission of preparing educators to teach and grow professionally in ways that align with the ten Common Principles. So, great timing, thanks.

And a small objection - as a Providence public schools parent, I do think that the schools are a bit more economically diverse that you mention here, or at least are now.

Tom Hoffman said...

Hi Jill,

The post is sort of an elaboration on the previous TFA posts, elaborating on what I regard as good professional training for teachers.

Jill Davidson - CES National said...

Got it. I've heard grumblings that Brown's ed department has shifted its priorities away from teacher prep in general and is focusing more mainly on wonk prep; too bad if so.

Tom Hoffman said...

Indeed. Also, Larry's leaving after this year, so the entire clinical faculty will have turned over in the past few years, so it is a risky time.