In increasing numbers, students turn towards careers in education

While the College does not offer any pre-professional programs for undergraduates, many enter the field of education upon leaving the Purple Valley. In the past, teaching as a profession was often discouraged at schools such as the College. But amid a changing economic scene, increasing community awareness and bolstered support on campus for future teachers, more students are entering – and are encouraged to enter – the field of education.

“In an odd sort of way, we’re vocational in that sense,” said John Noble, director of the Office of Career Counseling (OCC). “We produce people who want to be teachers and educators. I think that might be a feature of Williams in a way.”

Percentage of students entering the field

Each spring, the College surveys graduating seniors about their plans for the upcoming fall. According to Associate Provost Chris Winters, roughly 20 percent of employed graduating students enter the work force as educators.

In the Class of 2010, 68 percent of students said employment was their principal fall activity, and of this employment sector, 30 percent said they would go into education. In 2008, 64 percent of graduating seniors were employed and 21 percent entered the education field. In 2006, 68 percent were employed with 30 percent becoming educators.

According to alumni surveys completed between 1979 and 2009, an average of 13 percent of College graduates were employed in higher education and 8 percent in K-12 schools. The only discrepancy was in 1999, when only 7 percent were involved with higher education.

Winters attributed the drop in alums employed in higher education seen in 1999 to the fact that when the survey was taken 10 years after graduation from the College, many of those who went into education had not yet become professors, but many of those who had originally gone into education via programs with temporary teaching positions, such as Teach For America, had left the field by that time.

Reasons for interest in teaching

According to Noble, students at the College find teaching appealing for reasons that range from an interest in “giving back” to a desire to express their individual creativity. The familiarity of the job may also contribute to its popularity: “[Students] know exactly what teachers do, because they’ve been students all their lives,” Noble said. “You can predict pretty well what you’re getting yourself into.”

Noble added that employability gives the job extra appeal. “You can get a job before you graduate, you have a plan, and I think Williams students like the comfort of knowing, ‘I’ve got a job; I’m set,’” he said. Because schools fill their positions for teachers well before the start of the school year, most students can secure a job before graduation in June.

Faculty relationships are another reason why students may be inspired to enter the field, according to Noble. “I think the faculty here are pretty inspiring, and you have this tutorial system so that you get a real sense of who the faculty are and you get inspired to follow in their footsteps,” he said.

Susan Engel, senior lecturer in psychology and director of the Program in Teaching at the College, hosts monthly lunch meetings for students, staff, faculty and community members interested in teaching and issues surrounding education. The Program in Teaching, which students participate in by attending these lunches, attending other lectures, spending time working in local classrooms and taking courses at the College that deal with teaching and learning allows students to gain both experience and knowledge of theory concerning education.

“I think this is a really important time to get involved in education,” Engel said, adding that recent films such as Waiting for Superman and the increased presence of teaching programs such as Teach for America have piqued students’ awareness and interest in the field.

“More and more students don’t just want to [teach] for a year or two before they become doctors or bankers,” Engel said. “They want to do it forever, and the College now embraces and celebrates them.”

Engel said while some college graduates want to teach for a social or moral reason, many find it is also academically and intellectually fascinating. “I think colleges have shifted their view of [teaching],” she said. “The best way to study almost anything is in the context of everyday life … We are putting together theory and practice in an intellectually exciting way.”

Teaching opportunities at the College

While there is no education major at the College, there are plenty of opportunities for students interested in a teaching career.

As well as fieldwork, Engel’s Program in Teaching offers coursework related to education. Several courses that students participating in the program often take include “Psychology of Education,” “Advanced Seminar in Teaching and Learning,” “Peer Relations” and “Developmental Psychology,” among others.

Program participants earn a letter of accomplishment upon graduation. Engel said that the program is flexible in that if someone already has a lot of fieldwork experience, she might focus them more in the direction of coursework, and vice versa.

TeachNYC is a Winter Study course that places students in public New York City schools for a month during January.

Looking beyond Winter Study, Matt Madden ’12 is the campus campaign coordinator for Teach for America and the vice president of a newly formed student group, Students for Education Reform (SFER), the College’s chapter of the national organization. The group hopes to examine K-12 education broadly and increase awareness of key issues, Madden said.

“As a group, hopefully we will come to consensus on a certain kind of education reform and advocate for that,” he said, noting that the group hopes to work with other SFER chapters in the state on education reform and advocacy.

According to Andy Schneider ’12, president of the group, SFER “hopes to get the campus talking about the major flaws in the education system and then about productive education policy to make it better,” he said. “Once we’ve got everyone talking about education, we’ll help organize those students who want to mobilize and make an impact on education policy” at the state level.

Kaatje White, coordinator of the America Reads/America Counts tutoring program and the Williams Center at Mount Greylock, said that in her five years at the College, she’s noticed “an increasing number of students who want to work in the local schools, either for work-study or as volunteers.”

White said that students can do work-study tutoring through the America Reads/America Counts program at Williamstown Elementary and through the Williams Center at Mount Greylock, which oversees a tutoring program at the school – or they can volunteer too. Williams students also serve as writing fellows in selected English classes at the middle school and high school levels.

According to White, about 40 students are employed through the work-study program at Williamstown Elementary School, 15 are after-school

tutors at Mount Greylock Regional High School and about a dozen work as Mount Greylock Writing Fellows. Additionally, about 13 students in the Program in Teaching work at Mount Greylock and Williamstown Elementary School as part of their fieldwork experience.

Students at the College also volunteer at other local schools, including Greylock Elementary School and Brighton Elementary School, both in North Adams. About 40 students involved in the Science Outreach tutoring program work at Williamstown Elementary School and Greylock Elementary.

White added that through the College’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) and work with the Lehman Council, students volunteer at schools further from campus, including BArt Charter School in Adams, Drury High School in North Adams, Berkshire Farm School in Lenox and Hancock Elementary School in Hancock.

“There are a lot of students who are interested in working in the public schools outside Williamstown,” White said. “Williams students really care and want to engage in the larger community.”

She said that students’ increased interest in local programs can be attributed to their awareness of the nation’s teacher shortage, as well as economic conditions that might make jobs more necessary and more coveted.

“I think that the economic conditions make it so students are looking into a variety of options and teaching is one of those,” White said. “There are so many different types of teachers. You could be working in a school setting or in a special support program or in a school for a group of students.”

White believes that students at the College develop an interest in teaching for a variety of reasons, including the interest in giving back, career aspirations,  and also because they were inspired by teachers in their elementary and high school years. “ Williams students are coming from such diverse backgrounds and either they experienced great teachers or mediocre teaching in their schools. In either case, they get to Williams, experience great teaching and then want to contribute that energy to our broader community,” White said.

Sabine Chishty ’12 attributed her interest in teaching to positive high school experiences with enthusiastic teachers. “My teachers were unbelievably invested in my education, and the community of the school was really terrific … I knew that that sort of an education, where people are really supporting and caring for and challenging you, was a privilege when it should be a standard, and when I came to Williams I started doing a lot of work in education,” Chishty said.

Teaching opportunities after graduation

Noble said that while many students view teaching as nothing more than a first job after graduation, “it does turn out for a significant number to be the field that they go into.”

At the upcoming Job Fair on Sept. 30, recruiting employers will include Greenwich Country Day School, Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET), MATCH Corps, Peace Corps, Teach for America, Teach for China and West Denver Preparatory Charter School.

The OCC is also hosting a new series called Career Mentor Weekends, and the first, to be held this weekend, will focus on education. Noble said the weekend’s events will include a panel discussion featuring alumni teachers from public and private schools as well as alumni who have participated in Teach for America and the Peace Corps.

Madden is working as the College’s Campus Campaign Coordinator for Teach for America. He said that students have been “pretty enthusiastic” in applying for the program this year. Teach for America offers several deadlines throughout the year, which “gives seniors the flexibility to respond to [Teach for America] at different times in relation to other job opportunities,” Madden said.

Engel said that while Teach for America has sometimes run the risk of perpetuating “the myth that any great young student can jump right in and become a teacher,” she has seen the program “work hard to make teacher training better.”

Another way students get involved in education is through post-graduate teaching fellowships such as the Fulbright grant, through which students can apply for an English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in one of many international locations. Katya King, director of fellowships, said that in her several years at the College, she has seen the number of Fulbright countries offering ETAs expand from about five to now over 30.

There exist other teaching fellowship opportunities, King added. The James Madison Fellowship is a major national fellowship for graduates who want to teach U.S. history at the high school level. The JET program in Japan offers an opportunity to teach abroad, and Korea is starting a similar program called TALK. Plenty of private organizations are eager to enlist enthusiastic teachers both domestically and abroad. “There are plenty to choose from, and good organizations will train you,” King said.

It is this idea of a deep education in teaching, Engel believes, that is crucial to sustaining young teachers in the field. And she sees students at the College as ideal candidates for such work. “We need their good thinking,” she said. “There are no better people for the job.”