Adding Up 50 Years of Shaping Educators

Nov. 10, 2014

Adding Up 50 Years of Shaping Educators

November 10, 2014 – Throughout Webster University’s 100-year history, the school has responded to the needs of the St. Louis community in a variety of ways, such as offering scholarships, providing volunteers to local charities, and turning to the community for new program ideas. The Master of Arts in Teaching Mathematics is one such example; the program began 50 years ago at the request of local leaders.

In 1963, superintendents from the Ladue, Parkway and Clayton school districts asked Webster College’s then Vice-President, Sister Jacqueline Grennan, to offer graduate programs in mathematics and science for elementary school teachers.  The superintendents said their teachers already had strong pedagogical skills, but lacked an adequate understanding of the mathematics and science content they taught. With the aid of a 1964 grant from the Ford Foundation, MAT programs in science and math were launched. The science program has been discontinued, but the math program is still part of Webster’s graduate offerings.

Andrea Rothbart has taught in the graduate math program for 44 years.

“Initially, the MAT programs were offered primarily during the summer.  Hundreds of teachers from around the country would come to Webster College to study math or science,” Rothbart said. “During a six week summer session, faculty and students interacted all day, Monday through Friday, through a variety of experiences in addition to courses; including interdisciplinary seminars, mini-courses, events called ‘common experiences,’ and even Friday evening entertainment which featured lectures from well-known educators, or shows we put on ourselves.  It required five summers of these intensive interactions to earn a master’s degree.”

Over the years, the math program evolved to focus on graduate level mathematics courses for practicing secondary and community college math teachers.  “The program has become an M.A. in Mathematics for Educators,” Rothbart said. “In addition to 6 week summer sessions, 16 week fall and spring courses have been designed to motivate teachers to deeply examine mathematical ideas.”

Craig Hannick teaches mathematics at Saint Louis University High School and has been an adjunct faculty member in this program for more than 20 years. He said Webster’s Mathematics for Educators degree is designed specifically to give students an intensive education in mathematics.

“The design of the program allows us to investigate the breadth of mathematics and the depth as well,” Hannick said. “This depth gives our students a firm foundation from which they return to their classrooms well prepared to teach the content found in high school and community college mathematics courses.”

For students, the longer courses and intense focus on mathematics are selling points for the program.

Susan Riegel, a math teacher at Webster Groves High School, graduated from the program in May.  “We covered a lot of material and eight weeks would have simply not been enough to explore a topic in depth,” she said.

Kurt Kleinberg also graduated from the program and teaches mathematics at Clayton High School. “I think the 16 week structure is necessary to digest the material appropriately,” he said.  He added that “the program is pure math and that although we occasionally talk about different teaching strategies and how to present lessons, the bulk of the program is about doing and experiencing math.”

Rothbart believes that this focus on mathematics is essential to Webster students’ success.Andrea Rothbart

“Teachers need a deep understanding and a personal perspective on whatever they are hoping to communicate.  Personality characteristics such as patience, empathy, humor and the ability to establish rapport with students are certainly helpful, but are far from sufficient.“

Rothbart added, “For a long time, Webster had the only graduate program in the country that offered mathematics courses designed for educators - elsewhere, teachers typically study methods and materials. However in recent years, with our nation’s keen awareness of how poorly most math teachers understand their subject, new graduate programs similar to ours have been cropping up.  Our program is rather ‘a poster child.’”

In recent years, school districts around the nation have increased their focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses and Rothbart believes programs like Webster's make a difference in the quality of the learning experiences of school children. 

“Occasionally we receive a letter from a school principal raving about their math teachers who graduated from our program.”

Kelli Roberts, who has two master’s degrees in Math for Educators from Webster, is a math teacher at Oakville High School and said that figuring out how to help struggling students is one of the most rewarding parts of her job.

“What I enjoy most is getting the chance to help my students excel at a subject that they’ve always hated,” she said. “Other math teachers told me how challenging yet enjoyable Webster’s program was.”  She added that by observing how her instructors taught and by thinking deeply about mathematics, she became able to create new ways to teach the material to her students so that they could finally understand it.

Rothbart noted that it is not uncommon for students who earn a master’s degree in Webster’s math program, to return for a second master’s degree with an emphasis in a different area of mathematics.  “It is about the greatest compliment to our program that I can imagine when students continue studying math with us, even after they have earned their degree.  We even attract community college teachers who already have a master’s degree in mathematics from another university, because of our reputation among area math teachers.”

Rothbart added, "I am so proud and feel so lucky to have been a part of this program. I know we have done well by our students and have made a difference."

To learn more about the Masters of Arts in Mathematics for Educators, click here.

In association with the Webster University Centennial, the School of Education faculty and staff invite you to a celebration of 50 years of graduate education programs at Webster University.

The event will be held Wednesday, Nov. 12, with a reception from 4:30-5:30 p.m. in the Webster Groves Room of Webster Hall. Following the reception, the celebration and presentation Beacons of Change: 50 Years of Educational Transformation will take place in the Winifred Moore Auditorium from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Webster alumni, students and faculty are encouraged to come and share their Webster experiences, through the decades. Centennial door prizes will be awarded for attendees.

You can register for the event here.