Wichita State News
Photo: Shae West
Frances Johannsen discusses the book "Black Beauty" with her English class at Wichita Northeast Magnet High School.

Transition to Teaching turns students into teachers

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

With a bachelor’s degree and several years of corporate work experience, Frances Johannsen came to Wichita State University specifically for the Master’s of Fine Arts creative writing program. She found she enjoyed teaching far more.

“My incentives for coming to WSU were the English department,” Johannsen said, “and the offer of a (graduate teaching) assistantship.”

Johannsen said she enjoyed teaching English composition as a GTA. This led her to the Transition to Teaching program.

“I wanted to teach secondary education, but I wasn’t excited about the prospect of going back to school for another undergraduate degree,” she said. “The TTT program was a perfect fit.”

She investigated alternative certification programs, but WSU’s was the most attractive to her, mainly, she said, because of Judith Hayes, assistant professor and director of the TTT program.

“I spoke with representatives of other TTT programs and did not receive the same level of concern and service that I did from WSU and Dr. Hayes,” Johannsen said.

The program is an alternative system to train professionals with bachelor’s degrees seeking a career in teaching, Hayes said.

It allows students to teach through the use of a Kansas State Department of Education restricted license after completing three summer courses.

“The major advantage is immediate accessibility to the classroom,” Hayes said. “They also have an authentic laboratory.”

Employed students spend the next two years teaching on a restricted license.

“The TTT program teaches us the basic skills needed for classroom management, lesson planning and instruction,” Johannsen said.

The program is a “theory to practice” model. Hayes said candidates must have content expertise and real-world experience in their field prior to admission.

Johannsen teaches at Wichita Northeast Magnet High School teaching freshman and sophomore English, a requirement to continue in the program past the first semester.

She excelled in humanities and English in her past, and she is attracted to literature and creative writing. She said it was only natural for her to choose to teach English.

“Frances is an excellent student and an outstanding teacher,” Hayes said. “She entered the profession for all of the right reasons. She wants to make a difference in the life of her students, she loves her content area, and she is concerned about academic excellence and rigor for future generations.”

Before coming to WSU, Johannsen worked as a film editor in New York City, editing television commercials for national clients.

“After witnessing the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I took some time off to reassess my life and my goals,” she said. “If I was being really honest with myself, I could not continue on the track I was taking.”

She loved her former career but, instead of selling cell phones, coffee and cars to the masses, she chose to sell knowledge to teenagers.

“If I was going to sell something, I wanted to sell a product that wouldn’t become outdated, worn out or broken,” she said.

But Johannsen does not regret the time she spent in what she called “the real world.”

“I use that experience in my classroom,” she said, “and weave tales of workplace successes and woes into my lessons to hopefully demonstrate relevance between what my students are learning in my English class and their future success in their careers.”

By enrolling in the TTT program, Johannsen is able to teach full time and receive a salary and benefits.

“Living without a salary at this time in my life was not an option for me,” she said. “I could not afford the traditional route.”

Teaching full-time and carrying a full graduate course load takes up most of her time. Not only does she teach all day, prepare lesson plans, grade papers and take care of administrative paperwork, she must also take three to six graduate credit hours while she’s teaching.

“The TTT program requires a tremendous commitment of your time,” she said. “This does not leave much time for your personal life.”

When Johannsen does have time, she enjoys hiking, swimming and snowshoeing. Since moving to Kansas, she and her husband have purchased his grandfather’s homestead and are working to make ranching and farming a viable source of income.

“We’re still at the ‘let’s try not to lose too much money’ stage,” she said.

Johannsen is in her second year of the TTT program.

“If all goes well, I will be finished with the program and be well on my way to receiving my teaching certificate this May,” she said.

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