[00:00:06] BW: Whether we met them in elementary, high school, or college and beyond, we all have that teacher who made a remarkable difference in our lives. A teacher who went above and beyond to help us work through an academic challenge or encouraged us to believe in our talents or even gave us a kernel of advice that we still lean on today.
[00:00:26] BT: It’s easy to think that those wonderful teachers were simply born for the job. But dedicated, compassionate and empowering educators aren’t magic — they’re made. I’m Brooke Thames from Bucknell University, and this episode of College Admissions Insider is for the high schoolers out there who want to be that wonderful, life-changing teacher.
[00:00:45] BW: And I’m Bryan Wendell, also from Bucknell. In this episode, we’ll dive deep into how to choose the right major for a future in education. We’ll also talk about what it takes to earn teaching certification and why those looking to make a positive impact on future generations might want to consider a career in education in the first place.
[00:01:04] BT: Here to school us on all of that and even more is Ellen Amarante, Bucknell’s director of professional education. Ellen has a graduate degree in educational administration, as well as experience as an elementary school teacher. She’s been at Bucknell for seven years, the last four of those spent working in the Education Department. Welcome to the podcast, Ellen.
[00:01:24] EA: Thank you. I’m very excited about this conversation.
[00:01:26] BW: Yeah, so are we. Thanks so much. Let’s start off by talking about your role as the professional education director. Can you kind of take us into your job and how you help mentor and advise students who are interested in these education fields?
[00:01:41] EA: Sure. I have to say that that’s a really exciting part of my job because I get to follow our students from start to finish and even beyond that point. So I have conversations with prospective students answering questions kind of similar to the ones that we’re chatting about today. I also have opportunities to connect with our alum population, and I continue to support and coach them through the early years in the field for them. During the journey through the program, I have a few different roles like academic advisor, a field-placement coordinator and supervisor. But most importantly, I want to be an advocate and sounding board for our students. You also may have me for a class or two as well thrown in there.
[00:02:24] BT: So speaking of classes and students, let’s get an idea of what an education program might look like. At Bucknell, students can earn either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in education. So let’s start with the first: What does a Bachelor of Arts program in education prepares students to do after graduation?
[00:02:42] EA: The education B.A. is a very versatile degree, and it’s also somewhat unique. Not all colleges or universities offer a degree program of that nature. So it focuses on broader concepts of educational systems. It doesn’t include the methods courses that are required for certification. The degree is more for those who are interested in a career in education that isn’t in the K-12 classroom. So many of these students will choose to double major, opt in psychology or sociology. Sometimes, students choose a B.A. when they come to the idea later in their college career that they may have an interest in teaching. They’ve worked with students in a volunteer capacity or in some sort of an extracurricular program, and they find out they actually do have an interest in teaching. So they’ll come to the department and say, “What can I do?” and we encourage them to take that BA path.
Other students continue to go into graduate work in fields like school psychology, reading specialization, special education, speech pathology. Still others decide to take a wider view of education, focusing on educational policy, educational research. Our B.A. program also includes an extensive internship in senior year that helps our students solidify their career aspirations or provides an opportunity to explore an interest in a sector that they haven’t really had a lot of experience prior to that point, and they want to see, “Hey, do I have an interest in pursuing this further in the future?”
[00:04:14] BW: That’s awesome. How about a Bachelor of Science program? How does that differ from what you just shared?
[00:04:19] EA: Sure. So our B.S. ED, as it’s known, our Bachelor of Science in Education Program, prepares students for teaching certification in the State of Pennsylvania in grades pre-K-4. So in addition to a more methods-based curriculum, a more practical curriculum, the B.S. includes many hours of field experience and culminates in a full-time student teaching experience in the senior year.
[00:04:45] BT: So for students who do want to teach in the classroom, anywhere from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, is majoring in education in one way or another the only way to become a teacher? Say a science, math or history major decides at some point that they want to teach that subject specifically in a school, is there a way for them to earn the credentials to do so?
[00:05:07] EA: Yeah, that’s a really important question, Brooke. Thank you. It’s important to note that for our B.S. ED, that is pre-K through grade 4. But those who wish to teach in a secondary grade level, 7-12, will take a B.A. in their content area of interest. So they’ll graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in math or a Bachelor of Arts in bio or chem, which is a little bit unique to Bucknell but is also a model that is common throughout the state.
But that leads me to the fact that certification routes can be really tricky. They vary in each state, and they even vary from program to program within Pennsylvania. So you will need to do a little bit of research there to find out exactly how the program works in the state and institutions that you’re looking at.
But again, if you’re looking at that secondary — what you had mentioned, science, math, history — at Bucknell and at most Pa. universities, you would actually major in the content area in which you wanted to teach, and you take those certification courses on the side almost as a minor. There are also post-baccalaureate paths to teaching certification. It’s always a possibility. But I think those post-baccalaureate programs are probably a little outside of the scope of our conversation today.
[00:06:22] BW: You’ll need a certification to teach in the classroom. I understand one of the many roles you have is helping guide students through that process of teacher certification, understanding all the nuances that go into it. So can you give us a shortened version of that, like what you in your office, and other schools like Bucknell with similar offices, might do to help guide students through that process?
[00:06:45] EA: One of the things that surprises people when we talk about this is that our university degree program and certification are two different things. Our programs at Bucknell have been approved by the State of Pennsylvania as a preparatory program. When students graduate though, they apply for certification with the state. We get that application back, and we confirm that they’ve met the required competencies, but then it goes back to the state, and it’s their job to review and provide that certification. So students who immediately apply after graduation have their certification. If it’s in Pennsylvania, usually by July, it’s about a six to eight-week process after graduation. The chair of our department is the certification officer. He’s the one who will go back and make sure that all the requirements have been met, the competencies have been met. We have milestones and benchmarks all along the way to make sure that everyone is progressing appropriately towards those steps. That constitutes much of the work that I do, actually.
It’s important to note that there are certification exams at the state level, which students need to pass before they’re able to complete the process. It’s a good question to ask when you go touring about and visiting different programs to ask what their pass rate is. I can be very happy to share that our pass rate is 100% for the last several years, so those courses that you take in your program prepare you for those certification tests.
[00:08:12] BW: So 100% pass rate. I’m no math teacher, but that does sound very good. I have to say.
[00:08:17] EA: Maybe you should teach.
[00:08:18] BW: Yeah, there we go. So back to the state certification, at Bucknell, we’ve got about 35 different states represented in our student body — so students come from all over. That brings up the question of a one-size-fits-all certification. Is your Pa. certification going to travel with you to Ohio, New York, California, North Carolina, all these other places? Or you’re going to have to get certified in whatever state you plan to teach in?
[00:08:45] EA: That’s another important and very complicated question, Bryan. It is certainly possible to be trained in a teacher program in one state and get certified in another. Each state has different requirements and protocols for certification. So it’s easiest to be certified in the state in which you’re prepared since that program is pre-approved by the state, but there are other ways to do this. There are states that share reciprocity, meaning that a license in one state will transfer to another, although that usually is after you’ve been teaching for a couple of years in that state, and your license becomes permanent. So it is a little bit tricky to navigate that, and I can certainly help students with that process.
The bottom line, though, is that we have had many, many students hired in other states without that state certification. Some of them go to private schools. Some are hired in public schools and given a year or so to complete the requirements for certification in that state. There are many avenues. Especially now because there’s an incredible demand for highly qualified educators, so many states are making those pathways a little bit easier to navigate.
[00:09:55] BT: Something I wonder about too is teaching in higher education at the community college or university level going beyond the K-12 classroom. So are the requirements there any different?
[00:10:08] EA: Yeah. Teaching beyond the K-12 system requires advanced degrees. As an experienced K-12 teacher with a master’s degree, it is feasible to teach at a community college setting or in a limited capacity at the university level. For most tenure track positions in higher education, a doctoral degree is required. But I will say that if you’re looking to teach in education and higher ed, that K-12 classroom experience is absolutely vital to take with you into teaching at the higher ed level as well.
[00:10:40] BW: So we’ve talked a lot about what happens once you’re in college on that track toward an education degree or a degree in something else that’ll lead you toward a career in education. Let’s back up a little bit, and talk to high schoolers and their families who are in the midst of their college search, maybe at different parts of that process, thinking about where the best place to go will be for this path. So what should they be looking for in terms of the education and the experience that different schools are going to offer to aspiring teachers, and how can they compare one to another?
[00:11:17] EA: Yeah. When looking at the different programs out there in the state, there are some commonalities that you will see across all programs because of that approval process that each program needs to complete. In Pennsylvania, you’ll see coursework that encompasses both theory and practice. You’ll always see an emphasis on experience in the field, meaning that you’ll have multiple opportunities throughout your training to observe in a variety of educational settings and gradually increase your experience in planning and implementing lessons. That field experience culminates always in a student teaching semester, where you are a full-time teacher in a classroom, and you’re supported by an experienced mentor teacher, as well as a university supervisor. So those are things that are ubiquitous to our teacher prep programs in Pa.
But there are some variables that include the educational philosophy of the department, the way in which those field experiences are structured, the size of the program, the opportunities to engage in professional development training, research projects. At Bucknell, we offer placements from the spring of the first year, which is a little unique. Those placements are always tied to your courses, meaning that if you are going to be in an early literacy class, we will work to place you in a primary school setting — meaning K-2 setting — where children are just learning those foundational skills of reading and writing. So you’re instantly putting into practice the things that you’re learning in the classroom.
Another factor for Bucknell is that we have a very small cohort size, meaning that you work intensively with your professors, and you get to know them at a personal level as well as a professional level. Many of our students engage in meaningful research with our professors, publishing articles, attending conferences. We also value experiences in nontraditional settings like nature schools, private schools, preschools. We have innovative remote tutoring and after-school programs that serve our local community. So these are the nuances that really set a program apart, and these are the things to look for as you conduct your search.
[00:13:23] BT: So it’s all about doing that research and really getting a sense of what program is going to provide the experiences that you need.
[00:13:30] EA: Exactly, yes.
[00:13:31] BT: Something else that’s so crucial to the college search process that we’ve talked about on this podcast before is evaluating affordability and return on investment as part of that research process, right? It’s commonly said that school teachers generally aren’t paid what they’re worth, considering all that they do. So can we dive into the value that a degree from a prestigious institution like Bucknell does bring to a future teacher?
[00:13:57] EA: Sure. We get that question a lot, Brooke. I understand it’s an important one to ask. The coursework here focuses on becoming critical thinkers and educational advocates. Our students consider what the educational system is historically, currently and how they personally envision their role in the system’s future. The opportunities for mentorship are outstanding at our more prestigious institutions, since as I mentioned earlier, they’re often smaller in number. So you get to know your professors extremely well. You have unique opportunities to dive deeply into educational topics and research of interest to you.
I know here at Bucknell, we also have a global perspective, keeping room in your schedule to travel abroad in your junior year if you wish to do that. So I believe those factors set our program apart. If you’re seeking secondary certification, our STEM departments are phenomenal. The labs, the research opportunities there, the advanced coursework, often set private institutions apart from other teacher preparation programs.
[00:15:05] BW: So being a teacher involves a lot more than just the classroom time and grading papers at home. There’s the added reality of the social and the political matters that are influencing what’s happening in the classroom. I mean, the headlines are everywhere, right? There’s masking mandates. There’s questions about curriculum. So how are you preparing students, and how can students prepare themselves, for that aspect of the work that they’ll have to do as teachers?
[00:15:34] EA: We have to truthfully look at the educational landscape right now. Our ideal picture of the classroom is this place of harmony and collaboration, but the reality is that there is a lot of pain, and it’s bubbling to the surface right now. I think that’s why we really need to be intentional about training educators who have a grounded understanding of history and injustice and the role that education plays in either perpetuating or mitigating those issues. Our future teachers need to understand issues from a variety of perspectives so that they can meet their students and their families where they are, but also so that they can have a vision for where they can go.
Our teachers need the ability to engage in meaningful discourse and have the acumen to chart an innovative course for the future. The work of educating our nation’s children goes way beyond literacy in STEM. I think that teachers are professionals, and I hope that we can continue to move in a direction as a country that acknowledges our educators’ expertise and our educators’ value. So a good liberal arts education can help prepare our educators to meet those demands today.
[00:16:52] BW: In addition to the need for teachers, that also brings up the need for advocates, people who are trained to advocate for these teachers and can, frankly, educate our policymakers on the realities of what’s happening in classrooms and schools. So how might a student who is interested in that path be prepared at an institution like Bucknell to do that kind of important work?
[00:17:15] EA: Right. We have a bunch of our students who are extremely interested in that kind of work. Many of them are planning to get certified and go into the classroom so that they understand what the role of the teacher truly is. I think that that’s vital because too many people I think want to jump over that process and go right into a grad school program or a polysci program, where they’re learning how to take on those policy issues without having lived it. So I really appreciate that many of our students see that need first.
And that’s not to say that everyone needs to do that. Again, I talked about our education B.A. program that doesn’t seek certification but does have aspects of field experience and getting some of that real-world experience in while they’re here in those four years. Many of them go on to master’s programs that are in educational policy. Or, sometimes, like I said before, they will go into other para-professional fields in education, see how things work from that side of things. It’s, like I said, in special education or in speech pathology, in guidance counseling. They’ll get that taste of it and then move on into the state level and the policy level. It’s extremely important that we have advocates who know what it’s like to be a teacher day in and day out, and to be able to promote that change that we so desperately need.
[00:18:40] BT: Yeah. In many ways, classrooms and learning spaces are at the center of society. Those roles, whether it be day in, day out hands-on teaching or even from a policy standpoint, can be as complex as they are rewarding and important. So as we come to a close, I’d like to zoom out and talk a bit broadly about the general landscape of education right now. We see lots of headlines, like Bryan mentioned, about teaching, especially teacher shortages and things like that. But what are you actually seeing in the real world? Part two, why should students who want to have a hand in propping up future generations consider a path in education?
[00:19:21] EA: We see so many mugs and t-shirts about teachers changing the world one life at a time. I really think that’s true. At the same time, the demands we place on educators to be almost superhuman is just unfair. So I don’t want to paint a false picture. Deciding to become an educator at any time is a noble choice. Right now, it’s a courageous act of hope. We can’t give up on our commitment to effectively teach our nation’s children. I see this moment, really then, as an opportunity. We have well-grounded, mature educators who can play a role in what education will become next.
The pandemic has drawn a line in the sand. There’s no going back to normal, and that’s scary in a lot of ways. But it’s also exciting that change happens in tention and friction. So I’m excited to meet the educators who are enrolling in our programs who will really help lead that charge.
[00:20:21] BW: That’s awesome. “A courageous act of hope” — I love that. Let’s put that on a mug or a t-shirt, right? This has been a really inspiring conversation and a really great episode of College Admissions Insider. Thanks to Ellen Amarante for taking the time to lend us your expertise today.
[00:20:36] EA: Thanks for having me. It’s been fun.
[00:20:38] BT: Thanks to everyone out there for listening. If you’re fan of the podcast, please take a moment to rate, subscribe and share this episode with any aspiring educators you know.
[00:20:48] BW: We’ll be back with another new episode in two weeks. In the meantime, please send your questions, comments and episode ideas by email. That’s [email protected]
[00:20:59] BT: We also invite you to follow Bucknell on all of your favorite social media apps. Just look for @BucknellU on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tiktok. You can also follow our student-run Instagram account, which is @iamraybucknell.
[00:21:12] BW: Until next time, keep on reaching for your dreams and your dream school.