"As a MAT Program mentor teacher, I've learned to question the value and purpose of everything I do in the classroom. Not just 'does it work?' but 'why does it work'?"
Celia Hetterich, a mentor teacher in the MAT Program at Bard since its inception, has taught 8th-grade English at Chatham Middle School in Chatham, New York, for four years. During her 13 years of teaching she has also taught 7th-grade English and social studies. She has a master’s degree in English education from SUNY Albany and a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Brockport.
What are Celia’s current interests in teaching? “Finding the best way to implement a reader response journal, and looking for more ways to help my students use effective peer evaluation methods to inspire and improve their writing. I’m also looking at better approaches to using poetry in the middle school classroom.”
After 13 years of teaching middle and high school, what inspires her? “The fact that I’m still learning. There’s still so much more I want to be able to do in the classroom. The students inspire me. I’m learning from them every day. This job can be incredibly frustrating, but it’s also incredibly satisfying. It’s sappy, but I love the kids.”
What has she learned as a MAT Program mentor teacher? “I’ve learned to question the value and purpose of everything I do in the classroom. Not just ‘does it work?’ but 'why does it work’?”
What inspires Clarissa Coffey, a Bard MAT Program mentor teacher in Manhattan? “I really love working with adolescents. They change their way of thinking very quickly. Observing these changes is what makes teaching rewarding for me.”
Working as a mentor to apprentice teachers from Bard’s MAT Program has taught Clarissa Coffey to look at what she does through fresh eyes. “Helping someone who’s brand new to the profession has given me the opportunity to review why I do what I do as a teacher,” says Coffey, who has taught math, chemistry, history, and music at the middle school, high school, and college levels in New York City for 20 years. Coffey says that one of her primary objectives, as a mentor, is to encourage her apprentice teachers to think about different approaches to classroom-management issues, such as how to resolve a problem calmly and quickly without bruising students’ feelings. “What techniques are there if plan A doesn’t work—at what point do you move on to plan B? After 20 years, these are things I do automatically. Working with apprentices has helped to focus on finding ‘best practices’ to pass along.”
“The level of preparation that Bard’s MAT students receive, both in content and pedagogy, is way beyond that of any other program I’ve known. My Bard student teachers come into the classroom with strong content knowledge and innovative methods.”
After earning a degree in politics from Princeton, John “Coach” Crews went back home to Kingston, New York, to coach football at Kingston High School, his alma mater. He earned his teaching certification a few years later, continuing on to earn a master’s degree in humanistic and multicultural education. He has been a social studies teacher since 1999, and a mentor teacher for Bard’s MAT Program since 2006. For Crews, coaching and teaching are heavily intertwined. “Once I got my teaching certification, I know I became a better coach. And I think being a coach has made me a better teacher. I can’t imagine doing anything else—I love what I do. Even a bad day in the classroom beats a good day sitting behind a desk in an office.” For an experienced teacher with more than one post-graduate degree, how does Bard’s MAT Program measure up? “The level of preparation that Bard’s MAT students receive, both in content and pedagogy, is way beyond that of any other program I’ve known. My Bard student teachers come into the classroom with strong content knowledge and innovative methods.” More Info
“I’m in my 25th year of teaching middle school. As retirement looms in my relatively near future, working with apprentices assures me that my accumulated knowledge will be passed on to a new generation of outstanding teachers.”
Social studies teacher Kathleen Hack enjoys her job and her audience: middle school students. “I’m in my 25th year of teaching middle school, and I’ve never had a desire to leave this age group,” she says. “Yes, being a middle school teacher can be heartbreaking, but it’s also heartwarming, never boring, and always fulfilling. More important, because it keeps me connected to our most important resource—our young people—it keeps me young.”
Initially hesitant to take on an apprentice, when Hack learned about the support she would receive from the Bard faculty, she signed on. “What sets Bard’s MAT Program apart from others is that the professors stay very connected to their students and to us, the mentor teachers. It’s not just the occasional 40-minute observation. Bard is truly dedicated to the task of preparing MAT students for the incredibly difficult task of teaching. Meeting with MAT faculty and with other mentor teachers gives me the sense that I am part of the Bard community.”
Last year she collaborated with her apprentice teacher on a research project that investigated the value of homework assignments. Not only did the apprentice teacher learn how to evaluate the procedures used in the classroom, but, Hack says, “The project also helped me rethink what I’ve been doing over the past several years. And as retirement looms in my relatively near future, working with apprentice teachers makes me feel assured that the knowledge and skills I’ve accumulated over the years will be passed on to a new generation of outstanding teachers.”
Michele Debye-Saxinger chose to become an English teacher because she loves to learn. “I believe the answers to virtually all questions about life are in books,” she says. “As a teacher I share the experience of figuring out what authors are really talking about. Reader-response theory is always on my mind.” She enjoys observing her students as they become increasingly engaged with their reading. After ten years of teaching English, she says she couldn’t be happier about her career choice. “Teaching is a very rewarding field. The days fly by.” This is her sixth year as a mentor teacher in Bard’s MAT Program, which she values “as an opportunity to explore in great depth how students read—and what they do when they lose interest.”
“Why did I become a teacher? Because I think teaching can be done better. I want to make school a more interesting, inspiring, and liberating place.”
Nic Vitale teaches integrated math and science to 9th graders at Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx, New York. During his seven years at the school he has taught 11th- and 12th-grade physics, 9th-grade environmental science, and elective classes for 9th through 12th graders. He has a B.S. in physics, with a minor in philosophy, from SUNY Albany, and an M.A. in middle and high school science education from CUNY’s Lehman College. This is Nic’s second year as a mentor teacher for MAT Program students.
Why did Nic become a teacher? “Because I think teaching can be done better. As a child I found school restrictive and boring. I had many inspiring learning experiences outside of school. I’m fascinated with how people make sense of the world. I want to make school a more interesting, inspiring, and liberating place.”
How did he come to teach the integrated math and science class? “When I was teaching physics to 11th and 12th graders I found that many of my students weren’t prepared to learn the subject. Discussing this and similar experiences with my colleagues led to the idea of creating an integrated foundations class for 9th graders.”
What does he value in his work as a MAT Program mentor teacher? “As a mentor teacher I’m not just giving answers or tips; rather, it’s a collaboration that gives me an opportunity to explore the processes of teaching and learning.”