Although U.S. news outlets report a nationwide spike in the number of teachers leaving the profession since the pandemic, the Newman School of Education and Social Work has 63 graduates ready to enter the field of teaching — its largest recruiting class in seven years.
Jessica Bird, interim dean of the school, said it’s clear that many individuals across Kansas still have the calling to be educators.
“It’s just a matter of trying to find those people who are called to the profession and helping them realize their potential,” she said.
Of the Newman graduates who have entered Kansas schools in fall 2021 and spring 2022, 60 are elementary education majors and three are secondary education majors. Twenty-two of the fall and spring graduates completed the program at the Dodge City location in western Kansas.
Transforming society one teacher at a time
As some Newman graduates enter Kansas schools as teachers for the first time, several Newman alumni of the education program are making an impact in their students’ lives years after they received their degree.
Three of the recent Newman Distinguished Alumni Award winners are graduates of the Newman education program: Sarah Forster ‘12, who teaches eighth-graders at the Jardine STEM and Career Explorations Academy in Wichita; Mary Carter, who serves as the principal at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Wichita; and Catherine Mardon ‘07, who resides in Canada and is the author of 36 books, including 17 children’s books.
In her acceptance speech for the St. Maria De Mattias Award, Carter said she wasn’t at all surprised that three educators and coaches were among the group of distinguished alumni.
“Newman University has had the power to influence me and my ability to impact the students and the teachers whom I’ve served,” Carter said. “The degree I received at Newman truly expanded my circle of influence and it really brightened my world personally.”
Forster, who won the Spirit of Acuto Alumni Award, added that when you are part of an environment where you are blessed with guidance and support, “you can’t not be motivated.”
“When I reflected on my time attending Newman University, Dr. (Max) Frazier, who worked with me extensively as I grew as a young teacher, really instilled in us that charity and compassion are the ways that you make differences in the lives of our youth,” Forster said.
She added, “Taking that time to understand and build those relationships is the most important part of anything you’ll ever do in the classroom. Newman really built that foundation for me as a young teacher and it’s still with me today.”
Excelling in education
Newman’s Wichita campus, outreach sites, faculty connections to K-12 classrooms and real-world opportunities make the quality of the Newman education program a cut above the rest.
“Our faculty know their students’ stories, backgrounds, challenges and strengths,” Bird said. “They use all of that information to personalize the education experience at Newman, and are able to adapt quickly to new learning environments and situations.”
When the pandemic hindered students from entering classrooms, faculty and staff of the Newman education department were quick to make the switch to remote learning.
“We didn’t miss a beat. Teachers jumped. We can be flexible and innovative, and that speaks to the quality of the education our future teachers are taking with them.”
Adapting to new learning methods also prompted discussions of how to make the education program even more accessible to students in the program. After surveying the students to gauge whether a Zoom class option should be a longstanding opportunity, Bird and her team discovered hidden strengths to online learning.
“We can use breakout rooms and polls to engage students in different ways, and 50% of students said they’d choose to Zoom if it was an option all the time,” Bird said. “We asked some faculty and adjunct faculty, and we had at least one person from every course we teach who was willing to teach with a Zoom element. Now we have a section of ‘Zoomers’ who meet only through Zoom, and it allows us to reach even more students in rural areas.”
Placing students in Kansas classrooms — regardless of whether they be in Independence, Parsons, Ark City, Wellington, Wichita, Dodge City, Garden City or Liberal — is a selective process that requires a team approach from faculty. The smaller program size gives students the comfort of knowing they can turn to any one of their university supervisors if they are struggling or in need of support.
“With programs that are super large, students may not even know or have met their university supervisor,” Bird said. “We really focus on the relationships and want to see our students succeed.”
Bird believes it’s not just the quality of the Newman education program that stands apart — it’s the students.
“I truly feel like our students feel called to the profession,” she said. “When you have a calling like that, you’re more passionate, invested and you’re more engaged. You’re ready to make a positive difference.”
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