Education program responds to challenging times

With school systems across the nation contemplating deep job cuts because of budget shortfalls, it could be a challenging year for students graduating this spring looking for teaching jobs, and for the teacher-education programs that prepare them.

But Wake Forest’s education program is well positioned to weather the storm and help its graduates find teaching positions, say professors in the education department. The program’s small size, emphasis on personalized instruction, and connections to alumni and principals nationwide are strengths now more than ever, they said.

“We feel very good about placement opportunities for our students,” said Professor and Chair of Education Mary Lynn Redmond, who teaches K- 12 foreign language. “In some content areas, it has become more difficult. Our students are still very enthusiastic about teaching, but they may have to be more flexible and mobile in looking for positions. Wake Forest has a well-established reputation, so our graduates will almost always find jobs.”

While it will be several months before budgets are finalized and principals make hiring decisions for the fall, Redmond and Associate Professor of Education Ann Cunningham said Wake Forest’s reputation and approach to teacher-education will give Wake Forest graduates an advantage. Two seniors majoring in elementary education have already accepted positions with Teach for America.

“The reputation of a Wake Forest teacher candidate is quite high around the country,” said Cunningham, who teaches instructional design, assessment and technology. “When we talk to principals to give recommendations, we have had them ask us to send them anyone who graduates from our program. We tell our students, even in a market like this, you may have to wait a little longer, but you’ll get hired.”

The small size of Wake Forest’s teacher-education program is a strength, Redmond said. About 30 undergraduates complete the teacher-education program each year in elementary education, secondary education and K-12 foreign languages. About 40 to 50 students complete the 13-month MAEd program in math, science, social studies, English and foreign languages each year.

Because of the small size of the program, education professors can frequently make site visits to observe students when they are student-teaching in local schools to provide feedback.

“We are fortunate because of our small size to be able to accomplish much more with our students than a large program can,” Redmond said. “Our teacher-education model enables us to do so much more one on one. That approach, where we have them in class, mentor them in their teaching internships, and then follow them into their careers, is highly unusual.

“And, we are very fortunate to get the calibre of students that Wake Forest attracts,” she said. “They make marvelous teachers, who are not only well prepared, but they also have a love of learning and want to make an impact in the community and be leaders in the profession.”

The education department also works to connect students with alumni who are already teaching, Cunningham said. Every year, students help plan a weekend conference for recent teacher-education graduates to network and learn from more experienced alumni teachers. About 40 first- and second-year teachers attended the most recent conference, in January. The Waddill Excellence in Teaching Awards — which provide two $20,000 awards annually to alumni teachers — also keep alumni involved in the education program.

“We are continuing to network our seniors with alumni teaching in the areas where our new graduates might want to teach, and we’re also counseling them to be diligent about using their web sites and portfolios as marketing tools,” Cunningham said. “Being very clear about their skills and teaching experiences in electronic formats is more important in these market conditions.”

Redmond worries that budget cutbacks could cause students to have second-thoughts about a teaching career. “Because of the way things are right now, undergraduates aren’t thinking about education in the way they used to. There always used to be teaching jobs available, but now that’s not a given.

“The really interesting thing is that the greater crisis is a teacher shortage,” she said. “At a time when the economy is dictating that we need to produce more high-quality teachers, the economy is causing school systems to lay off teachers.”

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