When Brent Maddin, Ed.M.’07, Ed.D.’11, thought about his career path, he envisioned working on a faculty of education and eventually directing a teacher training program. What Maddin couldn’t have pictured was that before he graduated HGSE, he would have accomplished both of these things.
It was about three years into his doctoral studies when he was recruited by Norman Atkins, the founder of Uncommon Schools, and Dave Levin, cofounder of KIPP Schools, to move to New York to help start a new kind of teacher training program. That program is now known as the Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) -- an independent graduate school focused exclusively on teacher preparation and certification in New York City and Newark, N.J.
“It happened so quickly. Suddenly my 25-year plan was materializing overnight,” Maddin says.
RGSE is anything but traditional in its approach to teacher education, which is part of what really attracted Maddin, a former Teach For America (TFA) science teacher, to the school. As provost, Maddin oversees all curricular and instructional aspects of RSGE’s academic program, which includes an emphasis on concrete techniques and the use of video to share the leading practices of exemplary teachers. In addition, RGSE’s master’s program is the first ever to require its graduate students to demonstrate proficiency and student achievement while teaching full-time in their K–12 classrooms to earn a master of arts in teaching (M.A.T.) degree.
“I believe we are able to give teachers specific techniques, strategies, and assignments that demonstrate what we believe great teachers are doing already,” Maddin says, noting that at RGSE students are not asked to write papers on educational historians. Instead RGSE students use Flip-camera videos and record their effectiveness in classroom management or submit actual lesson plans. “We want to see what they just learned playing out in action,” he says.
The unique position of RGSE students – in that they have actual teaching jobs – also makes them accountable for students’ success. As Maddin explains, even reform-minded colleges and universities focused on teacher education have “student teaching” elements to programs, but he says, “It’s rare for a student teacher to be held responsible for a kid’s learning.” This is not the case at RGSE. As a graduate requirement, by the second year of the program RGSE teachers must demonstrate a year’s worth of student achievement growth in a year’s time.
Certification is also a large part of what sets RGSE apart. According to Maddin, among the 240 first-year students about 85 percent are brand new teachers. This is because the state of New York allows teachers to teach full-time without certification if they enroll in an alternative teaching program (ATP) where they earn both a teaching certification and a master’s degree.
Maddin first became interested in teacher preparation and certification during his time working at the TFA training institute. His experiences working in rural Louisiana as part of Teach For America with, at the time, no additional formal training also influenced his work. Following earning his own certification, Maddin left rural teaching and helped start I.D.E.A. College Prep – a public charter school based in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, dedicated to getting students into top colleges. By the second year, Maddin was eager to learn more about new teacher training development and accountability so he applied to the Ed School.
“Harvard was incredibly appealing to me because it allowed me to focus on exactly what I wanted to study. I’ve always been a person who tries to create my own education experiences. HGSE provided the right amount of flexibility,” he says. During his time at HGSE, Maddin learned a lot about research and encountered some of who he calls the “best thinkers.” Much of what he learned, he often uses daily considering his position requires him to review a lot of data and research. At the heart of what he does is trying to make teachers the best they can be.
“I’ve seen a lot of big picture policy and reform and think it’s really helpful, but at the end of the day a teacher walks into a room, closes a door, and teaches,” he says. “If I can make sure, or help to make sure, that what the teacher is doing on other side of that wall is best for kids then that’s where I think change is going to happen.”