•  Michael Deppe - MAT '02

    Michael Deppe MAT '02

    Turning teacher: Making the mid-career switch

    The children in Michael Deppe’s second-grade math class have an advantage over their peers in other schools. They haven’t simply memorized equations or learned mathematical rules.

    They’ve written a song about the pluses and minuses of the numerical world titled “Even Math Can Be Odd.”

    As Deppe, a gentle man in his mid-forties, strums along on a guitar, the kids chant “math-math-mathmath” until it’s time for the first verse:

    An even plus an even will always equal even
    An odd plus an odd will also equal even
    But when you take an even and add it to an odd
    The number in the answer will be odd (how odd!)

    However, there’s nothing odd about the fact that Deppe, now in his fourth year of teaching the under ten crowd at Harambee Community Cultures/Environmental Science School in suburban Saint Paul, is using music to help students learn.

    It’s a skill he learned in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Hamline University. The director of the program, Kathy Paden, encourages the approximately 450 students to bring relevant life experiences into the classroom.

    “Use what you are and what you have and bring it to what you do,” Paden told Deppe.

    So Deppe, a musician who once earned a living repairing violins and guitars, spices up math with bouncy tunes that serve an educational purpose.

    As an undergraduate majoring in German and English two decades ago, Deppe pondered a career in teaching, but pursued music instead. When his daughter began attending school, Deppe headed to the classroom too—as a volunteer. He’d sing Raffi songs to the children. And soon, the idea of teaching re-emerged.

    When Deppe asked his wife what she thought about his returning to graduate school to prepare for a career switch, she said, “Oh, my God.”

    “I had a comfortable, but low-paying gig repairing instruments,” he said. “It was a big change.”

    Now that he’s worked as a teacher for several years, there’s little he misses about his old job. Deppe labored alone before, bringing new life to beautiful, but broken stringed instruments. Now he’s surrounded by people—short, noisy ones mostly—and the improvements he sees aren’t as immediate.

    Sometimes it’s not until a parent tells him a child loved a particular lesson that he knows he’s made a difference.

    “It’s a different, deeper impact,” he said.

    Graduate students in the program can acquire teaching licenses in any of twenty-six specialties through a series of evening classes, which typically meet once per week. With an emphasis on urban, multicultural schoolchildren, students can begin teaching after earning certification in a subject area or they can continue studying to earn a master’s degree.

    According to the American Association for Employment in Education, the need for new teachers is likely to increase in the next decade. That’s because about one-third of existing teachers are fifty-five or older and may soon retire.

    Still, it’s not simply jobs that are attracting people to the profession. Paden says most students want to become a teacher out of a sense of altruism.

    “They want to do something meaningful with their lives,” she said. “This is a job that goes along with that value.”

    That’s certainly the case for two other Master’s of Art in Teaching students. A native New Yorker, Nick Ardito spent most of his twenties working as a trader at the NASDAQ, a stock exchange specializing in technology companies. Buying and selling shares of Microsoft and Dell was exciting, but it wasn’t personally rewarding.

    When he learned about a nonprofit organization called Ice Hockey in Harlem, Ardito jumped at the chance to share his knowledge about a sport he loved with inner-city kids. While he taught kids about centering passes and slapshots, the most important lessons were in the classroom.

    That’s because Ice Hockey in Harlem is primarily about improving the academic performance of ten- to fourteen-year-olds enrolled in the program.

    “That’s where I made the switch,” Ardito said. “I worked with kids who made a complete turnaround in their education.”

    Upon moving to Minnesota, Ardito enrolled in the Hamline program. He graduated in 2004 and quickly landed a job teaching fifth graders at a Columbia Heights elementary school.

    The Master’s of Art in Teaching program prepared Ardito for the classroom by teaching him how to prepare lesson plans, understand child development, manage a classroom and speak in front of a classroom full of people.

    “There’s a lot of peer teaching and presentations right away,” Ardito said of the program. “They get you out of your comfort zone.”

    But that doesn’t mean the transition was seamless.

    “I struggled a bit in my first year,” he says. “I was a bit naive with classroom management.”

    Now that he’s more experienced, it’s easier for Ardito to appreciate the small joys the occupation can bring.

    “Every day a child does something that makes you smile or laugh,” he said.

    Jenny Johnson was already familiar with classrooms when she enrolled at Hamline University. A former Peace Corps volunteer who taught for two years in Malawi, a nation in southern Africa, Johnson majored in Spanish as an undergraduate, worked as a substitute teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools and taught full time in the district for two years.

    And then new rules required her to obtain a teaching license. Hamline became her graduate school of choice because they “understand the needs of working adults and they considered my prior experience an asset,” Johnson said. She also liked the program’s flexibility—students can begin classes during any semester—and the sophistication of professors.

    “They stayed fresh with the current situation and had very experienced backgrounds,” Johnson said.

    Since she already has classroom experience in the U.S., Johnson chose to take advantage of the opportunity to teach internationally as a student teacher in Panama. For four months, she didn’t speak a word of English until one day, something surprised her and she uttered an “Oh, darn.”

    One of her students overheard her and exclaimed, “I heard you speak English, Ms. Johnson!”

    Johnson recently landed her first post-Hamline job teaching Spanish to high school students in Lakeville. Interviewed a few weeks before the start of fall classes, she was anxious to get started.

    “I actually want to be in class right now,” she said. “I miss it.”

    by Todd Melby ‘86

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    Aug 5 2014

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