FARMINGTON — After teaching school by day and becoming students again after hours, the first graduates of the University of Maine at Farmington’s master of science in education-educational leadership degree program will receive that degrees during UMF’s commencement Saturday.
The group of 32, mostly practicing teachers, are the first to earn the degrees since the program started in 2008, Philip Griswold, UMF assistant dean of education and director the master’s degree program, said.
The university previously had a graduate program but in a reorganization of the UM System in the 1970s, the program was taken away from the college. Saturday’s first graduates of the master’s program mark a new achievement in the school’s recent history, he said.
Reflecting the teaching profession, more female students have participated in the program. There are also more secondary than elementary teachers.
“None are novices. All have at least five years teaching experience and most average 10 years experience,” he said.
The program was born from a need for more accessible graduate education opportunities in the region.
A number of school districts now require teachers to hold a master’s degrees at some point. It’s written into their contracts. Locally, it’s difficult for some to go to the University of Southern Maine or rely on what the closer Thomas College offers, he said.
There was interest, essentially a demand, for a program offered closer.
Currently about 56 are involved in the program, prior to graduation. Another 12 to 15 are expected to begin the program this summer, he said. While enrollment is slightly less than an anticipated 20 students per year, numbers don’t indicate the success of the program.
Research presentations recently given by the graduate students showed their accomplishments and were more than acceptable, he said.
It’s a rigorous, accumulative program and finances in state schools may limit the dollars available to subsidize graduate studies, he said, pointing out a couple reasons that affect enrollment.
Most students have worked summer, fall and spring terms for three years to earn 36 credits for the degree. A specific core of 24 credits must be taken in sequence and the other 12 are electives mostly used for their minor course of study.
The students major in leadership knowledge and skills with a goal toward school improvement.
The college is working in partnership to help schools where they have a need by training the graduate students with skills and tools to help improve the school, he said.
“There’s a perception that all a teacher needs is a mastery of content to teach,” Griswold said.
Teachers also need other tools including a knowledge of the organization, children and psychology along with content.
Over the next couple years, Griswold intends to watch the impact the graduate level students make in their schools. Contact with superintendents and by keeping in touch with the students, he’ll be asking and looking for evidence of their leadership contributions and whether they are taking on more leadership roles, he said.
The college intends to continue promoting the master’s program but probably the most valuable promotion is through “seeing what our students have done, what they do and become within their school district,” he said.