Like many traditional professions, teaching has undergone a radical transformation in recent years, with future teachers being required to master a dizzying array of new methods, issues and technologies. It’s a challenge not only for education students but also for colleges, which must find ways to train their students despite finite budgets and limited staffs.
One approach that is working particularly well for Monmouth College’s educational studies department is to seek out new faculty members with unique backgrounds who are capable of imparting both diverse and specialized knowledge on young teacher candidates. This fall, the department is fortunate to welcome three new faculty members, each of whom brings valuable, but widely different experiences to the classroom.
Carmen Turner is a seasoned educator who started out as a high school English teacher, but after hosting a student from Ecuador and then spending a year teaching at a bilingual school in Honduras, became fascinated by the process of how language is learned and taught. That interest blossomed into advanced degrees and a passion for the teaching of English as a second language, a skill she believes is becoming increasingly important because of the ever-growing influx of immigrants into the United States.
Coming to Monmouth from Nashville, where large populations of Latinos, Kurds and Hmongs from southeast Asia created challenges in the school districts, Turner sees many of the same language issues in Monmouth’s growing Latino community, despite the smaller scale. “Today, about 10 percent of the population does not speak English as a native language,” she explained, “but predictions are that by 2040, English may be a second language to one-third of the school-age population.”
Turner said it is important that she introduce her students to the language challenges they will face, and believes that with proper training it can be a fascinating and rewarding experience to work with students and families learning English. She noted that there are two basic models that are followed—a transitional bilingual model in which students get short-term assistance in their native language before becoming mainstreamed, and a model in which they are taught bilingually over an extended period of time.
“Teachers will need to learn to be flexible in how they teach language, because immigrants come here at all different ages with all different levels of language skills,” she said, noting that schools are mandated by federal law to educate school-age children, regardless of their ability to speak English.
Since moving to Monmouth in June, Turner has been exploring various ways to assist the community, from reaching out with aiding experience to the local school district, to thinking about offering professional development workshops.
As the mother of five, Turner’s career and interests have been influenced by her children’s education. She currently has a daughter at Harding Elementary School and as son at Monmouth-Roseville High School, so she is attuned to the influence of the Latino presence in the local schools. She and her husband of 22 years also have a son at Middle Tennessee State and another son at Columbia University. Their oldest son attended Maryville College, a small Presbyterian school similar to Monmouth. It was largely his happy experience there that led Turner, who had only experienced life at large universities, to consider applying for a position at Monmouth.
“I thought, I could teach at a school like that,” she recalled. “I wanted to try to use my expertise at a place where I could make an immediate impact.” That is what she plans to do, as she hopes to soon begin teaching an ESL foundations course and perhaps offer an ESL endorsement for majors, something that would help set Monmouth apart from many of its peer institutions.
Turner is also an avid proponent of studying abroad and hopes Monmouth can further integrate foreign study into its curriculum, while offering additional scholarships and incentives to facilitate participation.
Like Turner, Erika Buhring comes to Monmouth from an urban setting, having spent several years teaching and working in Chicago, much of the time in the inner city. A Wisconsin native, she was a sociology major at Grinnell College and got her first taste of underprivileged education when she traveled to Kenya on an ACM program and lived among the Maasai tribe.
“That experience made me appreciate the importance of education, but not just in the classroom,” she said. “Learning occurs everywhere, and that’s one of the reasons why I am excited to be at Monmouth. Integrated learning and team teaching are two concepts I particularly love.”
Growing up in a family of educators, Buhring has already been exposed an extraordinary array of educational experiences, despite her young age. Her first job was at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a residential public high school in Aurora, Ill., where she was a counselor and a track coach. She then got involved with Boys Hope Girls Hope, an organization for children at risk, and got to work with children on the south side of Chicago.
Her next job was with the Harper Court Foundation, a non-profit arts council in Hyde Park, where she helped administer a writing contest with local schools. She attended graduate school at the University of Illinois-Chicago, earning her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in curriculum and instruction, following which she was an adjunct faculty member at National Lewis University and Indiana University-South Bend. For the past two years, she taught education in a tenure track position at Concordia University in Chicago.
Buhring has a special interest in the middle school years. “It’s an exciting time, a transitional cusp,” she explained. “Students are wanting to be independent, but they can’t quite do it by themselves.” She will be working at Monmouth to establish relationships and develop programs with middle school principals.
Currently, Buhring is designing a cutting-edge course on contemporary issues in education, which she will begin offering next semester. “This is not a methods course,” she explained. “The idea is to expose students to a variety of important educational issues and allow them to not only form opinions, but also learn how to deal with their ramifications in concrete ways.”
Some of the issues that will be discussed, she said, are bullying and cyberbullying, cheating, urban vs. rural schools, and the cutting of arts funding. There will also be an experiential component, in which students will have opportunities such as sitting on school board meetings, taking field trips, communicating with parents and debating ethical issues. “There are many difficult situations that a young teacher will face,” Buhring said. “This class will give them an unprecedented opportunity to practice handling sensitive issues, long before their job is on the line.”
Brice Seifert is another new member of the department who is developing novel teaching methods based on an unconventional career, which initially had little to do with education. Although today he holds a Ph.D. in elementary education, he originally graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in mechanical engineering.
As a young engineer, Seifert found he had a talent for teaching, conducting training courses in Mississippi, Georgia and Missouri for companies such as United Technologies, Johnson Controls and Rheem Manufacturing. “At the same time, when my son was 3 or 4, I discovered I had a knack for teaching children,” he said.
“I really enjoyed working for industry,” Seifert explained, “but it was 70-hour weeks, 50 weeks per year.” He decided to go back to school and pursue a career in elementary education, but with the unique twist of viewing education from an engineering perspective. “I like to analyze the teaching process—what techniques work best and why,” he said.
Seifert earned his doctorate from Washington State University and taught both kindergarten and 5th grade while his wife was finishing her Ph.D. in accounting there. He then switched gears to teaching college, for a year at Northwest Oklahoma University and for the past three years at Illinois State University.
His passion for engineering remaining, Seifert enjoys teaching about technology, and is currently teaching a course in educational technology at Monmouth. “We cover a broad spectrum of electronic tools that will be useful to future teachers,” he said, “including how to do Internet treasure hunts, use dynamic diagnostic worksheets for math, publish a parent newsletter, build a website for your classes, and teach social studies using a non-linear PowerPoint presentation.”
Coming to Monmouth from a larger institution has been particularly gratifying to Seifert. “The small class sizes are more rewarding, allowing you to connect on a more personal level,” he explained. “Getting to work with individual students, sometimes over a period of years, and watch them progress and mature is a wonderful opportunity.”
Seifert immediately took advantage of Monmouth’s more intimate teaching environment by devising an after-school math enrichment program for local second- and third-graders as part of his elementary math methods course. “I sent out flyers to teachers and parents and got a wonderful response,” he said. For one hour each week between midterm and Thanksgiving, 27 elementary students come to Monmouth College, where they are given in-depth instruction by 12 pre-service teachers.
“Some receive remedial attention, while others perform enrichment activities,” he said. “But our students gain valuable experience preparing lesson plans and chatting electronically with each other about what they are learning. My job is to observe them from a distance and see how they are connecting. I am looking for two things: are the kids engaged, and are they focusing on something meaningful?”
One thing is apparent—in elementary education, Seifert has found a meaningful occupation.