A MAT Student Finds Her Niche

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By Shelby Mullennix

The Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) Program at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) is quickly changing my life. I journeyed through four years of undergraduate coursework at St. Mary’s with a major in English and minors in Educational Studies, Religious Studies, and Spanish, and I wavered many times on my decision of whether or not to pursue teaching as a career. My experiences in the SMCM undergraduate Educational Studies courses and my interactions with the wonderful and dynamic Educational Studies faculty and former M.A.T. students made the decision a simple one. It became clear to me that I had at my fingertips the opportunity to become a part of a rigorous and well-respected teaching program that, as I was assured, would transform me from a woman with an English degree and an interest in teaching into a woman passionate about education with a feeling that she was born to teach English.

Throughout my first four months as a student in the M.A.T., I have had the unique opportunity to be in two places at once. I am nestled safely and comfortably within my beloved St. Mary’s community that became a part of my identity during my undergraduate experience, but I have also been whisked into a whirlwind of intense graduate-level coursework and immersion into my student-teaching classroom. The summer session of M.A.T. classes exposed me to useful classroom-relevant information about exciting new technology, how to foster multiple literacies in any classroom, and all about the daunting Common Core State Standards. However, thus far on my M.A.T. expedition, my six-week internship in a seventh grade English Language Arts classroom at Spring Ridge Middle School has been the highlight of my experience.

I came into this teaching program with my heart and mind set strictly on becoming a high-school teacher of English. My assumptions of the middle school teacher’s daily experience was based on my own admittedly awkward stint in middle school and horror stories from teachers about sassy eleven-year-olds driving teachers out of the profession. When I discovered that a certification in secondary education allows me to teach both middle and high school, I blew it off as inconsequential since teaching middle school was never a blip on my radar. Needless to say, finding out that I owed the M.A.T. six weeks of student teaching in a middle school in order to move on to my more permanent placement in a high school classroom was…less than enticing.

I showed up to professional development day and open-house day at Spring Ridge Middle School in my “teacher clothes” and with a façade of a positive attitude about teaching seventh graders, bitterly wishing I was helping a twelfth-grade teacher set up his or her classroom instead. Without embracing it, I admitted that it was quite fun designing a colorful bulletin board about the writing process and writing out name cards with some of the most interesting and tongue-tying names I have ever heard. The night before the students returned to Spring Ridge Middle School, I sat at my desk brooding over how I was going to handle the pack of raging pre-teens that was about to take over my days…and of course grappling with the timeless dilemma – heels or flats?

Day one as “Ms. Mullennix” came and went in a momentary blur as I was introduced as “your other teacher.” My spectacular mentor teacher, who has become a friend and resource that I still keep in touch with, never presented me to the students as anything other than their teacher. I was never her aide, her personal grader, the mysterious observer at the back of the room, or even her student teacher. I was just Ms. Mullennix, one of the English teachers in room 5B. Over the next six weeks, I continued to struggle with shoe choice, always cursing myself when I caved to the temptation to wear high-heels, but more importantly, those awkward seventh graders stole my heart and ignited my passion and excitement to become a teacher. I have a rejuvenated view of the seventh grade teaching experience as much less of a prison sentence and much more of an enjoyable and desirable career path. This experience has taught me to be open and welcoming to all the twists and turns that will inevitably cross my path as an educator, which has invaluably enhanced the way in which I approach becoming a teacher.

As stated on the St. Mary’s website, the M.A.T. program’s mission is “to create masterful teachers who are reflective practitioners able to facilitate communities of diverse learners.” Diverse is an excellent way to describe the classroom that I taught in at Spring Ridge. The professors in the M.A.T. program do an excellent job of keeping culturally relevant and diverse pedagogy at the forefront of our developing teacher brains. I feel that the program not only caters to the different styles of learning that the graduate students bring to the St. Mary’s classroom, but also instills in the students a very self-reflective way of thinking that fosters an ability to use our own classroom learning as a framework for what to do, or not, as future educators. My coursework and my seventh-grade teaching experience have opened up my eyes to the joy and fulfillment that await me as I push on in my journey to master the art of being an educator, and I cherish the M.A.T. program for equipping me with the tools and techniques essential for success in my own classroom someday.

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