Mason Muur ’20 remembers one of the first times he stood in front of a class. He wrote a few things on a whiteboard and placed it back on the cabinet where it belonged.
“It ended up falling down and almost crashed on a student,” he says, still a bit embarrassed about it. “I look back and think about how nervous and jittery I was.”
A few semesters later, the Central College education student is more than comfortable in front of a class of eighth-graders at Pella Middle School. Muur is used to talking with students. He’s developed relationships that are so important in the student-teacher dynamic.
“It’s totally different,” he says. “I can get in front of them and now I’m excited and I’m ready to go. I have all the confidence in the world and I owe a lot of that to the CTA program.”
CTA is the Central Teacher Academy, a one-of-a-kind program that puts education students in classrooms well ahead of their student-teaching requirement.
It’s one part of preparing education students at Central for their first job after graduation. Central has earned a reputation for going above and beyond in preparing tomorrow’s educators.
“The education department at Central really stands out,” Muur says. “They go the extra mile.”
BUILT ON A REPUTATION
Jennifer Diers, chair of Central’s education department and associate professor, says, “We have students who haven’t even started their student teaching being offered contracts. That’s the reputation of the program.”
“We are the top,” says Mindi Kacmarynski ’93, coordinator of the CTA program and an adjunct professor.
The numbers speak for themselves.
Nearly 100 percent of education graduates are employed; 50 percent have master’s degrees. Central education graduates are teachers or administrators in each of Iowa’s 99 counties; more teach in other states or abroad.
“We take special notice of graduates from a few schools when we are hiring,” says Lowell Ernst, director of K-12 instruction at Pella Community Schools.
“Central is one of those at the top doing a good job preparing teachers in our state.” Ernst has lived and worked in Pella since 1998 and has a unique perspective of Central’s education program. He helped launch the CTA program (which started in 2001), pairing Pella Schools and its teachers as mentors for education students at Central.
He also has seen two daughters go through Central’s education program. Taryn Ernst ’19 is student teaching in Knoxville, Iowa. She already has been hired to teach first grade in the fall in Winterset, Iowa. Morgan Ernst ’17 teaches middle school math in Camanche, Iowa.
“When they were in the job market, there were numerous questions in a job interview wanting an example,” Ernst says. “Rather than being an eight-week student teacher, they’re actually a three-year intern and able to come up with those examples. They’ve had real-life situations and they’ve grown and learned from them.”
A ONE-OF-A-KIND PROGRAM
Experience is the goal of the education program at Central. All students observe in classrooms their freshman year. During their time at Central, education students will spend around 200 hours in classrooms. That is in addition to the regular education requirements.
CTA is above and beyond, offering up to another 200 hours in a classroom. Central believes it to be one of a kind in the country. It certainly is in Iowa.
“We don’t know of another like it,” Kacmarynski says. “It is an attractive thing for students. Many will say that the reason they came to Central was because they heard about CTA.”
CTA started with the goal of bringing more college students into the teaching profession. It also desired to retain them.
“Teachers weren’t prepared their first years of teaching so they weren’t staying in the field,” says Kacmarynski, who was the first coordinator of the CTA and took on the duties again in 2014. “We had to do something different.”
Central partnered with Pella Schools from the start and added Pella Christian in 2013. The program puts a student in the classroom with a mentor teacher. It’s a three-year commitment for each and the partnership benefits both sides.
During Level 1, usually sophomore year, students spend three hours a week in the classroom. In Level 2, or junior year, it’s two hours a week but with more responsibilities.
SINCE 2001, 272 STUDENTS HAVE PARTICIPATED IN THE CTA PROGRAM.
“That program has transformed my teaching style,” Muur says. “It’s really showed me what it’s like to be in the classroom. I’m lucky to have had those experiences.”
Central education students must apply to be part of CTA and not all are accepted. According to Kacmarynski, about half the 100 students in the education program are involved. Those who aren’t still are well prepared when they graduate; CTA is just extra.
“CTA is a fabulous program and it works, but it just isn’t an option for all students due to work schedules, athletics, music involvement or family or course schedules,” Diers says. “All of our students leave us fully prepared.”
To get into CTA, there’s a written essay and an interview process during which faculty look for responsibility, initiative, commitment, enthusiasm and past experiences. The reward is the 200 additional classroom hours, constant feedback and evaluation and much-needed encouragement and support.
“Administrators tell us that the Central Teacher Academy students come out more like second- or third-year teachers because of the amount of experience they have,” Diers says.
Adds Kacmarynski: “Our mentor teachers and our professors are preparing students with both the theory and the specific tools.”
Andrew Schlatter ’19 said Central prepared him well for his semester of student teaching in Des Moines.
“My friends at other colleges and universities say they might have 40 hours in a classroom in three years,” Schlatter says. “Through practicum and CTA, I had a good sense of how to run a classroom so I was able to jump in and get moving. I wouldn’t have gotten that without CTA, without the experiences we get in the education department as a whole.”
RELATIONSHIPS ARE KEY
Diers believes it is relationships that make education unique at Central. Those relationships are many.
Students and professors form a lifelong bond. So do students and their CTA mentor teachers. There’s the relationship with the local schools, Pella and Pella Christian, with alumni and faculty and with alumni and Central students.
“I’ve been able to form great relationships with the professors,” says Chapel Carter ’19, an elementary education major. “Having that small class size and having them available is huge. I could stop by or call or email any of them and they’d respond.”
Mary Popson-Klein ’95 was a CTA mentor teacher. She is a special education teacher at Jefferson Intermediate School in Pella and an adjunct professor at Central. She says her door is always open. “I want to contribute back,” Klein says. “I had a professor that made me want to be an instructor. Sometimes I don’t see myself like that, but when students come into my room, they say, ‘Your class was the reason.”
Klein, too, believes the biggest part of education is in the relationships you build.
“A student will never learn in my classroom until they know how much I care about them,” she says. “They don’t care how much I know. They want to know how much I care first.” Muur learned the importance of relationship-building. “The professors here are amazing,” he says. “They’re doing what they preach. They want us to build relationships with students and they’re doing it with us. It’s cool to see and makes it easier for me to do it in the classroom.”
BETWEEN 2007 AND MAY 2018, CENTRAL HAS GRADUATED 338 ELEMENTARY AND 268 SECONDARY EDUCATION STUDENTS.
Diers has plenty to talk about. Take the Roe Center. It’s a state-of-the-art LEED-rated space that provides the latest technology and is “an incredible place for teaching.”
“It’s always great to showcase this topnotch facility to prospective students and other education professionals,” she says.
In addition, Diers talks about the Geisler Penquite relationship, also unique to Central. The Geisler Penquite Foundation provides the education department funding for scholarships and for advanced learning opportunities. It brings well-known speakers to campus or Pella and offers the chance to network.
There’s the “I Understand, I Can, I Am” model used at Central. It focuses on core knowledge per the state of Iowa teacher licensure requirements (I Understand statements); core competency exhibition in clinical settings (I Can statements); and reflecting key dispositions and attitudes of successful teachers (I Am statements).
It all comes down to preparing college students to be teachers. “We just love talking about what’s best for students,” Diers says. “Central has a rigorous, relevant program that is putting out top-notch teachers.
“Central College education is steeped in great tradition of preparing highly qualified teachers. It is a privilege to continue that tradition while looking to the future with a vision for even more success.”
ANDREW SCHLATTER ’19
HOMETOWN: Story City, Iowa
MAJOR: Elementary education
ENDORSEMENTS: Special education and reading
SCHOLARSHIPS: Presidential, Trustee, Root and Geisler Penquite
Andrew Schlatter jokes he came to Central with sights set on making big bucks. “Then I realized it wasn’t my passion,” he says.
Originally a business major, Schlatter switched to education after his first year. He knows he made the right decision.
He was perhaps pushed a little by family. His father, Steve, is high school principal at Roland-Story High School. His cousin, Josh Manning ’03, is principal at Pella Middle School.
“I took a couple of education classes and fell in love,” Schlatter says. “Now, here I am.”
Schlatter has spent his final semester as a student teacher, first in K-5 special education at Jackson Elementary School in Des Moines, then in fourth-grade at Westridge Elementary in West Des Moines.
“Student teaching has been amazing,” he says. “I was extremely prepared.”
The CTA program was huge for Schlatter.
“I got into CTA and realized it was something I wasn’t going to get anywhere else,” he says. “I was able to gain experience. It gave me a good idea of what teaching is all about.”
Schlatter has accepted a job as a special education teacher in Des Moines and also will be an assistant football coach. He knows Central prepared him for his next step.
“The relationships I’ve had with my professors are amazing,” he says. “I could talk to them at any moment about anything. The relationships you make are remarkable. They always talk about it, but you don’t realize it until you’re part of it.”
CHAPEL CARTER ’19
HOMETOWN: Colorado Springs, Colorado
MAJOR: Elementary education
ENDORSEMENTS: Reading and social studies
SCHOLARSHIPS: Presidential, Trustee, Entrepreneurship, Central Heritage, Journey and Philip J. Harmelink
Chapel Carter is a long way from home. But a “family atmosphere” drew her to Central — first with her volleyball team, then in the education department.
Now in her final semester, Carter is spending it student teaching at Northstar Elementary School in Knoxville. It’s something she never imagined.
“I stumbled into the treasure of education at Central,” she says. She was planning to major in business or psychology but took introductory education at her mother’s request.
“The class itself was good, but what really sold me was going out into the schools and observing the classrooms,” Carter says. “I just fell in love with it. How did I not know I wanted to be an elementary teacher?” Carter joined CTA as a second semester sophomore. She’s been a quick study.
“My first time teaching, I did pretty much everything wrong,” she says. “I was so nervous I forgot what I’d been taught.
“CTA gives you so many hours in a classroom that you’re able to speak in front of a class knowing you’re a capable educator.”
A future Carter couldn’t picture four years ago now is here. She wants to teach in elementary school in Iowa or in the Nashville area (she was born in Tennessee).
“I arrived thinking I wanted to pursue a completely different career,” she says. “One education course changed my life.”
MASON MUUR ’20
HOMETOWN: Morrison, Illinois
MAJOR: Social science and secondary education
ENDORSEMENTS: Reading and social studies
SCHOLARSHIPS: Presidential, Trustee, Ministry and Mission, Central Heritage and Geisler Penquite
Cliché or not, Mason Muur loves how Central and Pella felt like home. So does the education department, of which Muur had heard good things.
“The reputation is a big deal,” he says.
Muur arrived undecided on a major but quickly chose education.
“The education department at Central has really helped me shape my future.”
Muur plans to teach middle or high school. In the final semester of his junior year, Muur believes he is ready now.
“Do I have stuff to learn? Yes,” he says. “But I could student teach now if I had to.”
Muur is paired with Jerod Garland ’99, a mentor at Pella Middle School in an eighth-grade classroom. “I’ve been able to watch and observe and put together lessons,” Muur says. “That’s what CTA does. They get you in front of a classroom talking with students.”
Muur also competes on the cross country and track and field teams. He’s the president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and leads a Bible study for his two teams.
It’s all about experiences for Muur, in the classroom and out. That includes the experiences he believes have prepared him for the future, whatever it ends up being.
“I’m thinking about becoming a school counselor or getting my master’s in administration and becoming a principal or superintendent. I’m keeping my options open. My degree from Central sets me up for that.”
For more information about Central’s education program: