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Goucher Problem #∞ (Though, Not Only Goucher’s Fault)

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Upon putting together admission packets, scrolling through Goucher’s website and looking through courses offered, time and time again, Goucher seems to promote the Baltimore Student Exchange Program. For those who are not familiar with the exchange program, it is a way for students to take classes at outside universities if Goucher, or the other colleges part of the program, do not provide that class or language at the home institution. (And to be honest, that is a big reason Goucher appealed to me.)

Now comes into play why I have issues with our Baltimore Student Exchange Program. I wanted to take Chinese for my language requirement, a course no longer offered at Goucher, but I was not allowed to take it at a different institution. Goucher’s language requirement is three semesters for any language if they are to start as a beginner – and it is always best to start this requirement early, especially considering all of the other requirements we students now need to complete (cough, CPEs, cough). However, upon beginning the process of choosing classes, I came upon a roadblock. When I asked about taking Chinese at another institution, the answer I got was conflicting.

For starters, during the summer when Goucher hosted their YouTube live sessions for incoming freshman, I had asked: “How can I take Chinese at another school so I can fulfill my requirement?” And the answer I received was not encouraging and helpful, rather it was, in some ways, meant to deter me. The answer I got was along the lines of “Freshman are not allowed to study at a different institution because we want our freshman to become acquainted with our campus.” Now, the answer is a great one in theory. But the problem with it is simple, how much time would I honestly be spending at the other institution? I’d still be living at Goucher, taking three out of my four classes at Goucher, getting an on-campus job at Goucher, and spending most of my time here. So why was that the answer I got?

That aside, I decided to push ahead and see if I could take Chinese during my second semester. I started to research the system, came up with a class that had a boatload of empty seats and found one that worked great with my schedule. With everything researched I submitted my application and was pretty sure that I was going to be allowed to take the class. I mean the person running the program said in mundane terms, “You are most likely going to get in because it is a language requirement.” However almost half a month later right before finals were starting, I got an email telling me I was not accepted. The reason: there were not enough seats.

Now granted that part was not Goucher’s fault. Rather, it was the other institutions who claimed, when I called them, that there was no availability in the classes even though there was still a good deal more open seats (almost ten). However, with that said, there are still significant problems with Goucher and the inter-collegiate system.

If Goucher is going to be a part of and actively promote students’ abilities to study at partnering institutions, shouldn’t all students be allowed to take part? Goucher is at no point not benefiting if a student is only taking one course at a different institution. Moreover, even if they were not profiting, the pros far outweigh the cons. For us students, there would be more doors opened for educational opportunities, Goucher could be getting other students from those nearby institutions, and the students from Goucher would still be living and paying Goucher for their education due to them still being the home institution. However, if Goucher College is worried that allowing their students to study at colleges such as Towson University, Loyola Maryland or Johns Hopkins University would result in even more students transferring, well then, that is less a reflection of the program itself and more how Goucher deals with their academics.

High Number of Goucher Grads Teach for America

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Rae Walker ‘17 is is currently teaching at Dr. Carter G. Woodson Elementary/Middle School (PK-8th). Photo Credit: TFA Baltimore

This past year, Goucher was among the top colleges and universities to contribute new members to the Teach For America 2017 corps. With six alumni joining, Goucher contributed significantly to a nationwide network. This past year was also the first year that students were able to apply early to the program–during their junior year of college. Two Goucher students did so and were accepted.
Teach for America (TFA) is a national organization that certifies recent graduates and others without teaching certification to work as teachers in low-income communities. Applicants fill out an online application and complete a group interview online or in-person. Once accepted, applicants fill out a form with their location preferences from a list of 53 different regions across the nation. TFA teachers commit to teaching for at least two years as full-time salaried employees of the school in which they are placed.
As an organization, TFA focuses on understanding and combating educational inequity, an angle that tends to appeal to Goucher graduates. For Rae Walker (‘17) this was one of the reasons he decided to apply. “[As a public school student], the quality of your education literally depends on your zipcode,” Walker said in an interview. “In Parkville they have iPads while in Cherry Hill, we’re struggling for paper. And that’s needed for the curriculum, because they [the school] don’t buy textbooks.”
Walker graduated from Goucher as an English major with a concentration in creative writing. He knew he wanted to be a teacher, but he dropped his major in education because he believed that focusing on his content area (English) was more important than learning theory.
Walker is currently teaching special education at Dr. Carter G. Woodson Elementary Middle School (PK-8th) in Cherry Hill, Baltimore. He is also working on his Masters in Education at Johns Hopkins and is on track to receive a doctorate in five years.
Walker was drawn to the field of special education because of its relationship to inequity, and the situation that results from the over-diagnosing of students, particularly poor black students. “For gen-ed teachers, [labelling students with an IEP or Individualized Educational Program] is like code for ‘I don’t want to teach you, so I’m going to put you in another class,’ and this can happen as early as 1st grade,” said Walker. Once students are labeled as in need of special education, the effects of that label are difficult to reverse. For Walker, one of the important aspects of teaching special education is advocating for his students.
Teaching in low-income communities requires teachers to be very committed and invested in their students. Lila Stenson (‘17) appreciates the connections she’s been able to make with her students, “learning about their lives and telling them about mine.” Stenson graduated with a degree in Sociology and Spanish and is currently teaching 7th and 8th grade Spanish in Memphis, Tennessee. “It’s really fun to see [my students] grow and get excited when they can say new things in Spanish,” said Stenson.
Walker has also certainly become invested in his students. The Saturday after this interview, he was planning on taking one of his students to the movies because it was their birthday. “I’m a black male figure [in this student’s life], so we’re going to the movies,” Walker said. “On Friday, we’re going to celebrate with a cake.”
Because his special education classes are self-contained, Walker spends all day with the same nine students, who range from 5th grade to 8th grade. According to Walker, it is actually illegal to have over three grade levels together in the same class, but it often happens in Baltimore public schools because of understaffing. TFA works to combat understaffing in schools, but it is not enough. As Stenson states, TFA “really isn’t a long term solution to ending the problems in education.”

Goucher was among the top colleges and universities to contribute new members to the Teach For America 2017 corps. Photo Credit: Teach for America

Stenson became interested in education in part because of her experience working at a summer camp called Breakthrough Collaborative that works with students from under-resourced urban schools. Stenson’s experiences working in local schools through the Office of Community-Based Learning (CBL) added to this interest.
Walker also mentioned one of CBL’s programs, Middle School Mentoring, when talking about what influenced his decision to stay in Baltimore and teach. Both Stenson and Walker highlighted the way in which Goucher encourages students to engage with equity and social justice.
One thing that TFA corps members seem to have in common is their passion for what they do. “I think it is really cool to have a lot of new energy in the teaching field, as a lot of teachers who have been teaching for a while are burnt out,” Stenson wrote in an email interview.
However, because many of the applicants for TFA are young and inexperienced, they also face extra challenges. Stenson has twenty-seven students, which she said is actually a pretty small number compared to some of her coworkers’ classes. She is fortunate to teach a subject (Spanish) that is not tested at the state level, because it comes with more freedom. On the flip side, however, there is also no pre-prepared curriculum for her to use. “I did not major in education and while TFA does pack a lot into their summer training institute, you are still pretty unprepared for teaching everyday on your own. Classroom management and behavior issues are something that I struggle a lot with,” Stenson wrote.
Eliezer (EC) Cartagena (‘18), who did study education and was one of the juniors who applied early to TFA last year, critiqued this aspect of TFA. “TFA tries to train teachers in the summer, which is literally impossible. A lot of people will be woefully unprepared,” said Cartagena.
Cartagena also critiqued the fact that many people use TFA as “a stepping stone,” and move on to other careers. Cartagena emphasizes that students need consistency. “Two years seems like an injustice,” he said.
While many TFA alums move on to other careers, there are also TFA alums who stay in the world of education. As Walker points out, some of the biggest changemakers in Baltimore public schools, the principals of “turnaround schools,” are TFA alums. Cartagena hopes to stay in the school system for at least four years, while Walker sees himself continuing to teach ten years from now.
One of the incentives for applying to TFA are the benefits that come with the program. In addition to offering the opportunity to become certified to teach, TFA offers a summer training institute, an extensive alumni network, affinity group networks with other TFA members, mentor partnerships, and online location guides. TFA also has partnerships with graduate schools. Regional programs either require or encourage TFA corps members to work towards a Masters in Education. Fellowships and awards are also available to help teachers get a financial boost. For Stenson, who was moving to an entirely new city, she appreciated having the support network that came with TFA. “Memphis is a new home, so it is nice to have other people who are new and trying to explore the city as well,” she said.
TFA tries to draw a diverse group of members, and they advertised that their 2017 corps was more diverse than ever. Cartagena highlighted that TFA considers diversity factors besides race, like gender identity and sexual orientation. Walker also mentioned the diversity of educational backgrounds of corps members: “you’ll meet people from across the gamut, from Harvard, Stanford, from your local community college.”
However, despite their diversity of backgrounds, many teachers will face the same challenges. “Teachers are overworked and undervalued, and you need to be really dedicated, because financially you won’t get much from it,” said Cartagena. “Only apply if you’re really passionate about making change happen in school systems.”
Stenson emphasized the importance of flexibility and adaptability. “Things will not run smoothly, materials will not be available, school schedules and student behavior are always unpredictable,” she said. “A lot of this experience is just trying to roll with things.” Walker seconded this. “If administration emails me tonight and says, ‘we’re teaching in the dark tomorrow,’ then I’ll say, ‘okay, I’ll bring a flashlight,’” he said. Walker suggested that teachers should have a “growth mindset”–not just believing that their students can grow, but that, as teachers, they can, too. “You can’t enter the classroom thinking about what happened yesterday,” he said.
Overall, Goucher’s recent graduates who are members of the TFA corps seem proud of the work they’re doing. “It’s a noble profession,” said Walker.
For the 2018-2019 school year, there are a number of TFA application deadlines approaching, through March 2018. If you are interested in applying, Cartagena, who asked several people to look over his application, advises other students not to be afraid to ask for help. “People think that they have to do things on their own, but that’s not true,” he said.
For assistance with the application, students can also take advantage of on-campus resources like the Career Development Office.

Faculty Insider: Eric Singer, International Relations Department

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Olivia Baud, Staff Writer

February 15th, 2017

In the course of gossip and discussion on the Goucher campus, one question in particular is sure to surface: Who is Eric Singer? Professor Singer is a familiar figure of authority to most political and international relations (IR) scholars at Goucher. Yet he remains a figure shrouded in mystery even to his most admiring pupils.

Last semester, students enrolled in his International Scholars Program (ISP) took it upon themselves to learn more about him and delve into the internet treasure-trove; what they discovered only spurred more curiosity: “he was involved in the ownership group of Lear’s Princess [a racehorse] sold as a broodmare prospect for $2.7 million,” according to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. Students knew him for his original sense of humor, his love for complex vocabulary, and his brutally honest grading, but horses? Famous racehorses? 2.7 million dollars? Imaginations ran wild.

Prof. Singer has a simple explanation for these seemingly incredible circumstances. “A friend from Jersey took me to a racetrack near Ohio State and introduced me to the world of handicapping.” Singer was studying for his Ph.D. at Ohio State University at the time. “I was really drawn to the density of data that existed to determine who was going to win.” Horse-racing became his hobby. “Later in life, I figured maybe I would try owning a horse.” It was in this way that Prof. Singer became involved in a horse racing partnership and an ownership group of Lear’s Princess, a Grade 1 winner that they eventually sold at auction. He emphasizes that as a joint-owner he was only privy to a small share, and he does not own stables as students have so joyously imagined.

While Prof. Singer’s equestrian ties may have been over-embellished, his Goucher history is far from dull. He first entered into the Goucher community in 1986, when he followed up on an ad for an IR teaching position. “It was a replacement position, but the person I was replacing, unbeknownst to me, was a very popular professor,” he recalls amusingly. “So when I walked in, everyone who had signed up for the course was expecting her, not me.” Prof. Singer’s entry also happened to coincide with Goucher’s transition to co-education. “Everyone was disappointed that the first male students would soon be arriving.”

What had originally been a two-year contract turned into 30 years. During the Cold War, IR and Russian studies had been some of the most popular programs at Goucher as students hoped to obtain jobs in the NSA, DIA, and CIA as translators, researchers, etc.. However, following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, a self-study of the Area Studies program revealed that it was losing luster as it suffered reduced enrollments. As a result, a new major, International and Intercultural Studies (IIS), was formed with the intention of supplementing Area Studies. Rivalries between IIS and IR soon took root as each competed over similar subject matter and student interest.

Prof. Singer came up with a solution for these tensions. “When Sandy Ungar became president, I suggested to him to eliminate the IIS major and to introduce a program that all students interested in globalization could participate in.” In 2005, as the college introduced its study abroad requirement and entered “full internalization mode”, ISP was born. To this day, all incoming students are invited to apply. When asked about what aspects of the program he is most proud of, Prof. Singer is quick to mention the “students who put themselves out their way in an effort to develop a perspective on globalization. They ultimately define the path that they want to take”.

In addition to founding ISP, Prof. Singer has taught for the Goucher Prison Education Program. “What I appreciated most about [it] was that it was a reminder of why I went into teaching in the first place. These were people that may not have been given the best background to succeed. Working with them to help them succeed re-energized my commitment to teaching”

While Prof. Singer taught courses in politics in a men’s prison, the experience wasn’t just about the teaching for him. “It’s easy-particularly in a private, liberal arts college- not to think about what kind of students are walking into your classroom, what their experiences with different facets of society is. The Jessup Students come from different backgrounds than your typical liberal arts undergraduate. They had a perspective on politics that was much more nuanced and mature-in some ways- than students from Goucher’s campus. And in some ways they’ve lived a life that’s more political than the average student I’ve had on campus.”

Since teaching at the men’s prison, Prof. Singer continues to figure prominently in the Goucher community. He is currently the Associate Provost for External and Experiential Programs. And no, he is not responsible for the Maryland Horse Breeders Association’s move to the Goucher campus.

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