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EMU-trained teachers earn high marks in local school systems

Cathy Smeltzer Erb

More than 500 alumni living in the City of Harrisonburg or Rockingham County work in education, though only two-thirds of these seem to be employed in their home districts, according to EMU’s alumni database.

“The teachers we hire from the EMU teacher education program rank as being some of the best,” says Scott R. Kizner, superintendent of Harrisonburg City public schools. “I’m remarkably impressed with their ability to build relationships with our students and value the rich diversity of our school system. As superintendent, I take great comfort in knowing that EMU graduates are serving our students.”

Within six months of graduation, nearly 100% of students who pursue teaching positions are employed in their field, according to Cathy Smeltzer Erb, chair of EMU’s undergraduate education department.

EMU’s education students enter local classrooms five weeks into their college careers, years before their peers at other universities.

Professor Sandy Brownscombe says her first-year “Exploring Teaching” students come back from their stints in classrooms with eyes opened to what the career could entail. In her 36 years at EMU, she has seen many decide that teaching is not for them after this early experience as education students.

“The [EMU] program is set up so that students who do not acquire beginning-level teaching skills or professional attributes do not make it through the program and are counseled toward another avenue of life’s calling,” observes Bill Sprinkel, who spent 40 years in the Rockingham County School system before retiring from his supervisor of instruction role a few years ago.

By the time they are seniors in their college careers, EMU’s student-teachers are serious and self-assured in their callings, not wavering in their chosen paths. “They come prepared and academically strong,” says Lacey Spring Elementary principal Donna Robinson, who has observed student-teachers and graduates for 16 years as an administrator. “They’re always ready to do over and beyond, to help with extracurricular activities – beyond the school day.”

Charlette McQuilkin, Rockingham director of student assessment, calls teaching a “people business,” and believes EMU graduates get that. They employ a uniquely “loving and caring attitude toward students,” says Robinson, plus they are also exceptional at self-assessment.

“You can tell someone held them accountable in their education,” says Anne Lintner, principal at Keister Elementary in Harrisonburg.

EMU’s reflective teaching model centers on constantly assessing how teaching strategies are impacting students, and how these can be improved. “Our students, and therefore our teachers, are seen as people who are committed to the work of teaching… they’re not ones who just punch the clock,” says Smeltzer Erb of EMU’s undergraduate education program. “As a result, they truly learn to care about their students academically and socially; how is this student thriving with peers or in the home setting?

“Becoming a teacher is a lifelong process of continuous reflection,” she adds. “Our grads are doing that in schools, and that makes them stand out.”

— Samantha Cole ’11

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