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October / November 2001

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Mastering Teaching and Learning

Photo by Michele Stapleton

Mastering Teaching and Learning

About the Photo: "As an educator, you aren't just a teacher, facilitator or mentor. You are also a learner in a dynamic situation, constantly assessing all students and getting to know them in order to teach them better." Karen Baldacci


Innovations in teacher education
In a paradigm shift from the traditional model of placing and supervising student teachers in K-12 schools, the College of Education and Human Development's Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program involves entire school communities in educating the next generation of teachers.

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For more than 18 years, Karen Baldacci has had a successful career as a registered dietician working in clinical and public health settings. When her son Jack started school, she also became an active volunteer, both in the classroom and as a leader in the local Parent-Teacher Organization.

Baldacci's positive involvement in the local school rang true to her own experiences as a student who benefited from inspirational educators.

That's when she knew it was time to go back to school, this time to pursue a second career as a teacher.

"I was intrigued and thrilled with the whole concept of watching a child grow through learning," says Baldacci, a resident of Bangor, Maine. "As an educator, you aren't just a teacher, facilitator or mentor. You are also a learner in a dynamic situation, constantly assessing all students and getting to know them in order to teach them better."

Twelve months ago, Baldacci returned to her alma mater, The University of Maine, as a graduate student in the new Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, offered by the College of Education and Human Development. MAT, launched in 1997, is a high-caliber, intense preparation for aspiring teachers, including those whose academic coursework or careers are in areas other than education.

MAT is part of the college's Professional Development Network, which is based on partnerships between UMaine and area schools committed to improving teaching and learning at all levels. In particular, the network is designed to prepare preservice teachers, provide professional development for practicing educators, and emphasize exemplary practice to maximize K-12 student achievement.

The model for teaching and working with interns and teachers on-site at elementary schools is spearheaded by two of UMaine's leading education professors, Brenda Power, the University's 1999 Distinguished Maine Professor, and Constance Perry, recipient of UMaine's 2001 Outstanding Teaching Award.

The goal is to help address the shortfall of well-qualified teachers in Maine and across the nation. The success of the MAT program, considered to be an initiative at the forefront of educational reform, contributed to the College of Education and Human Development's recognition in the U.S. News & World Report's 1998 Guide To America's Best Graduate Schools.

"It's an intense commitment. You have to be ready to unplug your life for a year, refocus your energy and manage time as never before," says Baldacci, whose life has long been hectic with her husband, John, serving his fourth term as a Maine congressman in Washington, D.C.

But where else, she asks, can you end up with a master's degree and certification in such a short time, and, most importantly, with the confidence and ability to be the kind of teacher you aspire to be?

For MAT students, courses are offered at the University and on-site in schools during the day and evening. In addition to coursework, there is an intensive in-school experience. The UMaine interns spend 40 to 60 hours a week with their mentor teachers during the full-time internship in the spring.

Baldacci received small-school experience at Newburgh Elementary in SAD 22, doing a first grade placement and taking a social studies methods course taught on-site by UMaine faculty. Lessons she learned in the methods course were immediately applied in the classroom with mentoring teachers. In the city of Brewer, Baldacci interned in both the fifth and first grades.

This year, she became one of 93 new teachers to graduate from UMaine's MAT program in the past four years.

The MAT program is in sync with the public school calendar rather than the University's academic year. In June, even before the children return to classes in the fall, UMaine students dive into educational psychology, foundations, research and assessment courses in preparation for their school-based experiences.

"The MAT students are in the classroom from day one. They watch our summer assessment with the students, plan and assess activities, attend meetings and workshops, help with classroom inquiry and data analysis, and conduct their own research," says Laurie Richards, Baldacci's mentor teacher from Brewer's Pendleton Street School. "They accomplish a tremendous amount of work in one year because they really want to be here and this commitment is reflected in the classroom."

The MAT program is good for the children and for the teaching profession, according to Richards. "The program allows for two teachers in the classroom, which means more one-on-one time for each child with a teacher. The interns also bring experience from other jobs, as well as fresh ideas and the latest in research from their classes," she says.

As part of the MAT program, on-site learning labs in the schools encourage sharing of strategy and expertise. Mentor teachers host colleagues and interns to their classrooms to observe instruction. A subsequent debriefing session focuses on theories linked to what happened during the lesson, and connections to other classrooms, curricular projects and needs of individual children.

"It's like an apprenticeship program where you can see different master teachers approach the same lesson in different ways, which is wonderful for all the learners," Baldacci says.

by Kay Hyatt
October-November, 2001

Click Here for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.


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