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M.A.T. program offers "Urban Experience"

It’s no secret that being a teacher is challenging. But in today’s climate, teachers are more challenged than ever. For instance, Danbury High School has 2,800 students who speak more than 40 different languages. How does a teacher handle a classroom of students with such disparity in language skills?

In Western’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, a new course, “Urban Experience,” was developed to expose future educators to a wide range of situations they are likely to face at an urban public school.

From June 2 through 29, the 16 graduate students, who are all majoring in either math or biology, learned through online and classroom instruction and by going into the community to put their skills to the test. Some of the course’s themes included how the students think and feel about cultural diversity, online reflective discussion questions, achievement gaps, teacher leadership, and theory of action.

“This course gave students a flavor of the whole urban community,” said Dr. Bonnie Rabe, assistant professor in the education and educational psychology department and coordinator of the M.A.T. program. “They know their ultimate goal is taking students from where they are to where they need to be,” which is especially challenging for English language learner (ELL) students.

Dr. William Glass, assistant superintendent for the Danbury public schools, co-teaches the course with Rabe. He said a common complaint from public educators to those who teach at the higher education level is “you don’t understand what it’s like to teach in a city environment.” So, Rabe and Glass designed the course to combine both experiences. “It gives students a dual perspective,” Glass said.

In addition to instruction on special education, science-based intervention, observation, and student teaching, the candidates learned about bridging achievement gaps. A child living in poverty, Glass said, may only have a 7,000-word vocabulary when he or she enters school, as opposed to a 10,000-word vocabulary for a child of a more affluent family.

“The achievement gap is present from the first day of school,” Rabe said.

As part of the course, candidates spent 20 hours performing urban service either by tutoring in the Danbury schools, working at a children’s bereavement center or participating in summer school programs in order to develop hands-on skills and learning the multitude of issues that can arise in a diverse population.

Glass said that 70 percent of the state’s students are from 15 of the large urban districts, with Danbury being the seventh-largest district and the most culturally and linguistically diverse.

“What a special opportunity for us to be in this richly diverse setting,” Rabe said.

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Future educators, majoring in either math or biology, participate in "Urban Experience," a course developed to expose them to a wide range of situations they are likely to face at an urban public school.