100 Years of Educating the Educator
Saint Mary’s first awarded diplomas in education in 1923. That year just four students completed their Bachelor of Philosophy in Education.
One hundred years later, the Education Department at Saint Mary’s College is in a far different place.
In its first years, the four-year education program focused on preparing high school teachers—one of the few professional avenues women could pursue—with a two-year option for those who chose to earn the Elementary Provisional Certificate. Besides religion, English, and modern language, students also took coursework in philosophy and education.
Saint Mary’s students are now unlimited in their choice of career opportunities. The education program has expanded to include not only majors in elementary and secondary education, but also programs in early childhood, English as a second language, mild intervention, and reading. Students who are majoring in elementary education with mild intervention now have the option of pursuing the 4+1 with a master’s in Autism Studies. The department also welcomes students from the University of Notre Dame, who can get their teaching license at Saint Mary’s by the time they graduate with their bachelor’s degree.
We are fortunate to have graduates who remain in the area to teach who serve as fantastic ambassadors for the profession, the department, and the College. They have also given back in other ways—about 20 of the clinical instructors in the Education department are graduates of the Education program at Saint Mary’s.
“I am so grateful and genuinely enjoy giving back to Saint Mary’s by co-teaching with current students and learning from them as I help prepare them to be future educators,” said Michelle Van Meter Sanchez ’97, a first-grade teacher at Prairie Vista Elementary in Granger, Ind.
In addition to their vital work as classroom teachers, our graduates have gone on to earn graduate degrees and work in school leadership roles. Kim Holly Maher ’05, who just started her ninth year as principal at Wilson Creek Elementary, in Manhattan, IL, credits the department and the College, stating, “Everything Saint Mary’s promises about discovery and leadership is true. None of this is a coincidence…The experiences we had at Saint Mary’s along with the field opportunities provided to us laid the foundation for the educators we would become.”
Likewise, Franca Peluso Mulhern ’11 currently serves as an adjunct faculty member at the College, and is assistant principal at Walt Disney Elementary in Mishawaka, Ind. She says, “The confidence instilled in me through these field experiences and the continued support from my Saint Mary’s family has pushed me to strive for achievements I once thought unattainable. Not only have I become a part of our school district’s leadership team, but, today, I am also beginning my second year of doctoral studies in educational leadership.
“My parents always believed in my abilities to lead and achieve, but Saint Mary’s gave me the confidence to truly believe in myself,” Mulhern continued. “It is my sincere hope that I will continue to encourage young women to find their voice, strive for excellence, and pursue their passions without limitations.”
While the programs have changed since 1923, the department’s commitment to preparing teachers has remained. At the center of the program are the diverse field experiences. From their initial course in the program, students are placed in a local K-12 classroom. These placements are carefully designed to expose students to multiple grade levels and school districts, as well as to diverse student populations.
Placements serve multiple purposes. Besides providing students with the opportunity to experience a variety of school settings and teaching styles, they also help students confirm that teaching is right for them, before they get to the next step of student teaching. By the end of their time in the program, Saint Mary’s graduates will have over 700 hours of field experience—a distinctive feature that sets the College apart from other education programs. Our graduates are well-prepared to lead their own classrooms the moment they graduate.
Recently named Teacher of the Year for School City of Mishawaka, Angelina Lazovich ’15, who teaches sixth grade at Beiger Elementary, says, “I will never forget the variety of field placement opportunities I was given throughout my years in the education department. This array of grade levels and districts allowed me to be exposed to so many different teaching and building styles and prepared me to conquer whatever I was given as a teacher.”
To provide students with these wide-ranging opportunities, the department has cultivated strong community partnerships throughout the years with many schools, including Beiger Elementary in School City of Mishawaka, Swanson Traditional School in the South Bend Community School Corporation, and Walt Disney Elementary School in the Penn Harris Madison School Corporation. These partnerships allow consistent placements in each of these schools for our teacher candidates and student teachers. Consistency is key not only in ensuring that the students get quality experiences but also in helping the department improve, since the teachers and administrators at these schools provide feedback that helps shape our program.
In turn, the schools appreciate our emphasis on co-teaching as well as having well-prepared, professional teacher candidates. With class sizes growing due to teacher shortages, everyone involved benefits from these placements—teachers, K-12 students, and the teacher candidates.
During the pandemic, our teacher candidates were great resources for local teachers, when a quick pivot to virtual learning was required. Our students’ experience with a variety of online learning platforms and programs provided invaluable assistance to classroom teachers.
The Partners in Education Committee, composed of local administrators, teachers, and alumnae, is key in evaluating practices, offering insight, and providing support for our current students. This volunteer group, which meets with faculty at Saint Mary’s after school each semester, always surprises us with their enthusiasm and insight as they share suggestions and provide feedback on how the program can grow and improve. Guest speakers share their expertise as administrators, as the teacher candidates prepare for student teaching and job interviews. Our adjunct faculty include alumnae, clinical educators, and other classroom teachers who come to campus to teach methods courses and use their rich experiences to prepare our students.
A Look Ahead
As the department looks to the future, it is clear-eyed in its understanding of the challenges teachers face. As more people choose other careers and a teacher shortage looms for many areas, the need for well-prepared and committed teachers is more important than ever. Faculty remain resolute in their commitment to preparing new teachers for the realities of the classroom.
Maggie Pacana ’17, who teaches sixth-grade language arts at Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove, Ill. says, “I felt extremely prepared to enter the teaching profession. I had practice using State standards as guides for planning my units, knew how to use professional development opportunities effectively to my benefit, could comfortably communicate with parents and fellow staff members professionally, and understood how to educate the whole child, looking at more than just their academics.”
Amy Noppenberg Gallo ’00, a K-5 music teacher at Prairie Vista Elementary in Granger, Ind. remembers talking to education professor Sister Marilyn Zugish ’70, CSC, as the moment when “I [realized] I did in fact love music and more importantly loved teaching young people…she changed my life and the lives of thousands of children who have entered my classroom over my 20-plus year career.”
From the days when we had four graduates, the Education Department at Saint Mary’s has graduated thousands of students from the program. As we move through our celebration year, we eagerly await Commencement in May, when we’ll award degrees to the 100th graduating class of teachers.
Terri Suico is an associate professor and the chair in the Education department at Saint Mary’s College. Steven Mast is director of student teaching and field placement, and the Education department coordinator.