With six siblings at her beck and call, Lauren Petersen was a five-year-old teacher extraordinaire! She sat them all down, gave them assignments, and waited for them to turn in their homework.
“It was fun for everyone for the first couple of assignments but then they were like… uh, we’re SO over this,” she recalls with a smile, “I could have kept on playing. So, yeah. It was just one of those things that I’ve known forever. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.”
That’s why it was only natural that when she began thinking about which colleges to apply to, Lauren was looking for programs that would lead her into this profession.
What is the dual-degree program?
USF’s dual-degree teaching program is a five-year program that allows you to get both your undergraduate degree and Master’s degree at the same time. The first four years consist of both undergraduate and Master’s classes along with two fieldwork assignments. Your final year consists mostly of student teaching as well as finishing up your final Master’s courses and completing a thesis.
What is it like taking Master’s classes while an undergraduate student?
You begin taking your Master’s classes as a freshman. The classes are made up of dual-degree students, older professionals who are looking to transition into a teaching career, and experienced teachers who are returning to school to get their Master’s degree.
Lauren mentions that this was intimidating when she first came into one of these classes. It was hard to feel like she could keep up with teachers who were already so experienced. But it turns out that this mix of students were positive additions to her education.
There were so many different points of view to draw on. The dual-degree students were able to bring in the fresh perspective of recently graduated high school students, former teachers were able to add from real classroom knowledge, and those who had worked in other professions brought in their views.
The professors made sure that while working on collaborative projects, groups were diverse and didn’t just consist of only dual-degree students or only experienced teachers.
“So for example, we had a class called something like ‘Teaching with Technology’ and all of us dual-degree students were pretty good at all of the tech parts of it. We knew how to make PowerPoints and work on websites more than the older teachers. But they could look at what we were doing and be like, ‘Well this or that wouldn’t really work in a real classroom setting’ or ‘Students will be more engaged if you add this.’ So we really learned from each other.”
What does the dual-degree program consist of?
- General Education Classes
- Master’s Classes
- Two Fieldwork Assignments
- Part-Time Student Teaching
- Full-Time Student Teaching
How do you prepare for this dual-degree program?
You don’t need any previous teaching experience to enter into this program. Although Lauren had volunteered once or twice at a school, she by no means had any formal experience as a teacher.
The summer before you start the program, you attend something called the “fast-track” where you come up and get a tour of the campus. It’s a way more in-depth look at USF than you would get just walking around because once you start you have to know how to get from one class to the next pretty quickly.
It’s at that time that you meet your two separate advisors who will work with you throughout your five years. One is your dual-degree advisor and the other is your undergraduate advisor. Both are there to work with you to make sure that you’re meeting all of the requirements for each part of your education.
When you go to meet with your advisor, she/he will have a template created of all of the classes you’ll need to get through the next five years. This is a general guideline and though you probably want to stick pretty closely to it, you do have some wiggle room. For example, Lauren found that she did not enjoy the “Math for Teachers” class so she chose to take regular math classes instead.
What happens after you complete your four “undergraduate” years?
Even though you’re taking Master’s classes throughout your first four years, they’re still referred to as your “undergraduate years” while your fifth and final year is called your “Master’s year.”
So, after you complete your four undergraduate years, you still have to apply for your Master’s year, though Lauren explains that this is just a formality.
“You’re basically a shoo-in,” she says, “as long as you have a 3.0 GPA in all of your Master’s classes and have completed all of your general education courses, you’re going to be accepted into the Master’s program which consists of part-time and full-time student teaching.”
What is the schedule like for a dual-degree program?
While in this program, most of your semesters will consist of around 18 units. There was one semester when Lauren had 21 units. Even though this seems like a lot, she explains that because you start the program from freshman year, you don’t really know any different.
“It wasn’t overwhelming because you were just like, ‘Oh, this is what college is.’ I had friends who were only taking 12 units a semester and I just didn’t understand. Eighteen units was just normal.”
During your freshman year you’re taking the classes you’ll need to complete an undergraduate degree as well as a couple of the Master’s classes.
Sophomore year, you’re doing the same, but you also start having your fieldwork assignments. Fieldwork consists of about six to eight hours per week in a classroom. You need to complete two different types of fieldwork by the time you finish your four “undergraduate” years.
Junior and senior year are spent finishing up all of your undergraduate degree classes and most of your Master’s classes because the fifth “Master’s” year is designated mostly for doing student teaching.
What are the options for your fieldwork?
For the required fieldwork in this program, most students choose to work at a school near to the campus or one near their homes over the summer. These schools can be either private or public establishments and in fact it’s greatly encouraged to split your time at one of each so that you can see the differences between the two. If you’re looking for something a little different, you also have the option of teaching abroad.
Lauren did her first fieldwork assignment at a Diocese school in San Francisco but when it came time to choose her second location, she opted for an opportunity over the summer to teach in Korea.
That was a completely unique and crazy experience. A lot of the other students who went to Korea hadn’t completed their first fieldwork assignment yet. Since Lauren had already worked in a class, and had really enjoyed the experience, she accepted the upper grade levels of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.
Even though she had completed her first fieldwork assignment, Lauren had never been in a classroom alone before.
She laughs remembering how the expectations she and the other student teachers had quickly changed upon their arrival in Korea.
“We all kind of planned our days out to be exactly the same. They [the school days] weren’t a full day. They were about five hours long. So for the first day in the classroom we all thought we’d spend it doing things like name games, get-to-know-you type of stuff.”
The problem was, none of the students spoke English very well. Even though in Korea, students are required to take English classes the same way we’re required to take math or science, these children were a little behind and barely spoke or understood any English. Even the teacher’s aide didn’t speak much more than a few sentences.
So activities that would have spurred conversation and taken up a pretty large amount of time here in America only lasted a few moments in that classroom.
“So the five-hour day that I’d planned was over in one hour… It was so stressful and I had to improvise. I was just standing there thinking about what I could do. This was going to set the tone for the rest of my month in the classroom—how these children would look at me. It was horrible. From that moment on I planned every single moment of every day, down to the second.”
That wasn’t all that Lauren discovered during her time in Korea. It also gave her a better idea of what grades she was interested in teaching because she could compare it to her first fieldwork assignment which had been in a kindergarten class. She found that she had much more patience and enjoyed the enthusiasm that came along with the younger children as opposed to the middle schoolers that she taught in Korea.
What are the study abroad options for a student enrolled in the dual-degree teaching program?
It is possible to study abroad while doing the dual-degree teaching program. Lauren chose to go to England during her junior year. There’s no reason you should miss out on Spanish siestas or Czech beers just because you’re a part of this program. If there’s a place you want to study abroad, you can. Just be sure to keep in mind that it won’t exactly be easy.
Lauren chose to go to England during her junior year. Because it was through an external program, she had to take a “leave of absence” from USF and she admits that it was a pretty big process and not exactly one that thrilled her advisors. Still, she knew that she wanted to go and so she took a look at the classes she still needed to get through in order to graduate from the “undergraduate” portion of her program.
Because she wouldn’t be able to take any of her Master’s classes while in England, she knew that meant getting as many of her general education classes as possible out of the way so she could return to San Francisco and fill her schedule with the necessary Master’s classes that were required to get her into the Master’s year.
What are the requirements for student teaching?
You need to complete both part-time and full-time student teaching during your fifth and final year in the dual-degree program. During your first semester you have about four or five Master’s classes left while you do your part-time student teaching.
The next semester you are working on your thesis and also teaching full-time. You have to do at least one of your student teaching jobs at a public school. You’re allowed to do two public school teaching jobs but USF doesn’t want you to do two years of private school.
Lauren suggests that you don’t limit yourself to the fieldwork and required student teaching jobs. She recommends doing as much volunteer work as you possibly can and building a relationship with a teacher before that final year. That way you can find a teacher who you really work well with and who will help you grow.
The master teacher that Lauren worked with during her full-time student teaching position had a huge impact on Lauren’s teaching and view of teaching. Lauren had worked with her during the first fieldwork assignment and they built a strong relationship. When the full-time student teaching requirement needed to be met, Lauren was able to request working with her again.
Through that relationship, Lauren was able to do a large amount of work in the classroom and got way more experience as a teacher than she would have with a less enthusiastic mentor.
Homework time! Interested in becoming a teacher? Check out different programs that colleges have to offer. You can head over to USF’s dual-degree teaching website. If this program sounds cool to you, start thinking about your future plans. Do you want to study abroad? Make sure that you’re able to get all of your Master’s classes completed without that semester.