Western Md. College master's program in teaching taps diverse backgrounds Degree attracts workers seeking career changes


The bachelor's degree in family services that Stacey Coverstone earned in 1980 led to only a few years of related work and many years as a secretary.

But in two years, she'll be licensed to teach. She is one of 33 people enrolled in a new program at Western Maryland College that ends in a master of science in teaching. The program is for people who have their undergraduate degrees in something other than education, but who want to teach.

Western Maryland is the most recent area college to add such a master's program. About five years ago, the state Department of Education began encouraging more colleges and universities to construct master's programs for professionals who already had the content -- such as a degree in chemistry or English -- and work experience, but no license to teach.

For Coverstone, now secretary for the art history, music and theater departments at the college, the course work will be familiar territory. She started out in elementary education at Eastern Illinois University, and she has taken courses in child psychology and development.

After graduation, she worked for a few years counseling pregnant teens, but most of the work Coverstone has found, as she moved around the country with her husband, has been clerical. She yearned to go back to school, and the master's program seemed tailor-made, she said.

Lawrence E. Leak, assistant superintendent for teacher certification with the Maryland Department of Education, said, "With corporate downsizing, there was this talent pool out there that had no avenue into teaching."

Master's programs are in place at the Johns Hopkins University, College of Notre Dame, Loyola College, Towson State University and the University of Maryland.

"They're becoming more prevalent because of the teacher redesign," Leak said, referring to a joint push between the Department of Education and the Maryland Higher Education Commission to make teacher education more academically rigorous.

"In Maryland, there is a very strong school reform movement taking place," Leak said. "We're asking students in all the schools to meet tougher standards. It's only natural we look at how teachers are being prepared as well."

The programs usually focus on pedagogy, not content. The basic assumption is that the student already is educated, but just needs to learn how to educate children.

At Western Maryland, the fall semester includes courses such as "Linking Instruction and Assessment," "Telecom and the Internet" and "Multicultural Issues in Today's Schools."

The program draws two basic kinds of students, said Francis "Skip" Fennell, chairman of the education department at Western Maryland. About half the students are professionals who have been engineers or government workers for several years, but now want to change careers and teach what they've learned.

And the other half are recent college graduates who majored in a specific subject area, such as history or English, but didn't bother to take education courses in their undergraduate years.

Although Western Maryland is just starting the master's program, it was one of the first schools that offered a teaching certification program for noneducation majors several years ago. But the 1 1/2 years of course work was considered undergraduate level, and led to no degree. It was convenient, however, with evening classes.

"It was structured so they could keep their jobs up until student teaching," Fennell said.

With the master's program, it will be much harder for a student to continue in a full-time job, unless it is a very flexible one. In the first semester, the students must engage in a field study in which they are in schools to observe or volunteer, Fennell said.

The program will be much more rigorous, he said, including a master's research project and paper.

"Teachers need to see themselves as people who can do research and look at research as it affects the classroom environment," said Fennell. "Teachers have always cared. We want teachers to know, as well as care."

Even when the program was at the undergraduate level and led to no degree, the students who pursued this route were much more serious than the average student, Fennell said. "They are some of the most dedicated people I've ever taught," he said. "They don't have jobs, and it's their money -- it's not mom or dad paying the tuition."

Pub Date: 8/13/96

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