In a Class of Their Own
For more than 150 years, Hope College has been preparing a good portion of its students to become future teachers. Pastors and teachers — those were Hope’s first two career placements. Today, approximately 4,050 Hope graduates teach in public or private K-12 schools.
But for the past decade or so, the career that creates all other careers has seen more than its fair share of challenges. Deeply affected by mounting concerns of prevalent childhood trauma, standardized testing scrutinization, persistent parental interventions, underfunding, salary freezes or stagnation, and school safety issues, teachers today must overcome a bevy of societal woes to impart their lessons and deliver impact. It’s enough to make educators put down their dry-erase markers and sigh.
It is hard to get that reaction from anyone in the Department of Education at Hope, though. A department now ranked #1 in Michigan on the Educator Preparation Institution Performance Index (EPI) of programs that offer the full array of primary, secondary and special education curricula.
A department with a 100% placement rate within six months of graduation of its certified graduates for the last three years running.
A department nationally reaccredited last fall for the maximum term possible — seven years — by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
A department that still effectively and passionately imparts the life-changing and sometimes life-saving power of delivering an education to children.
How is it that nine full-time faculty can achieve all of this and produce highly qualified teachers, too, while combating cultural perceptions and realities of teaching in America today?
“We have professors here, all with prior K-12 experience, meaning we have been out in the field as teachers. We know the world we are teaching about,” says Dr. Jane Custer ’86 Finn, chair of the department and the Susan M. and Glenn G. Cherup Professor of Education. “So, we have this really great faculty who say we want to be the best education program, and we want our students who are already motivated to go out and change the world. Whether that be internationally, nationally, locally. I love that our faculty works that way as a team. We say, ‘How can we do this the best way possible?’ We might have different ideas on how that is done, but we’re constantly asking that question.”
With changing curriculum standards handed down by the State of Michigan on a regular basis for both college faculty and school teachers alike, it is a question that regularly needs an answer. But finding answers to questions is one of the many things that teachers do best.
“The Hope education department, especially with
Dr. Carl Schackow, opened my eyes to the impact that teachers can make on students. I knew when I took an education May Term in rural Free Soil, Michigan, that this was going to be my calling. Actually, getting in the classroom and seeing what impacts we could make over such a short period of time was inspiring.”
“As educators, it’s our job to look at something critically and to say, ‘Well, that was great, but how could we make it better? What little thing could I change to better this educational process?’” explains Doug Braschler ’82, director of national accreditation and state programs at Hope. Braschler is one of those Hope education department members who knows well the world of which he speaks. He was a teacher and administrator in a public-school system in Michigan for 32 years before returning to Hope in 2015.
“So, living in the world of continuous improvement, which is what our accreditation process is all about, may seem hard, but our people on staff here embrace that uneasiness. It’s not a comfortable world we live in, but we’re okay with that,” he says.
Teaching the approximately 300 Hope students in the education program to be confident in that continuous-improvement world, too, starts with their very first education class, Educational Psychology, and its field placement or clinical experience, and has a through-line to student teaching in the senior year. Hope teacher candidates take part in at least 600 hours of clinical experiences. Preparing to work in “the most complicated job in the world,” as Braschler calls it, requires no less than that.
While Hope education profs are busy teaching future educators, they also model what it looks like to be continuous learners. Nancy Cook and Dr. Susan VanderVeen ’84 Brondyk have recently conducted extensive research and implemented a new student-teaching model; Dr. Deborah VanDuinen’s focus on community literacy is evident in her yearly direction of Hope’s popular NEA Big Read Lakeshore; Dr. Tony Donk engaged in a digital literacy research project with Hope students exploring the use of iPads in a kindergarten classroom; and, Finn, Dr. Libbey Horton and Dr. Vicki-Lynn Holmes have collaborated on research about teaching Common Core mathematics to high school students with disabilities, to name a few.
100% placement rate
4,050 Hope graduates
“My professors at Hope, and the overall Hope culture, helped me develop the skills to be a servant leader. I continue in this profession because teaching is not my job, it’s who I am. And while there are significant challenges, which should not be downplayed or overlooked, they don’t deter me. What matters is my students; they fill up my spirit every single day.”
“My Hope classes were extremely relevant to real-life classrooms, particularly my special education classes, which were thorough in teaching students how to write IEPs, practice scheduling, and understand the laws of education in our state. Hope demanded your best, and while your schedule felt full at times, I never felt unprepared for a new placement in a classroom.”
“Today’s learners are more complex than ever before and so are their realities outside of school. The challenges of funding, school safety, and increased importance on standardized testing are difficult to cope with when you are living that reality daily. Thankfully, Hope College helped me form a foundation that is built upon the truth that our sovereign God created us in His image. Being rooted in this truth continues to help me love and support my students, their families, and our school community every day.”
“Not only do we insist on constantly improving in the classroom,” says Finn, who spent 11 years as a high school special education teacher and counselor prior to her teaching at Hope, “we take our research and share it with other people. Because that’s where real change is. We’re helping the profession at the practical level, too.”
Still, in the end, for all of its advances, for all of its cultural challenges, at its foundation, educating children is unchanged. “All of these standards that come in, all of the nuances and shifts in pedagogy, it really doesn’t change what it takes to be a great teacher,” says Braschler, “and that is by concentrating on the three Rs of education: rigor, relevance and relationships. If you keep those at your core, you can accept the other changes that come your way.”
As current Hope graduates head out into the workforce, finding high rates of employability, lessons like Braschler’s propel them throughout the country and world to affect one life, one classroom, one generation at a time. One-hundred-and-fifty years’ worth of Hope education graduates before them have done the same. Teaching is not just their work; it is their way of life.
“Hope students want to make a difference,” Finn says. “They’re saying, ‘I can make a difference in the classroom.’ Yes, we talk about it being a hard job, we talk about self-care, we talk about pay, but we also talk about making a difference. We have such great students at Hope College who say, ‘You know what? I can understand all of that, but this is what I’m called to do.’”
“Sure, our program is considered one of top quality,” Braschler adds, “but the fact is that we’ve got great students to work with. We can never overlook that piece of it.”
“Hope nourished my calling of giving back to my community by allowing me to participate in many student clubs. As part of my education classes, I was able to go into Holland Public Schools and support students and experience what it would be like to be a classroom teacher. I also participated in the political science national honor society, which allowed me to visit one of the Holland Rescue Missions in order to learn more about how public policy affects our society. All of these experiences helped me to be a better school teacher and now an adaptable and supportive school leader.”
“There are countless challenges that teachers are facing today. The professors at Hope helped prepare me for the challenges by teaching me about their own personal experiences in schools. Their heartfelt honesty gave me realistic expectations and prepared me for the classrooms of today. Also, through coursework I learned about policies in education, how they have changed over the years, and how to implement them
into my classroom.”
“I love that Hope got me into the classroom right away through the many observations and teaching opportunities that helped me identify my passion. Within a five to 15-mile radius of Hope, you can have three to four different types of school districts, all with different needs. I was blessed to be able to have a community like that to learn in.”
Are you a Hope alumnus working as a K-12 educator?
We are so proud of the work you are doing and the impact you are making on young people! We would love to send you an official Hope College pennant to display in your classroom or office. Just visit the page below and complete the form.