By: Ashley Neeley
It’s almost mid-semester, which means setting up advisement meetings and looking at classes for next semester. What should be an easy task is a fiasco for aspiring teachers. Between their education certification classes, regular major requirements and state certification testing, these students struggle to balance it all.
One of Mount Saint Mary College’s proud acknowledgments is their education program. It consists of Childhood, Adolescent, 5-Year BA/MSEd Programs, Master of Science in Education (MSEd) and an advanced certificate in Gifted Education. Students can also obtain certification extensions in Special Education, Middle School and Early Childhood. According to Associate Professor of Education and Chair of the Division of Education David Gallagher, most Childhood Ed students graduate with three certifications: Childhood, Dual Special Ed and Early Childhood. MSMC is the only institution in the region that offers this kind of unique program made up of endless possibilities for future teachers, but additional certifications mean more courses and possibly extending the traditional four-year degree.
“If you’re going to come out with an education certification, it means you’re not going to be able to take a bunch of electives or minors,” says Gallagher.
Education students describe themselves, essentially, as double majors because of their heavy course load. The program requires them to obtain 43 credits, which is influenced by state requirements, along with the general education courses and their major requirements. According to the New York Department of Education, “Students enrolled in a New York State teacher preparation program must show that they are in good standing and on track to receive a certificate before they begin teaching when they submit an application to the NYCDOE.”
Advisement assures students that they’re on track, and it’s very important for them to talk to both of their advisors. Class scheduling can make or break a student’s graduation timeline. Students who advise themselves tend to take classes they don’t need—prolonging their college career beyond what they desired. One student praises their advisors for mapping out their classes with them and says, “My advisors have been nothing but helpful.”
To help students, other majors adjusted their requirements. Mathematics and hispanic studies lowered their credit requirement from 39 to 30, and the English program no longer requires ENG 102. Dr. Robert Wakeman, an assistant professor of English, explains that these adjustments allow students to take their survey courses during their freshman year—as most students cannot start their major until their sophomore year.
Gallagher states that something their division tries to do is remind registrar to not place incoming freshmen into computer technology courses. In the future, it allows undergraduates to double dip by taking a math and computer literacy combination class. Wakeman says he’d like to see more of this because “it would make it easier for students to fit everything in.” He believes that not counting courses like Childhood Psychology towards general education “seems unfair.”
Despite these aids, students still find it difficult to schedule in their major’s courses along with their certification requirements. Many resort to taking classes during the winter and summer, but these interims are not covered by students’ financial aid—it’s out-of-pocket.
“My English degree is just as important as my Ed degree, but I do feel like, as a combined english-education student, that the importance is placed on education,” says an MSMC upperclassman.
Some claim that their major feels like a secondary thought to their education certifications. They wish that they received more information about pairing their certification with certain majors such as english or math because of time scheduling issues, where their major and certification(s) have classes at the same time—making it difficult to balance their responsibilities. Gallagher agrees that they should make it a point at open houses to inform students about how full their schedule will be to finish in four years. Former student Madison Torres explains that she switched from english to history because it was more manageable, but issues with course scheduling and financial aid eventually forced her to leave the institution.
Transfer students end up further behind because some courses they have from another school aren’t accepted. Wakeman recommends for students to use the Transfer Evaluation System from CollegeSource to figure out what credits from which institutions will be accepted. Incoming undergraduates are often missing major and core classes. Gallagher says he tries to be very clear with them that doing two years at a community college doesn’t mean they’ll finish at MSMC in two years. He added that the division is talking with Orange County Community College about what can be done to steer prospective students in the right direction to make their transition into the program easier.
“It’s not just a student thing,” says Gallagher, “it’s something we as a college have to figure out—how to help students navigate, successfully, but then also try to get some of these additional certifications they might want, and that we think they should have, within the four years.”