Founded as a Normal School in 1855, Millersville University has always been recognized for producing high-quality educators. Over the years the University has diversified its program offerings, but education remains a premiere program and students from the local area and beyond continue to select Millersville for their higher education needs.
Dr. George Drake, dean of Education and Human Services, weighs in on the status of the University’s education program, the changing dynamics of students and offers advice to those who dream of becoming teachers.
Do you think Millersville’s reputation as a teacher’s college still stands?
I do think it still stands. Millersville was the first Normal School in the commonwealth. It’s part of our DNA, and that’s a large part of why our reputation is still strong. We have many graduates serving as classroom teachers and as school leaders. If you talk to area superintendents, they will say they are very happy to hire MU grads. They agree they’ve been well prepared.
How has enrollment in Millersville’s education programs changed in recent years?
There has been a decrease in enrollment, not just at this University, but across the commonwealth. Enrollments are down and certifications are down. Birth rate is also down. That is part of it. Another part is that teaching is not viewed as positively as it once was. A lot of kids today seem to be turned off by the idea of being teachers. Had they been born 20 or 25 years ago, they might be [more willing]. There’s a perception that teachers are poorly paid; if you compare, say, the salary of a chemist versus that of a chemistry teacher. Teaching as a profession has taken a bit of a bad rap in the media, and I think students in high school sense that their teachers are frustrated with things like high stakes testing, paperwork, behavior problems and budget cuts.
Have there been any changes to Millersville’s education program recently?
We are working on a new program…a middle level and special education dual major. That should be on the books next year. This institution has not been preparing candidates with this credential. We are doing it because we hear from principals and superintendents that they need teachers. Parents are disappointed [their children] can’t come here for that program. Students with disabilities in middle school need good teachers too.
Are there any policy changes that affect our education students?
I think the state has started to realize there is a shortage of teachers. Districts are having a harder time finding substitute teachers. Substitute services just don’t have enough teachers to send to districts. To me, the fact that substitute services are having a tough time is an early indicator of a shortage.
There’s recent legislation from the state to address this, Act 86 of 2016. Among other things, it gives superintendents the power to issue substitute teaching permits to teaching education candidates who have 60+ credits and are in good standing. They can teach while they’re still students. If they are having a hard time putting an adult in front of students, then it’s good for them. I think there are risks inherent in it, though. It could be a good thing, by and large, for our candidates. It gives them an additional opportunity, but there are risks for them as well. One of the things we take very seriously is evaluating the extent to which they gain the knowledge and skills they need; as well as professional dispositions. We measure these for all candidates. If a teacher candidate who is subbing on a day when she is not representing Millersville University as a teacher candidate gets into a tussle about something and displays unprofessional behavior, through what lens do we view that? What do we do about that if it occurred outside the context of a specific early field experience class? How does an incident such as this weigh into how we evaluate that candidate?
Are students already substitute teaching in area schools?
We have one or two students who are participating in this already. We and the superintendents agree that it’s inappropriate for students to miss class or the opportunity to student teach in order to [substitute teach.]
What would you say to students who are considering pursuing education as a career or to their parents?
I would say to the parents that they should support that interest. I think there is no more important endeavor in our society. Teachers prepare the next generation of students to participate in our democracy, in our society, and in life.
To the kids, I would say it is never too early to begin to develop the habits of mind to be a good teacher. Teaching, particularly, depends on life-long learning. That can never start too early. When I speak to seniors and rising juniors, I say don’t do a senior coast. Take that opportunity to go deeper into the content. That will serve you well. [I also] urge kids to make sure that they don’t get into the wrong place at the wrong time. Legal problems and arrests are major barriers to this profession.