In the

Learning Together

Education Program Gives Undergraduates Real-World View of Teaching

By Kathryn Howe



veryone has that one special teacher who will always be remembered. The one who offered a caring word exactly when needed—or maybe the one who pushed a little harder to draw out the greatest potential.

Teachers leave a lasting impact, and it takes an extraordinary person to meet the academic, emotional, and social needs of young children. It’s challenging and influential work. Many times, however, education graduates don’t have a true picture of what their careers will demand.

A specialized program at Mount Mercy University makes sure students can be certain that teaching is the passion they wish to pursue. By exposing them to real-life classrooms in the Cedar Rapids community, junior-level students discover the ups and downs of an energetic, enthusiastic day at school.

Welcome to the Mount Mercy Classroom

Since 2012, MMU has partnered with community schools through its Professional Development School (PDS) program. Beginning in Center Point-Urbana Elementary and Regis Middle School, the program has expanded to also include Taylor and Prairie Ridge elementary schools.

“Most education students don’t get this type of exposure until they actually become teachers,” says Ann Wooldridge ’87, principal at Center Point-Urbana Elementary School. “This program helps them find out if teaching is truly what they want to do.”

The PDS model provides MMU juniors in the teacher education program the opportunity to apply theory and content hands-on in a classroom setting. Here, traditional classroom learning melds with intensive field practice for a holistic educational experience.

Especially unique is the fact that Mustang students pursue coursework with MMU professors on site at their assigned school. Then, they leave their Mount Mercy Classroom and simply walk down the hall to apply a lesson plan or teaching technique with children. MMU is among an elite group of Iowa universities participating in such a collaboration.

“Mount Mercy students get a great sense of what the beginning of a year and the entire instruction cycle looks like. They receive exposure that wouldn’t happen until they actually become teachers,” says Ann Wooldridge ’87, principal at Center Point-Urbana Elementary School. “They know what to expect, and this gives them a fantastic head start.”

Impressed by this head start, Wooldridge herself has hired three MMU graduates for full-time positions since the program started. By all accounts, it appears the PDS approach improves teacher quality and hireability. Last year’s graduating class boasted nearly 100 percent placement.

Anywhere from 12 to 15 juniors learn and teach at each of the schools. Those with an elementary education focus divide among the primary schools while secondary education majors are assigned to Regis Middle School.

Marc McCoy, associate professor of education at MMU, says faculty give feedback to MMU teachers-in-training with greater immediacy than they can through typical training approaches.

“Feedback from Regis has been overwhelmingly positive,” McCoy says. “Our students actively engage in teaching, tutor students, provide assistance for those with special learning needs, and participate in rewarding service projects.”

Wooldridge, who has enjoyed a 20-year career at Center Point-Urbana, calls the PDS program a win-win-win. The program positively impacts all key groups: the MMU students who benefit from a pre-student-teaching experience, the district educators who share their classrooms, and, most importantly, the community’s youth. The MMU presence keeps the teacher-to-student ratio low and provides extra hands to move busy children through their day. MMU students also assist with assemblies and activities, strengthen early literacy work, and allow teachers to get fall assessments done much quicker.

Justin Brown ’15 confirmed teaching as his calling through participation in the PDS program. As an MMU student, he interned at Center Point-Urbana and was then hired full-time at Taylor Elementary School, where he now teaches fourth and fifth grades. In true pay-it-forward fashion, he hosts two MMU students in his classroom, grateful for how the program prepared him for his career.

“I can’t tell you how much more comfortable I was becoming a teacher because I’d been in the classroom,” Brown says. “There’s no substitute for getting in there and doing the work. You will learn fast, and you will know within the first semester if it’s your passion.”

Brown says his MMU students reinforce his lessons and improve one-on-one instruction. He also appreciates the fresh perspectives they bring, and the way they serve as role models to his students.

“I learn from them as much as they learn from me,” he says. “We are all learning together.” ■

Head of the Class

Undergraduates aren’t the only ones who benefit from Mount Mercy University’s Department of Education. Many doors open for graduate students when they earn a master’s degree with an emphasis in teacher leadership from MMU.

Marc McCoy, associate professor of education at MMU, says the master’s program follows the trend of educating students as cohorts. They attend classes together and establish a strong peer relationship that serves them well in the years to come.

Educators from the College Community and Cedar Rapids school districts make up two strong cohorts at MMU. This year, 18 new master’s in education students from the College Community area enrolled in the teacher leadership/effective teaching program. From Cedar Rapids, that number is 22.

McCoy says these graduates become leaders, trainers, coaches, and mentors in classrooms across the community. It’s just another way MMU makes a wide and deep impact, and he’s sure this positive influence will lead others to join the program.