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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Montclair State University: An Interdisciplinary Approach

It takes a university and a community.
By Rich Shea
Related Tags: Project-Based Learning

In 1908, what's now known as Montclair State University began as a modest two-year college focused on helping young women become grade school teachers. A hundred years later, this New Jersey institution offers 16,700-plus students degrees in the arts, sciences, business, and K-12 education.

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Universities such as this sometimes obscure their humble beginnings by eliminating teacher-education programs or turning them into cash cows. "That has never been the case at Montclair State," says Ada Beth Cutler, dean of MSU's College of Education and Human Services, which applies an interdisciplinary approach to innovations borne from the needs of public schools.

The college's Center of Pedagogy, for example, is where representatives from the education, arts, and sciences colleges and the teaching programs' twenty-five partner school districts gather, primarily, to make policy decisions about teacher preparation at MSU. The center takes this all-hands-on-deck approach because the academic colleges and partner schools play essential roles in teacher training.

"For our students to have a vision of teaching as something that is an intellectually challenging and collaborative learning experience, they must have experiences in schools where teachers learn together," Cutler explains. Which means MSU faculty -- aside from instructing and mentoring education students -- often teach model classes and serve in residence at partner schools. In reverse, those K-12 teachers who complete courses on critical thinking, mentoring and coaching, and cultural responsiveness qualify as clinical faculty.

All teacher candidates must complete at least one urban field experience early in the program. During the senior or culminating year, two semesters are usually spent in one school.

Guiding the students throughout their education is the "Portrait of a Teacher," a twelve-point declaration of what an educator should know and do. It's informed by a nurturing pedagogy adaptive to all learning styles and the notion that we live in an imperfect democratic society. The "portrait" teacher is, in brief, a community-oriented subject-area expert who advocates for social justice.

Teacher candidates are continually assessed for adherence to the portrait's standards. The result is a microscopic examination of one's strengths and weaknesses so that graduates "essentially have a portrait of themselves as teachers," says Jennifer Robinson, executive director of the Center of Pedagogy.

Courtesy of Montclair State University

Most graduates end up working in New Jersey and, in surveys, typically praise their preparation; any negative feedback serves as fodder for program improvement -- an ongoing process that's resulted in numerous awards. One, given by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in 2002, was for MSU's work in diversifying the teaching ranks.

Recent tweaks in the program have resulted in innovations such as the digital backpack, a package equipped with a laptop, a digital camera, an MP3 player, and other technology tools used in partner schools by MSU students and cooperating teachers.

The college deliberately chooses partner schools where student teachers are considered junior faculty and where new teachers -- alumni among them -- are nurtured and encouraged to take on leadership. It is through these partnerships, says Robinson, that MSU underscores "the whole continuum of teacher development."


Rich Shea is a freelance writer in Maryland.

Comments (8)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

this is straight bull. montclair state has turned become a teacher into this grueling process. they use us for our money and dont care. i hate montclair state.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As an alumni of the University, I am confident in my opinion that both the teacher education program and the masters program in educational leadership have prepared me well for the work that I do everyday in the public school system. My compliments to Dean Cutler and her faculty for continuing a legacy of excellence.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I wouldn't want you to teach my child anyway, especially given your lack of care in writing your comments. (Capitalize those sentences!)

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the last comment. For the person who replied with "this is straight bull," it's not supposed to be easy! I don't know how aware you are of this but teaching is an incredibly challenging career. You need to go through the "grueling processes" and you need to be well prepared. I don't want some person who just sailed by everything without effort teaching my children. I will be the first one to tell you that MSU is not my favorite place, but it serves its purpose. It's cheaper than most schools in this area and the programs are decent. Personally I think that it's up to you to manipulate the environment you are in and make your educational experience the best it can be. You can go to Harvard and if you don't utilize everything around you and if you don't work hard, you're not going to get a single thing out of being there.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Montclair State is a cheap school that takes advantage of any opportunity to cut corners an save some money. If you think that the campus is well maintained- you are a commuter student who has had the majority of their courses in University Hall. This campus is disgusting and shameful. Malory Hall is horrible and a waste of space on campus, Richardson Hall is in terrible condition, and living on campus is unbearable. Bohn Hall violates many fire codes and among other things is dirty. Fire alarms sound frequently, sometimes 2 times a night and at the most ridiculous hours because of the "high caliber" students they allow in this school. The Clove Road apartments have rust and mold in the bathrooms with paint chipping off the sealing. I advise anyone wishing to live on campus not to because this is not a pleasant school to dorm at. The food is gross; I have seen on several occasions the employees of the Rathskeller drunk and on one particular occasion throw up in the mens bathroom. I have three friends that work at Blanton and they personally inform me on what food to eat and what food not to. I had food poisoning from the meat at Blanton. Student Center is pathetic and congested with reject fraternity and sorority people who have their brains rotted out from to much MTV and think they are part of the cast from "The Real World". The night life here is trashy, where hormonal pimple-faced kids who couldn't get into Rutgers vent there frustration and make pathetic attempts to alleviate their insecurities by acting like they can do something funny like yelling something weird or wearing the same clothes they saw on the cool dude in that music video, or on Paris whatever. My point is: COMMUTE! Trust me, save your money, big time! The departments are good at making an effort to find you a job post-graduation, they do good at diversifying your course work to impress grad schools, the Registrars office is great at MSU (the Bursars office is full of incompetent mopes who only refuse service; as opposed to finding a solution); and that is honestly it.

Cristina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a student at Montclair State and although you are entitled to your opinion, I do not see how these complaints have anything to do with MSU's Education Program and its success in teacher preparation.

JoeBloggs's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This isn't a blog for opinions on the University. Sure, It's no Ivy League Campus, it's no culinary marvel, but every student that sucessfully completes the education process comes out loving their job and very well prepared. As a music ed student, I can also say that the music department is easily the best in the state, and I could talk about that for hours but keep the rambling nonsense out of here. Montclair prepares teachers for the future.

beek's picture

i guess all of you dont go here or did awhile ago. this has become a cheap money hungry insult of a college. i dont know a single person that is pleased with msu... at all. everything is a grueling process. food is inedible cops will pull you over for a headlight being out, give you a ticket and keep you so your late to a class because they can. they've had some sort of meetings on campus forcing us students to have to deal with random adults from the town expecting to get a front parking spot, yeah right, and stop constantly. dont even get me going on the condition of the construction and the parking lots. i dont care how pretty they're trying to make this campus im graduating they are just wasting my time money and giving me stress. i loath every day going there in class with these stuck up self-centered teachers who mostly power tripping. WE PAY YOU! how can you say one absence is all we are allowed we are paying them are they treat us like garbage the entire way. i need to just finish my semester so i can just graduate withva worthless college degree. thought about transferring but by the time i made up my mind to i had already taken too many credits. Any new freshmen or high school students thinking of coming here DON'T!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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