Ohio Writing Project's graduate teaching program celebrates 15th graduating class

Written by Maia Anderson, CAS communications intern

enlarged photo of graduating teachersThe 15th graduating class of the Ohio Writing Project's Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, housed in Miami's Department of English, completed their degrees on July 21 at a ceremony held at the Farmer School of Business.

A site of the National Writing Project, started in 1974 in Berkeley, California, the Ohio Writing Project (OWP) offers a variety of programming for teachers as well as students, including workshops, a youth writing camp, and staff development in schools.

One of the ways the OWP supports teachers at Miami is through the 32-hour MAT program, which connects K-12 teachers and Miami faculty with the core goal of teachers being writers themselves. The MAT focuses on how to be a reflective teacher, putting into practice the theories and understandings of composition and literacy.

OWP co-director Beth Rimer joined the staff in 2002 and was part of the team that created the MAT. She explained that the goal was to fill a gap teachers are often left with when it comes to writing.

"We wanted the MAT to be super practical and have everything go right back to classrooms," said Rimer. "Teachers often leave undergrad without a really solid base of what it means to teach writing, so we made the program to ensure it was going to reflect and change practices in schools."

Teaching of Writing Workshop

The MAT, typically completed within the course of three summers and two school years, was designed to be accessible for teachers to be able to work in the classroom while simultaneously earning their degree.

Requirements of the degree include its foundation course, The Teaching of Writing, which takes place in Miami's Voice of America building in West Chester during the summer over the course of four 5-day weeks. The core goal of the class, and for the OWP as a whole, is for the teachers to know and experience the actual process of writing.

The workshop is taught by a university faculty member paired with a K-12 teacher who has previously completed the course.

"This goes along with the OWP's main philosophy of 'teachers teaching teachers,' said Rimer, who taught this year's class along with Stephenie Eriksson, a high school teacher in Blanchester.

"I'm always looking to be better in my practice," said Eriksson. "This has been the most powerful professional development I've done for myself and for my kids. Everything you do in an OWP workshop transfers to your classroom every single day."

MAT students, ranging from those who had just acquired their bachelor's degree to those who had been teaching for over 25 years, begin every morning with an hour of writing. They then share their work, present lessons that they had found successful in their classrooms, participate in peer groups and revision workshops, and much more.

Carrie Geers, an elementary school teacher for 18 years in Little Miami Local School District, completed the Teaching of Writing Workshop this summer.

"I just felt like it would be a practical way to get a redo and learn new things," said Geers. "I want to keep current on best practices and things to do with my students."

enlarged photo of teachers workingMAT student Alex Randall has been teaching for two years, at both Middletown Middle School and a program at Butler Tech.

"I wanted an opportunity to hone my skills in an environment with other teachers," he said. "That's really what the OWP specializes in."

After completing the class, both Geers and Randall say they have gained helpful skills going forward in their careers.

"The biggest takeaway I've had from the class has been seeing myself as a writer," said Geers. "If I can't get comfortable as a writer myself, how can I get my students to feel like they're writers too?"

Randall added that beyond honing his skills as a writer, he has also gained beneficial resources he can utilize throughout his time with MAT and beyond.

"I've really learned all of the many techniques you can use to establish a positive community of writers in the classroom," said Randall. "Only when you have a positive learning environment can you help your students to grow."

MAT Course Electives and Classroom Research

Besides the required workshop, the remaining hours of the MAT program are fulfilled by 15 hours of electives as well as classroom research. This year's electives included a class on poetry, the writer's notebook, reading strategy, and more.

enlarged photo of blackboard writings"The classes are designed to be flexible to allow teachers to complete them during the school year and summer," said Rimer. "They include a variety of online, on-campus, and hybrid courses."

Along with 32 hours of classes, teachers complete a year of research in their classrooms around an inquiry topic of their choosing, building pedagogy and understanding what it means to do research in a classroom. They are also guided in presenting their work at a conference. Several teachers have had their work published in national journals.

MAT student and recent graduate Meredith Parris recently finished her 6th year of teaching 8th graders at Troy Jr. High School. She started her journey with OWP by taking a Saturday workshop in her second year of teaching.

"I applied things I had learned from the workshop in my classroom that Monday and it worked really well," said Parris. "I was ready to get my masters then!"

According to Parris, the program's diversity of teachers and variety of viewpoints have greatly increased her knowledge.

"I feel like I've learned just as much from the kindergarten teachers as the other grades," she said. "Everything we do can be used in the classroom. It's all very applicable."

Following the completion of her MAT degree, Parris will be getting her intervention specialist license and a reading endorsement which certifies her to teach reading in grades K-12.

Heather Davis, another 2018 MAT graduate, is going into year eleven at Lakota East High School. She says she was attracted to the idea of 'teachers teaching teachers' and has been inspired to continue her research on teaching.

"My favorite aspect of the program has been the strategies that are applicable and the network of people," said Davis. "We're continuing to give each other resources and strategies."

Learn more about the Ohio Writing Project's Masters of Arts in Teaching Program.