Chris Rea, M.A.T. Program, Jacob Hiatt School of Education

Chris Rea completed his undergraduate degree at Clark with a major in physics and minor in government, and decided to take advantage of the 5th year free program to pursue a master's degree in teaching.

What made you decide to come to Clark and pursue a career in teaching?

I had a lot of bad teachers in high school and decided that I'd try myself to be a good teacher for future students. I applied to college, but at the last minute decided to take a year off. I spent the following year teaching M.A.T.h and science to 7th and 8th graders with Don Jolley, one of my own middle school teachers. He's an incredible teacher who does amazing things with his students, like building skeletons, studying geology in Utah, and taking large-forM.A.T. pictures with pinhole cameras made from suitcases. I learned a lot from Don. During that time, I also learned about Clark and its 5th year free program in education. I knew that there was a lot of hands-on teaching and science at Clark and that I wanted to go to a small school.

Are you planning to teach physics?

Next year I'll be teaching physics or one of the other sciences. I received a scholarship on the condition that I commit to teaching for one year in a high-need school, defined in part as one where at least 50% of its students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

I would also like to teach other subjects--other sciences or courses in the social science/civics area. I also wouldn't mind teaching English at some point--writing in particular. My interests are much broader than just physics.

What are you doing during this final semester of your program?

This semester I'm starting to hone my practice as a teacher in the classroom, even as I realize that there is infinite room for improvement. I'm teaching three physics classes at South High for juniors and seniors under the mentorship of a first-year teacher, Tara Vaidya. I think we're learning a lot together. Tara has been wonderfully supportive of me, even as I veer a little from the norm of the physics curriculum.

I should note that the classes are heterogeneous: in the same class there are students taking advanced placement courses and students who are newly arrived immigrants struggling to master English.

I'm also taking two courses, Teaching and Learning (which we take every semester, starting in the summer term), and Culture, Language and Education, taught by Professor Sarah Michaels.

It's a heavy load. The M.A.T. program is tough. I put in long days; we all do. I rise at 6:00 a.m. and am at South High from 7:10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Several afternoons a week I have my own courses to attend, usually from about 3:00-6:00 p.m. I also have a job at Clark's Writing Center. Yesterday, for example, I worked there from 6:00-8:00 p.m. When I get home I start the second phase of my day, which consists of grading and responding to my students' work, planning my lessons for the next day, and then doing my own homework. Hopefully I'm in bed by 11:00 p.m., but midnight is more common. The next day the cycle repeats.

It sounds really intense.

Intense is the right word! But it's great, too--it's a strong program. We all complain about how much work it is, but I am confident that we are all going to be great teachers. Our hard work is definitely preparing us for teaching next year and years to come. For me, the alignment between what we're learning at Clark and what we're doing in our own classrooms is a pretty good match.

When you initially applied to the program was it important to you that the Hiatt Center focuses specifically on education in an urban setting?

When I came to Clark, I wasn't focused on the urban-ness of education at all, and I wasn't necessarily really aware--any more than the average person is-about the sort of gaping divide between suburban schools and urban ones.

I don't feel the same at all now, at all. I feel pretty passionately about working to equalize things between urban and suburban schools. Rural schools have their own problems as well. But really, we're just talking about underprivileged students who are not getting good educations. In my opinion that manifests itself throughout society for the rest of people's lives. Like many Clark students, I'm an idealist and want to make some sort of difference in the world. Urban schools are a place where I can get involved with that.

If you were talking to a prospective education student at Clark, is there anything in particular that you would want him or her to know and think about?

The student would need to be aware of the intensity of the program. But he or she would also need to be aware of the support available. We demand a lot from our faculty and the program even as it demands a lot from us. Sometimes we are not satisfied with things. But the program and faculty strive to be responsive and to meet our demands. And I feel like the students in the program right now are incredibly supportive of each other. I think the program itself, the classes we share and the rounds process foster a lot of community and support between the students.

I think that the program itself fosters a lot of community and support between the students.through the class that we share together, which we all complain about a lot, but also brings us together once a week formally to discuss things and how things are going.

The rounds process-the rounds process is an idea that I think Clark came up with in terms of education, but it's copied from medical school where doctors or apprentice doctors, medical students, go around to patients. But the idea is the same. You talk before a lesson about what you're going to do, what you want people to watch for, what dynamics in the classroom you're looking for, if there are particular students or things you want people to listen for. Then you teach your lesson, and other people in the class can observe, they can also interact with the lesson and then at the end you have a post-round reflection where you talk about how the lesson went. And it's not a time that's designed to criticize teachers. It's not about 'you did this well, you did this wrong'. It's about how did you think the lesson went, and that gives the teacher a chance to tell you how he or she felt, and maybe ask some questions. It's about thinking about your practice, what you're doing, about your pedagogy, about your philosophy as a teacher and how that's going to help students learn. So the rounds process is a formal way of doing that with your colleagues-the other M.A.T. students-and that's an example of something that's building this community with the M.A.T. program. Maybe I'm exaggerating how much the program itself builds the community, but I think it really does.

So the three things are the intensity, the community and the support that comes from the other students-we're all in it together, we're all sleeping-not enough-together, we're all stressed out together, and then lastly is this bit about reflection-figuring out what you're doing well, and how you can do it better.