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Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014

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Princeton students turn to teaching

Jason Booher, a 1999 Princeton graduate, looks forward to teaching English to high school students, watching them get inspired by books and gain confidence in themselves and their ideas. Devon Keefe, a member of the class of 2001, is excited by the prospect of teaching history and coaching softball at the high school level, bringing together her interests and talents to benefit others.

While educators are projecting the need for an alarming 2.4 million new teachers by the year 2011 to prevent a crises in education in America, Princeton's Teacher Preparation Program is racing to contribute its share and is attracting students who are ready to meet the challenges.

Booher and Keefe, who said their dreams of helping young people are worth the extra efforts, are completing the final requirements for teaching certification in the Princeton program. They are currently engrossed in the most demanding portion of the program: 40 days of student teaching coupled with a weekly seminar to discuss their classroom experiences.

Keefe gets up at 5:30 a.m. to be ready for her 65 students at Ewing High School well before the school bell, and Booher, who teaches four classes at Lawrence High School, admits that it is "amazing how much time it takes to teach well."

A 1997 Princeton graduate now teaching English at Westfield High School, Peter J. Horn attests to the difficulties of starting a career in teaching. "You're not an apprentice when you start your own class. You have to do everything, all at once - developing assignments, grading papers, counseling students, dealing with parents. It can be agonizing the first year," he says.

The personal demands of time and energy are one thing. Yet, aspiring teachers in Princeton's Teacher Preparation Program say one of their major annoyances is having to answer this question: Why would a Princeton student, well prepared for any career, choose to teach?

Starting his first year as director of the Teacher Preparation Program and with a teaching career of 32 years, John Webb is fully aware of the negatives attached to his profession. The shortage of funding for education, the low starting salaries and the general lack of respect for the profession work against what he and his students believe is one of the most rewarding careers a person can have. Add to that figures like the National Center for Education Statistics' projection of the need for some 2.4 million teachers in the next 11 years, and there is no question that the teaching profession needs an infusion. That need, despite rigorous demands, is helping to inspire the 21 Princeton students who will be certified to teach this year.

"I can't imagine a profession that is more challenging, stimulating or rewarding. I don't know of a job that requires so many different kinds of intelligence," says Horn. Seeing the "lights go on" in his students' minds is always satisfying to Horn. He says one sure way of flipping that switch is to teach Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man." "Every time I teach 'Invisible Man,' I get one student who becomes a fanatic, who tries to get all of his or her friends and family to read it. I love to teach that novel."

Booher has more experience than many of his fellow teachers-in-training. After graduating from Princeton, he taught at Eton College in England upon receiving the Annenberg Fellowship given annually by Eton to one American graduate. While an undergraduate, he spent two summers teaching inner-city children in Pittsburgh.To silence family and friends who ask that frequent question about why a Princeton graduate would choose to teach, Booher says: "Who would you want to have teach your kids? Surely you would choose teachers who are the most academically competent and intellectually engaged."

Webb says he is "inspired" by the students who go through the Teacher Preparation Program. "Not only are they brilliant academically, they also are committed to making a difference," he says. "They want to do something to enhance the lives of other human beings. That brings a huge level of energy to teaching and to our program."

Since Princeton does not have a school of education, staff and students in the Teacher Preparation Program, which was established in 1967, actively promote the program to catch the attention of University applicants and current students. Activities such as distributing information to students and student organizations, visiting the residential colleges and holding a first-time convocation Nov. 14 are increasing the program's visibility. Also, a curriculum change now allows freshmen to register with the Teacher Preparation Program immediately instead of waiting for their sophomore year.

Students interested in earning teacher certification at Princeton must fulfill the requirements for an undergraduate major, just like other students. Alongside these requirements, students enrolled in the Teacher Preparation Program take specific courses and seminars from program faculty and attend colloquia that include teachers, school superintendents and parents. Throughout the program, students increasingly gain field experience in area schools, culminating in the 40-day student teaching requirement the final year. The semester devoted to student teaching always includes a weekly seminar, making it a full-time commitment that is usually the most exhilarating phase of the program.

"I love student teaching because I have such amazing kids," says Booher. "My cooperating teacher at Lawrence High School and the Teacher Preparation Program staff are so supportive. And the weekly seminar is one of the best classes I have ever taken. Every time I come out of it I feel I am a better teacher. It helps me identify problems in the classroom and has radically influenced my teaching philosophy."

At Ewing High School, Keefe is busy teaching the American Revolution to juniors and cheering on the football team. "Every day I feel I'm building knowledge and confidence. And I have a great relationship with my students - I'm not so much older and feel I can put myself in their shoes," she says.

Webb says his goal is not only to provide energetic and enthusiastic teachers for schools in New Jersey and beyond, but to supply this country with the next generation of educational leaders.

NOV. 14 CONVOCATION ON TEACHING

Four educators will address the question, "What does it mean to be a teacher?," at a convocation Tuesday, Nov. 14, in the Frist Campus Center at the University. The event, sponsored by Princeton's Teacher Preparation Program, will run from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Multipurpose Room B.

The four panelists, all teachers at New Jersey schools, will be asked: "Why did you choose to teach?" "What has prompted you to stay in teaching?" The audience then will be encouraged to join the discussion. The panelists are: Lamont Fletcher of Johnson Park Elementary School in Princeton; Peter J. Horn of Westfield High School, who is a 1997 Princeton graduate; Elizabeth Marquez of North Brunswick High School; and Theodora Smiley-Lacey of Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Teaneck.

Approximately 50 students participating in the Teacher Preparation Program will attend, along with teachers and superintendents from 10 New Jersey school districts, many of whom are alumni of the program. Invitations have gone out to about 20 principals from the schools with which Teacher Preparation Program students work. Princeton faculty and administrators as well as other students considering teaching as a career also are encouraged to attend.

"It is appropriate for Princeton to offer the opportunity for all of us involved in education to come together to consider what it means to be a teacher," says John Webb, Teacher Preparation Program director. "It is a chance for us to have an evening devoted to teaching, and to bring our students together to hear why we are proud of our decision to become teachers and to remain teachers."

For more information, contact the Teacher Preparation Program at 258-3336.

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601

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