HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The following is a news released from The University of Southern Mississippi
In 1910, when the City of Hattiesburg was growing as a lumber and railroad town, Mississippi Normal College was founded on the western outskirts of town as a teacher-training college. Though the institution's name changed from Mississippi Normal College to State Teacher's College and later to Mississippi Southern College and finally in 1962 to The University of Southern Mississippi, its long-standing tradition of educating and training tomorrow's teachers continues today.
One needs to look no further for that example than the Department of English, which was recently awarded National Council of Teachers of Education (NCTE) certification.
The certification rewards the English department's licensure program with National Recognition without Conditions, the best grade obtainable, and allows the program to maintain the prestigious status for the next seven years. The program's success contributed to outstanding placement rates for graduating teachers.
Dr. Kate Cochran, director of the English Licensure Program, could not be more proud of the accomplishment. "It's very gratifying, because we've been working hard on the program, making sure the classes are as helpful and rigorous as they can be," Cochran said. "We've been trying to make sure our students have quality experiences in the classroom, the practicum class and the student teaching semester."
"We've had great success in our placement of students," Cochran said. "Even when our students graduate in December, they get a full-time job right off the bat. We're pleased at how prepared and how talented our majors and recent graduates are."
The demand for educators is projected to increase over the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor and Employment. With Southern Miss continuing to excel in its teaching programs, the University and its faculty are doing their part to provide the state with quality, local teachers.
"Most tend to stay in Mississippi, particularly south and central Mississippi," Cochran said. "That's great because we have these contacts in the schools who know us and know our program."
The program also pays itself forward. After developing skilled teachers and having most stay in the state, the department can reach out to former students to help inform current and future classes. "We know they are talented teachers. After a few years we may ask them to take on a student teacher or let us know what we could be doing better in order to help the local schools," Cochran said. "It works out really beautifully."
Southern Miss is the only university of the state's largest institutions of higher learning to offer the English secondary licensure program housed inside the English department. By offering the program inside the department, students gain increased appreciation for the discipline and have a greater grasp of the material.
"We find it very valuable for our students to see themselves as majoring in the actual discipline rather than in education and taking some classes in the discipline," Cochran said. "When our majors see themselves as scholars of English, they're transforming from students into teachers slowly, but surely. The direct instruction of education courses is also invaluable. They're learning what it might be like on the other side of the desk."
Students at the other two largest Mississippi universities receive degrees in education while taking additional courses in their respective English departments, as opposed to Southern Miss' approach of focusing on English and keeping it in-house.
"It's a wildly different experience here," Cochran said. "We try to encourage our students to learn as much about both as they can. We really feel as though our program is perhaps the strongest in the state. It certainly has the best placement rate. All of our recent graduates have expressed a feeling of gratitude and of confidence as a result of our program."
One recent graduate can attest to the program's success.
"Sometimes I get to know someone when they first come to Southern Miss either as a transfer student or a freshman, and I remember Lucy Matthews Hunt, who came here as a freshman. She was delightful and charming, but hadn't quite developed the maturity that one would hope for an underclassmen," Cochran said. "She was bright and talented, and I was her advisor throughout her entire four years."
"My experience in the English Licensure Program at Southern Miss was nothing short of wonderful," Hunt said. "I looked forward to walking into the Liberal Arts Building every day, not only because I had fantastic and knowledgeable professors, but because I knew I would learn something valuable."
By the time Hunt completed the English licensure program, she developed into one of the department's strongest majors. Hunt would eventually win the 2012 Mississippi Association of Colleges of Teacher Education Student Teacher of the Year Award.
After graduating in 2012, Hunt is now entering her fifth year in the Lamar County School District and stayed in South Mississippi like many other English licensure graduates before her. "This year is my fifth year to teach high school English, ninth, 10th and 12th grade dual enrollment," Hunt said. "Everything I learned in the English Licensure Program I've used and modified each year. My professors supported me, encouraged me, and provided me with all the tools needed to be a good teacher, and that speaks volumes."
Seeing students succeed during their academic careers and afterward going into their professional careers is the greatest reward for Cochran and the English department.
"Hunt is a wonderful teacher," Cochran said. "Being able to see that transformation over the course of four and now more years is really rewarding and shows us that we're on the right track in terms of how we've constructed this program."
The educational foundation upon which Southern Miss was built over 100 years ago is solid and it's clear that the Department of English is still building on that legacy today. For more information on this program, call 601.266.4320 or visit https://www.usm.edu/english.