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From “Normal School” to University



 Pictured above is a photograph take of the first graduating class from the
Westfield Normal School in Barre, Mass. in 1844
(Photo provided by Sydney Castonguay)


Teacher, by definition, is a person who passes on information or skills to another especially in a school. Becoming a teacher is a more difficult process than many understand. Teacher preparation programs like the one run at Westfield State University help prepare individuals for a job in the world of education. 

The department offers six degree programs: Early Childhood Education (PreK-2); Elementary Education (1-6); Special Education: Moderate Disabilities (5-12); Special Education: Moderate Disabilities (PreK-8); Vocational Technical Education; Middle School Education (5-8); and Secondary Education (8-12). With a dedicated facility of over 20 professors, the department continues to thrive and expand each year.

Westfield State University began as the Westfield Normal School in Barre, Mass. in 1844. There had been a push for all students in the country to attend public schools, thus increasing the need for qualified teachers.

The school was created based on Horace Mann’s ideal that “education would enhance economic opportunity, provide stability and create law and order,” states the Westfield State University Archives. Mann believed that we needed to educate teachers not only with content knowledge but also with the ability to understand how to work with children.

The program began with 20 students and has grown to include 616 undergraduate students and 106 graduate students at the present time. The success of the program is credited to the quality and resources provided by the education department to its students.

To become a teacher in the public school system in Mass., one must complete a teacher preparation program at an accredited university, receive endorsement for certification from the university, and pass the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensures (MTEL) that correspond to their field.

Westfield State’s education department has created a curriculum that supports the development of future teachers both academically and intellectually. Courses range from learning content material to class management strategies and techniques.

“I took the course ‘Students with Exceptional Learning Needs,’ and it helped me to realize I need to create a classroom atmosphere that will benefit all the students in my class,” shared Andrew Manchino, a junior secondary education major.

Additional courses give students experience with English language learners to encompass the various learners that will be in their future classrooms.

A unique aspect of Westfield’s teacher preparation program is the hours students spend in the classroom observing and teaching lessons prior to their full-time student teaching. On average, education majors will spend 90 hours in a classroom before they student teach. These hours provide real job experience for those interested in teaching. Teaching is something better learned through observation and practice than theoretically in a classroom.

“The local schools are so willing to take me in for observations. It’s really a community of teachers teaching the educators of tomorrow,” said Samantha Power, a junior secondary education major.

Students are placed in communities ranging as far north as Pittsfield and as far east as Palmer. The school has a designated Placement Coordinator, Robin Marion, to help students get into classrooms. In a survey of 62 WSU education majors, 26 have utilized these placement services. Students that know educators in the area are allowed to self-place, which gives them the opportunity to work comfortably with someone in the field.

Dr. David Raker and Dr. Nitza Hidalgo founded the Westfield Professional Development School (WPDS) network in 2001. It was founded on the belief that a “new and more collaborative relationship was needed in order to improve the work being done both at the college and in the elementary schools of the district,” reads the WPDS website. The program has benefited schools in the Westfield community as well as students at the university.

It works as a two-way program. It aims to help educators in schools improve their knowledge with the help of the university and to help university students get relevant experience in a classroom. This has helped improve teaching methods used in the schools by providing educators with professional development opportunities. The students get to work with highly-qualified professionals in order to enhance the quality of the education they are receiving at Westfield State.

Many students have attributed their success to the knowledge of their professors. All the professors in the department hold degrees in higher education relevant to the field of education.

“Some highlights of the program would probably be that some of the staff are really intelligent in their field and they are all able to offer me advice whether it’s about courses or the career itself,” said Melanie Walsh-Mager, a junior elementary education major.

(Photo provided by Sydney Castonguay)


As teacher candidates know, who you learn your information from and where they were educated is extremely important. One must have correlated knowledge of teaching that will benefit the state’s future teachers.

“The professors know the material and usually have a passion for what they teach,” explained a junior special education major.

The scholarships these professors possess have contributed to the continued high reputation that the education department holds in the eyes of the school community.

The MTELs are known for their difficulty, but that correlates to the high standard Massachusetts holds for its teachers. Westfield State offers numerous free preparation classes for students who will be taking the MTELs.

The mathematics department offers a five-week-long course in the fall and spring that reviews topics that will be on the various mathematics MTEL exams.

Katy Milford, Coordinator of Academic Skills and MTEL ComLit Preparation, offers numerous classes throughout both fall and spring semesters to help students study for the Communication and Literacy (ComLit) MTEL. Regardless of their specific major, all education students must pass the ComLit MTEL to receive teacher certification. If a student does not pass the exam on the first try, Milford offers courses specific to these students and focuses on the areas in which they struggled on the exam.

The Division of Graduate and Continuing Education (DGCE) also runs a ComLit preparation course that is open to the public for a fee. WSU runs these courses because it wants its students to succeed. It provides the opportunity for everyone to do well and achieve their goal of becoming a teacher.

Here at Westfield State, education majors have a second major in addition to education. The course program has been aligned nicely with a Liberal Studies degree which allow these majors to graduate in four years without taking an overwhelming amount of additional courses. Within the liberal studies major, students pick a specific area as a concentration. This can be any major or minor offered at the school.

Westfield recently introduced its reading concentration which provides future educators with a better foundation in linguistics and guided reading. These students take six additional courses that relate to reading such as ‘Reading in the Content Area’ or ‘Children’s Literature.’

“I chose reading as a concentration because I want to get my master’s [degree] in reading and become a reading specialist,” shared Molly McCue, a senior early childhood educator major.

“It has been beneficial because I have been able to participate in two internships in the reading program and have gotten a lot of experience that I can put on my résumé,” McCue added.

Reading specialists are common in elementary schools because that is when students are introduced to letter and word awareness. From the time a student is in kindergarten through fifth grade, they progress from reading basic sight words to chapter books. The guidance of teachers who have specialized skills in reading help students succeed in learning a skill necessary to make progress in their lives.

It is difficult for many education majors to study abroad or with National Student Exchange because course requirements are very specific and the Massachusetts Standards for Licensure Endorsement must be completed at the accredited university; however, the education department has created “J-term” courses, which are travel abroad courses that run over winter break and at the end of the spring semester. These courses are offered as education electives, and students receive college credit for them.

One program has students travel to Costa Rica and work in classrooms with students that do not speak English.

“It completely changed my view of education,” said Maddie Spillers, a junior special education major who went on the trip this past May.

This opportunity is considered once-in-a-lifetime and broadens students’ concepts of multicultural education.

It also helps students to understand the difference between America’s education system and other systems around the world.

Becoming a teacher is no easy task, but Westfield State has created a program to prepare their students for working as future teachers. The education department works hard to ensure that each student in the major is well prepared for the career they wll be entering. Unique opportunities including “J-term” courses, MTEL preparation classes, and a reading concentration have made Westfield State a well-known university for education majors.

As the program continues to grow and expand, it can only be expected that the program will continue to improve.

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