Summer school: Some teachers become students while school is out
GRAND FORKS—Mike Redlin needed only three words to recapture the attention of five energetic elementary students back to the task at hand: reading.
"Let's focus, guys," said Redlin, sitting at a U-shaped table with students seated in a half-circle around him in his classroom at Nelson J. Kelly Elementary School.
Like well-trained military recruits, the boys all bent over their books as they responded to his questions and word prompting.
Redlin, who recently finished his second year as a fifth-grade teacher at Kelly, is teaching summer school, boosting the reading skills of about 10 kids who will enter fifth and sixth grade this fall.
Although the regular school year has ended, Redlin and other teachers use the summer months to pursue continuing education, taking classes in person or online to earn credits to maintain their teaching licenses or to earn advanced degrees.
Redlin is pursuing a master's degree in education at the University of North Dakota. He started taking online courses last August in a program that typically takes two years to complete.
"I'm in my third of six semesters," he said.
At UND, the master's degree is manageable, he said. "It's definitely stressful at times, but the professors at UND do a pretty good job of laying out the full semester for you—dates when everything needs to be done."
It's helpful, too, that as an alumnus of the program, he's "developed a good relationship with a lot of the teachers," said Redlin.
The initial teaching license he received, after completing an undergraduate degree and passing the Praxis exam, qualified him to teach in North Dakota school for two years.
At the end of two years, he renewed his license and received a five-year license.
In the next five years, Redlin will have to earn six semester hours of continuing education credit to maintain the license, according to Mari Riehl, assistant director of the state's Education Standards and Practices Board which sets the requirements for re-licensure of North Dakota teachers.
After two years, a teacher can renew the license for five years if he or she "has been teaching and has 18 months of full-time contract teaching in North Dakota," she said.
To continue to maintain their licenses, North Dakota teachers need to earn six semester hours of credit in each five-year period of licensure, she said.
About seven years ago, that requirement was increased from four semester hours, Riehl said.
How teachers obtain those credits "really varies," she said. "It's up to the individual teacher. Some take book studies offered by their school districts. Or they attend conferences or take online courses. Some prefer to go in person to the classroom."
During the first two years of teaching, under license, the ESPB doesn't require teachers to obtain continuing education credits.
"We know that new teachers are going to be so busy, getting to know their classrooms, getting into teaching, and getting to know their students," Riehl said.
Teachers are not required to earn a master's degree, Redlin said, but he's noticed that "sometime in their career, teachers will get it."
Benefits to earning an advanced degree include, "No. 1, you're more qualified to move up in ranking, which means a pay increase," he said. "Any teacher would be lying if they say a pay change wasn't a factor in it.
"Also, if one teacher has a bachelor's degree and another has a master's degree, the one with the master's degree earns about $5,000 more (per year). Over time, that gap really widens out—especially after 15 or more years."
But, he said, "I and many other teachers didn't get into the profession for the money."
Additional education "makes you a better teacher, you get so much extra practice and you're getting ideas from other people," he said.
"A lot of new teachers are getting their master's, and are trying to get it early on instead of waiting a couple of years and going back for it," Redlin said. "I feel it's more common, maybe because I'm in a college town."
He decided to delay graduate studies for one year while he focused on becoming familiar with his role as a teacher.
"I wanted to wait a year because I've heard that the first year of teaching is pretty hectic," he said. "I wanted to see how much energy it would take."
In addition to attending classes or online education, teachers can earn PRISM credits provided by the Grand Forks school system.
"Those are more available to teachers," Redlin said. "The credits build up over time, and you can get a lane change."
A lane change, the part of the salary schedule which is based on continuing education, allows for a pay increase.
In retrospect, Redlin is happy with the timing of his decision to pursue an advanced degree after completing his first year of teaching.
"I'm happy I waited a year. I got experience and I knew what to expect going in."
"My advice to other teachers is, 'If you're thinking of getting your master's degree, I would encourage it,' " Redlin said. "Money may be an issue—that tuition can be tough to pay every couple months.
Time management is an important part of achieving that goal, he said. "You have to plan around everything else you've got going on."
"Get it done right away," he said. "If I had waited seven years down the road, I wouldn't want to go back to school."