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Headed to class

Economy spurs growth in UCA teaching program

By Tammy Keith

This article was published March 11, 2012 at 3:13 a.m.

— James Patrick of Mayflower became a lawyer, in part, because of a country song.

“I’m very musical, and I play the guitar,” he said. “There’s that song, ‘Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys. … Make ’em be doctors and lawyers and such.’”

Patrick said he defined a successful career as being in one of those professions.

Math wasn’t his strong suit. “But I like to talk,” he said, so he became a lawyer.

The song didn’t say anything about teachers, but that’s his new career path.

He’s a student in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at the University of Central Arkansas.

“I love what I do, honestly, but I don’t like having to charge people who can’t afford it,” he said.

He and his wife also have a 6-month-old baby, Addison, and he wants to spend more time at home.

“Two of my best friends are teachers, and every time I talk to them, they seem happy with what they’re doing,” he said.

Patrick already has a business degree from UCA and a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. He’s getting certified to teach middle-school and high-school social studies.

Patrick is part of a trend of people switching to the education field.

UCA has seen an increase in the number of students in its MAT program.

“It’s our fourth year, and we started with 40 students,” said Tammy Benson, chairwoman of the UCA Department of Teaching and Learning and former director of the MAT program.

This semester, 228 students are enrolled.

“We’re to the point now that we’ve gotten so large that we’re trying to refine the program and be a little more selective,” Benson said.

The downturn in the economy has been an impetus for many people to look at teaching as a second career, she said.

The program was created for people without teaching credentials who have bachelor’s degrees and want to become educators.

It’s a 36-hour graduate-degree program designed to be completed in five semesters, including fall, spring and summer courses.

The classes are on weekends and at night, along with 40 percent being offered online.

“All of our courses revolve around how to teach,” Benson said. “They’re coming to us with a degree. … It’s basically a master’s degree in how to teach.

“They’re experts in their content. What we have to do is teach them how to meet the needs of their students.”

Benson said the program emphasizes two aspects - technology and helping students who have special needs.

The prog ram won t he Association of Teacher Educators’ 2010 Distinguished Program in Teacher Education Award.

“We went to Chicago last February and got the award for excellence because of the growth and quality of the program,” Benson said. “There is real evidence of collaboration and doing what’s best for students.”

To date, 298 teaching licenses have been granted through the program.

“One of the things I’m so proud of in this program - so many of our students are going in the high-need areas,” Benson said.

They’re going into the Little Rock area, south Arkansas and the Delta.

“That’s been a huge thing, because that’s why we’re created, to meet the needs of these small towns,” she said.

UCA received a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education that will pay partial tuition for students who commit to teach math or science for at least three years in the Little Rock or North Little Rock school districts.

Carolyn Williams, a professor and assistant dean in the College of Education, wrote the grant.

“It’s just starting up this fall,” Benson said, “but we are getting a lot of new students for it.”

When the MAT program was created four years ago, there was a shortage of teachers in Arkansas, Benson said.

“There were jobs, jobs, jobs,” she said.

The elementary-level positions “are kind of saturated,” Benson said, “but our secondary folks are getting jobs, seven through 12, especially in math and science.”

Brittany Moseley, 25, of Benton is a television news reporter turned elementary school teacher.

Moseley was hired three years ago at Academics Plus Charter School in Maumelle to teach sixth grade.

The charter school didn’t require teachers to have a license at that time, she said, but will in the future.

She received her provisional license last year, and the past two years, she has taught kindergarten.

“Kindergarten is what I love,” Moseley said.

She graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and worked at a television station in Fort Smith for a year.

“I met my husband and realized news reporting wasn’t necessarily the best for a family,” she said. “I quit my job and started substitute teaching.”

Moseley entered the MAT program, but she took off to have her son, now 8 months old.

The master’s workload is challenging, she said, especially taking it while holding down a full-time teaching job.

It was helpful to take classes during the summer and online, she said.

“The staff at UCA, all the faculty - they are phenomenal in helping you,” she said.

Moseley is doing her internship, the last step before graduation in May.

Amanda Tarver of Vilonia received a degree in psychology from UCA and knew from the get-go that she wanted to teach.

She started the undergraduate teacher-licensure program, but “I got bored,” she said, laughing.

Her husband, Tyler Tarver, went through the MAT program first. He teaches math in the Heber Springs School District.

“I loved it,” she said about the MAT program. “It was more interesting than the undergrad program.”

Amanda passed her licensure exams and received her provisional license. She taught at Sylvan Hills and in Cabot.

It was time for her to intern, but she resigned from the Cabot School District to have their son.

Now she’s doing an internship at the middle school in Heber Springs, and she plans to graduate in May with her Master of Arts degree in teaching.

That will be the end of her time in the classroom for a while, because the couple’s second child is due at the end of May.

“I’m going to stay at home until they go to school,” she said.

Sean Livingston, 25, and his brother Chris Livingston, 36, are both enrolled in the Master of Arts in Teaching program.

Sean graduated in 2008from UCA with a degree in digital film making, but his plan now is to teach middle school English.

“At the time, I was pretty much really interested in film making. I’m a big fan of movies and stuff,” he said.

“At first it was all fun and easy, but I think by the time I graduated - it was the spring semester of 2008 - is when I found a little bit of difficulty with it.”

Sean said one of his strengths is in English.

“I am a writer. I spend a lot of my free time writing stories,” he said.

“I come from a long history of family members who were teachers,” he added, including his sister, Tiffany, and their late grandmother and grandfather.

Sean has observed in the classroom of a fifth-grade teacher in the Mayflower School District.

“It’s the best school. I’m hoping to be able to teach there,” he said. “The people there are great.”

Chris worked at Southwest Airlines for nine years after high school, then went to college at the same time as his brother.

“We actually have been going to UCA together since 2004 and started the MAT program at the same time, so it’s been kind of cool,” he said.

Chris thought about attending law school, but he said he decided to go the teaching route.

He majored in history at UCA.

“I love history; that’s my favorite subject,” he said.

Chris also did his practicum in Mayflower, in a sixth grade American history class.

“I loved it. The kids are great. I really learned a great deal,” he said.

Benson said students must have 75 hours of experience teaching in a school.

The internship part of the program is more like traditional student teaching, working 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“The huge difference” between the MAT program and the traditional one, Benson said, “is that at any time in the program, if they have passed the licensure exam, … they can teach with a provisional license.”

Benson said about 70 percent of students in the two year program have teaching jobs and come to classes at night to get their master’s in teaching.

“It’s like on-the-job training,” she said.

“In the beginning, all our teachers had jobs,” she said. “What has kind of happened through the years, because of the economy, teachers aren’t retiring.”

“The goal is to have a teaching job by your second year,” she said. “That way, you do your practicum in your own classroom.”

Students who don’t have a teaching job, especially those seeking elementary-school positions, are placed in public schools and assigned a cooperating teacher where they do student teaching for 16 weeks without pay.

Sean said he expects to finish the program in December, but he has to pass the licensure exams this summer before he receives an internship.

James Patrick will also finish in December, but he wants to have a teaching job in the fall.

He’d like either middle school social studies or a job teaching criminal justice at a vocational center.

Patrick did his practicum in the Mayflower School District, as well, and he substitute teaches every chance he gets.

Patrick said he enjoys finding out what strategies work with different students.

“A kid was acting up this morning,” Patrick said last week. He asked the student to go into the hall to talk with him.

Patrick asked the student if he worked, and the student told Patrick that he had a job laying sod.

“I said, ‘How would you like it if I came and ran my motorcycle across the sod you just laid?’

“The student said it would make him mad.

“I said, ‘Well, you’re running across my sod right now.I don’t run across your sod, and I don’t want you running across my sod.’ He said, ‘I understand.’”

Patrick said there are all kinds of ways to reach the students.

“Something I have enjoyed doing, I’ll take my guitar and play at lunch with the kids,” he said. “I love helping people - that’s the part I love about law, that I have the power to change some things - and I’ll still get that teaching.”

Patrick said some people seem surprised that he’s a lawyer who wants to teach.

“I tell them, ‘Find something that makes you happy. You’re going to have to do it for the next 40 years.’”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

River Valley Ozark, Pages 139 on 03/11/2012

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