Victoria Chung ’14, Miriam Holmes ’15, Kathleen Newman ’15, and Edwin Rosales ’17 all havesomething in common: They plan to become teachers after they finish their Princeton education.To help them fulfill that goal, they are all currently working toward certificates in teacher preparation, a program that gives students the training and support they need to become state-licensed teachers. Senior Writer Jennifer Shyue spoke with these students in the Teacher Prep program to learn more about their personal motivations and views on teaching.
When Victoria Chung ’14 was deciding what college she wanted to attend, she said that she chosePrinceton because she thought the Program in Teacher Preparation could help her explore herinterest in teaching. Chung, who concentrated in chemistry at Princeton, wants to teach chemistry at an urban public high school. While at Princeton, she did the introductory practicum —individual work thatconsists of two teacher observations followed by two discussion sessions —which students arerequired to complete before beginning coursework in the program.
Ultimately, however, she decided not to pursue a certificate as an undergraduate, even though theinterest in education that had led her to Princeton persisted. She tutored students in Trenton withStudent Volunteers Council imPACT and became a project coordinator for the curriculum development team. By hersenior year, her thoughts had turned toward Teach For America, a national teaching corps that began at Princeton as the senior thesis of Wendy Kopp ’89.
“I went through the process, and I actually thought I was going to do it,” Chung said. “I was reallysold on the whole closing the achievement gap in urban schools.”
After considering her options, however, Chung decided that she could best serve the students shewanted to work with by being as prepared as possible, she said. She graduated in the spring but istaking advantage of a unique feature of teacher prep that allows Princeton students to returnto the University at any point after graduation to take the required classes and work toward their teachingcertification.
This semester, she is living in West Windsor, N.J., and taking PSY 307: Educational Psychology andTPP 301: Seminar on Student Learning and Methods of Teaching on campus. She will completeher semester of student teaching in the spring. Student teaching entails being paired with amentor teacher at a middle or high school in the area and acting as a partner teacher in his or herclassroom. By the end of the semester, students will have led the classroom on their own several times.In the spring, Chung will take TPP 401: Seminar onEducation, which students take at night in the same semester they are working as student teachers.
After she finishes her semester of student teaching, she will assemble a portfolio, for which shehas been collecting documents throughout her time with teacher prep, and present it at a defense before a three-person panel. Teacher prep will submit her credentials to the state of New Jersey for the Certificate of Eligibility with Advanced Standing and recommendher for licensure. Once she takes the Praxis teacher certification examination that corresponds tothe subject area and level she wishes to teach, she will become licensed to teach in the state ofNew Jersey. The license is transferrable to many other states, Todd Kent ’83said. Kent is associate director of the Program in Teacher Preparation and director of the TeacherCertification Program.
Miriam Holmes ’15wants to teach English at a public middle school. When she arrived at Princeton, shesaid, she had no idea what she wanted her career to be. She started thinking about it again whilelooking for jobs the summer after her freshman year.
“I found a local theater camp and worked there for a couple years, [and] I had so much funworking with kids, and it was so rewarding, and I learned things that I liked and didn’t like aboutcertain ages of kids,” she said.
When she arrived back on campus, she joined the Program in Teacher Preparation. Coincidentally,around that time, her father, who used to be a programmer on Wall Street, began teachingcomputer science at the New York City high school she attended.
“As he’s started teaching, he has developed very strong feelings about some subjects, and I think slightly different things, and so we’ll have conversations about that that are not anything like the conversations we had before he started teaching,” she said.
“The reasons we want to teach are very different,” she added. “He really enjoys programming and enjoys thinking about that stuff, and he really enjoys being able to share it with other people, and that’s a huge motivation for him in terms of teaching. I am an idealistic 21-year-old college student who wants to change the world one student at a time, and so I want to teach middle-school English.”
Another reason Holmes wants to teach is the influence her own teachers have had on her life.
“My middle school chorus teacher completely changed the way that I behave in everyday life,” she said. “He especially [made an impact], but a bunch of my other teachers have just had such an impact on people in such a positive way that I’ve always really liked the idea of being able to do that for someone else.”
Holmes, like most teacher prep students, intends to complete her semester of student teaching in a “ninth semester.” She will graduate in the spring and return to campus in fall 2015 to do her student teaching and take TPP 401.
Kathleen Newman ’15 wants to teach social studies. She has always loved teaching, she said, and ultimately, she plans to become a school psychologist. School psychologists work with students with disabilities or learning issues, and develop individualized education programs for them. Teachers use these programs to help adapt their teaching to those students.
“I felt like if I was going to be telling teachers how to modify their lessons, I should know what it was like to teach beforehand,” she said. “But I might love teaching and stick with it — I’m not sure,” she added.
Newman, who is a psychology major, is writing her thesis on the psychology of education. She is focusing on students’ identities and motivations during adolescence and how those shape their performance in school. Like Holmes, she plans on completing her semester of student teaching in the fall semester after she graduates.
Edwin Rosales ’17 would like to teach English at a public high school. He has known since his sophomore year in high school that he wants to be a teacher. Like Chung, he said that part of his decision in choosing where to go to school was considering how he would be able to work toward that goal while in college.
“At first I thought I wanted to go into something like being a doctor, going into a field where I could help people,” he said. “Then I realized my best fit would probably be in the classroom — that’s where I’d be happiest.”
“Being Latino, being male, being first-generation in this country, I feel like I really bring something different to a school, and I feel like I could really have an impact on a lot of kids who could identify with me,” he added. “I really do think that male minority teachers are needed in the field of teaching.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2011-12 academic school year, 76 percent of public school teachers were female.Teacher prep currently has 54 students enrolled in various stages of the program. Of those, 36 are female while 18 are male, making the gender breakdown 67 percent female and 33 percent male.
“Relatively speaking to the national numbers, we have a fairly diverse body of teachers here,” Kent noted.
Another measure in which teacher prep graduates outperform the national average is the number of years they remain in the classroom. According to survey data collected through 2007 by Anne Catena, director of professional development initiatives, among teacher prep graduates who do decide to pursue teaching professionally, 60 percent remain in the classroom for more than five years. Nationally, Catena said, only 50 percent of teachers do so. In general, 80 percent of teacher prep graduates teach after receiving their licenses, compared with the national statistic of 50 percent of nationally certified teachers who spend time teaching.
All four of the students Street spoke to see themselves staying in schools long-term. Both Chung and Rosales said they are currently less interested in playing a role in education policy, although they could eventually move into more administrative roles within a school. Newman plans on becoming a school psychologist in the long term.
Holmes has enjoyed her experiences working with middle-school students and also thinks she will teach long-term, although she added, “My opinion is that it’s probably not a great idea to know exactly what you want to do right out of college, and so it’s a little weird for me that I think I know what I want to do. [I’ll] do it for a while and if it works, great; if it doesn’t, I’ll find something else.”
Director of the Program in Teacher Preparation Christopher Campisano emphasized that the teacher prep program will serve students regardless of where their careers take them.
“This program will serve you well —will serve you well as a parent, will serve you well as a community member,” Campisano said. “It will give you a perspective on the school system and teaching and education that you otherwise would not have.”
Chung also agreed that learning how to teach is important even for those who do not plan on staying in the classroom.
“Even if people aren’t planning to be teachers for the rest of their lives, it’s a really important skillset to have, just in terms of how to relate to people, how to motivate them, how to see what their understanding is and try to accommodate what you’re saying to that,” Chung said.
Princeton is not the only school among its peer institutions to offer an undergraduate program like teacher prep. However, Kent noted a difference in the program’s presence in conjunction with the pursuit of a liberal arts degree.
“Our model, in the larger scale of teacher education, is unique because we’re embedded in a liberal arts institution, and we have the liberal arts philosophy,” Kent said. “That’s why we’re structured as a certificate program —that allows students to pursue licensure within that liberal arts framework.”
“Princeton has always been very focused on the liberal arts,” he later added. “At the same time, Princeton has always valued, very highly, teaching. It’s a premier research university, but we really value teaching. Almost all of the commencement addresses that I hear our presidents give reference the importance of teaching and the impact of teachers and instructors on people’s lives.”
In addition to its liberal arts focus, another integral part of Princeton’s identity is its unofficial motto: “In the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Although teaching is often seen as an act of service, Campisano explained that this perception could be problematic.
“Do we frame our program as service?” Campisano said. “We have to be careful, in the sense that, at least personally, the idea of thinking of teaching as a sort of missionary work is not something I look fondly upon. I consider it a profession; I consider it a noble profession, as I do medicine or law or business.”
Kent said he agreed that teaching should not be understood as a charitable undertaking because it should not be a short-term commitment before moving on to something else. However, he also recognized that service could be a motivating factor in individual students.
“I would say many of [our students] have that idea of service in the back of their minds,” Kent said. “So many of them tell stories of teachers impacting their lives, and they want to have that kind of an impact on others in the future.”
On the first day of TPP 301, which Kent teaches, he said that he often asks, “What better way is there to serve others than to take the education that you’ve received here and share it with other people to improve their lives the way it’s improved your life?”
When people ask Holmes where she goes to school and what she wants to do after she graduates, she said that they sometimes ask her, “Why would you waste your degree on that?”
“I think my friend Sarah, who’s also doing the teacher prep program, had the best response: ‘You don’t want your kids being taught by smart people? Is that what you’re saying?’ ” Holmes said.
Rosales echoed that sentiment and recalled people’s reactions to his intentions to become a teacher. Some people expressed admiration, but others were surprised and even critical of his decision.
“They would look at me in shock and say, ‘So you’re working your ass off for four years so that you can just become a teacher?’ To comments like that, I always responded with the fact that I might just be becoming ‘just a teacher,’ but the education I’m receiving now is just education I’m going to be able to pass on later,” Rosales said. “I’m receiving one of the world’s best educations possible here at one of the world’s best institutions of learning, so why wouldn’t I come here?”