For the March 2021 issue of the Attallah College Undergraduate Newsletter, we interviewed a current graduate student and recent alumna of Chapman’s accelerated, five-year MA in Curriculum and Instruction (MACI) program. Alina Bitter (BA in IES ’20 and MACI ’21) and Alyssa Kaplan (BA in IES ’19 and MACI ’20) share their favorite memories of the MACI program and their experiences with student teaching, preparing for graduate exams, and more.

Alina Bitter, IES '20 & MACI '21Alina Bitter

BA in IES (integrated Educational Studies) ’20
MACI ’21

What inspired you to go into the MACI program?
I was very excited about the rigor that this program offered! I liked the pacing of the program and the way they meshed the master’s requirements/courses along with undergrad coursework. It’s exciting to earn my master’s and credential in one extra year instead of two! I also loved the support of the faculty within MACI. I knew many of the professors from undergraduate courses, so I was looking forward to having them as professors for MACI as well.

What was your favorite MACI class?
I loved my MACI 311 class with Dr. Cathery Yeh! It was all about teaching math. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this class since I don’t typically enjoy math, but Dr. Yeh gave me a new perspective and appreciation for how to teach math in a way that emphasized how to get the answers rather than simply what the answers are. She taught us that everything we teach should be intentional, and that is a lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my career!

What advice would you have given yourself a year or so ago when entering the program?
I would have pushed myself to take more pictures and videos at my fieldwork sites (as permitted, of course!) because now that I’m getting ready to have my own classroom, I’m looking for tons of inspiration! I have some pictures of great ideas and setups that I liked from other classrooms that I observed in, but I definitely did not take as many photos as I should have.

Any study tips for CBEST, CSET, and RICA?
Do not procrastinate! I know everyone always says this, but it’s so true. Putting it off only adds to the stress of other classes and student teaching, so try to take your tests ASAP. Summers, interterm, and holiday breaks have been my ideal times to take these tests.

Personally, I found it better to take the CSETs (California Subject Exams for Teachers) separately instead of all three at the same time. There is just so much content to retain. For the RICA (Reading Instruction Competence Assessment), definitely focus on the case study, and allow tons of time to answer it.

READ MORE: All You Need to Know about the CBEST and CSET

During your time in residency, how has student teaching been going? What was your favorite part?
For the fall semester, I was student teaching in a kindergarten class and words truly can’t describe how much I loved it. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I loved the age group so much more than I thought I would. I realized how much I want to teach kindergarten, even though last year, I was very convinced that I liked second and third grade the most.

Student teaching during COVID has been an insane experience, but I’ve also learned and grown in a million different ways. My favorite part was definitely being part of the pioneering process of navigating distance/hybrid learning. My mentor teacher and I became very creative and innovative with how to teach during this odd time — especially since every day, we teach virtual students and in-person students at the same time! I am currently in a second/third grade combo class for the spring semester, and it’s off to a crazy start

Anything else you would like to share?
Student teaching is extremely challenging, yet extremely rewarding. It has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it’s also been one of the most amazing things. Lean on your peers in your cohort, reach out to your professors and faculty about anything you need, create a strong relationship with your mentor teacher, stay open-minded, drink lots of coffee, take naps whenever you can, and network and start building your teaching community. (“Teachergram” is a real thing! I’ve gotten so many ideas/support/tips/resources from teachers on Instagram. I literally made a teaching Instagram, and it’s been one of the coolest experiences.)

Trust your instincts. You will probably be thrown into many situations that you don’t feel 100% ready for, and that’s okay. You’re more prepared than you think. And even if you aren’t, you’ll learn from it, and that’s what student teaching is all about!

Alyssa Kaplan, IES '19 & MACI '20Alyssa Kaplan

BA in IES ’19
MACI ’20
Kindergarten teacher, Mariposa Elementary School

What inspired you to go into the MACI program?
As far back as I can remember, I have always dreamed of being a teacher. When I was looking at different collages, I was drawn to Chapman because of the MACI program. Having the opportunity to work towards my master’s degree and my credential at the same time was a no brainer!

What was your favorite MACI class?
This is a hard question! I would have to go with the math methods course with Dr. Cathery Yeh. I will never forget the first day when she told us that we were about to re-learn math and boy was she right! I learned so much in that class and went from being the person who “hated” math to the teacher that loves teaching it!

What advice would you have given yourself a year or so ago when entering the program?
I would have reminded myself that I was working to accomplish two major goals in one year. That this was a challenging task and therefore give myself grace! The program definitely becomes overwhelming at times as you are working on credential materials for the state as well as course materials toward your master’s degree. When you start to feel overwhelmed, consciously engage in positive self-talk to remind yourself all that you are doing at once.

Any study tips for CBEST, CSET, and RICA?
Start early, and space it out! These tests seem so overwhelming, especially if you are racing the clock to meet a deadline. Schedule your CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test) and other tests for earlier than you think is necessary and give yourself ample time to read and learn the materials so you are not studying under pressure. I would also recommend using more than one tool to help you study so that you are exposed to more information and practice test questions.

During your time in residency, how did student teaching go? What was your favorite part?
I loved the teaching residency. That truly was my favorite part of MACI. We have such a unique opportunity getting to be part of these classrooms for half a school year. You get the feeling of being a real co-teacher and experience the immense love and admiration that these kiddos have for you as their teacher. You get to be the reason that kids are excited to show up to school every day; you build authentic relationships and are a large part of their growth and success.

It’s crazy how attached you get, and you realize that saying goodbye is not easy. Foster relationships with your mentor teacher. There is so much to be learned from every single one, and if you are lucky, they will become friends, colleagues, and mentors for life!

Anything else you would like to share?
Finding a job is hard! Remain confident in all you know and have learned during MACI, and let that shine in your application materials and interviews. During your residency, find what makes you unique as an educator, what you are most passionate about within your classroom, and what helps you stand out from other teachers.