Q&A with Master of Arts in Teaching Coordinator Dr. George Lipscomb
Education Professor Dr. George B. Lipscomb has been teaching at Furman since 2002. A former middle and high school social studies teacher, In addition to coordinating Furman’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, he also instructs elementary and secondary social studies methods, curriculum and technology, and geography courses.
First, tell us about your background and your role in Furman’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.
I was a history major as an undergraduate and decided very late in my career that I wanted to be a teacher. I ended up teaching middle and high school social studies for seven years. After that, I knew I wanted to be involved in higher education.
When I came to Furman, even though technically what I was hired for mostly was elementary social studies methods, I’ve been involved from the get go since I was here working with secondary majors. Mostly, I have been working with people who teach social studies, but I’ve also taught a critical issues course for the last 10 or 15 years.
Somewhere in the meantime, maybe seven or eight years ago, I became the head of our secondary program, which wasn’t until the last couple of years just for undergraduates. Along the way we started thinking about how we could get more people involved in our secondary program, and that’s where we started talking about the MAT. I was in a similar program at Wake Forest where I came back and got a degree after I had graduated.
Honestly it was hard because the first year of this program was 2020, which was right in the midst of COVID. We started with six and ended up with four in that first group. We had seven last year and six this year, but we are hoping to double.
Could you talk about your time teaching social studies for middle school and high school?
I was social studies certified. The funny thing is that when I actually taught, I had a history background as a history major, but I taught North Carolina history, government economics, and international relations geography. Then, when I moved to Florida, I taught government and economics too. So, I taught just about everything except for history.
As somebody with a social studies background, what made you decide to pursue a career in education?
I was in a bank interview my senior year at Davidson, and I was asked if I enjoy working with kids. That’s when I realized I did because I had been a camp counselor, and I played soccer too (in high school and in college) I was also asked if I had considered becoming a teacher, and I think it really just took me a while to say this is what I want to do, but it ultimately all came together for me and I decided to pursue becoming a teacher.
Throughout your career in education, what’s something you believe would benefit students considering the MAT program?
Right now, more than any other time, we need qualified teachers in the classroom. We’ve been very fortunate that the students that have come through the MAT have all been able to be placed. Even when I started teaching, it was not easy, but there are definitely a lot of challenges right now with the current state of the education field.
Knowing your subject matter for secondary teachers helps, but there’s just so many other details about pedagogy, relationships with students, and relationships with other teachers that are important. I have experience, which has helped, but I think a lot of it just depends on what background the students are coming from and what they are going to give up to be in the classroom.
What is the day to day student experience like in the MAT program?
It’s going to take some time for sure. We’ve tried as much as we can to give our students lots of experiences to ultimately become qualified teachers. We have what’s called a practicum, which students are doing in the fall. At the moment, they are in class two full days a week, and they will maintain this pace until around November. Then, they’ll be in class full time during that month so they can take responsibility where they can. In the spring, they’ll do full time student teaching, which they will do for about three months.
What advantages does Furman offer students compared to other schools?
One of the things that we have pushed for is we have tried to do as much face to face instruction as possible. Many similar types of programs do more virtual education. It has been hard during COVID for sure, but we’re trying to give them as many face to face experiences in the classroom as possible. Currently, the size is still small enough that we have pretty good relationships with the students and I think we are able to help them in lots of different ways.
I’m able to bring in a lot of my experiences, and we’ve been able to bring in alumni from the program. We’re currently talking about doing an introduction session for future MAT candidates next week. I think that the face to face experiences are doing to build the relationships within the program.
How do you think this student experience is improved by this program’s relationship to local school districts?
We’ve had a good relationship with Greenville County schools. Now, the challenge with Greenville is it’s a big county that works with lots of neighboring universities, but I think having a good relationship with the district is important, and we’ve had good relationships throughout. This has also translated well to the MAT, and even though it’s still new, things have been pretty positive as a whole with the district. Recently, a colleague informed me that elementary principals are reaching out about the leadership and the other skills that our students bring.
What the importance of mentorship in this program?
Mentorship comes in different ways. It comes from the folks in our department and there is a close relationship with Furman staff. Also, we refer to the teachers our MAT students are placed with “cooperating teachers,” and we do individual training with them. This is something we haven’t done until this year, but they have one placement for their practicum in the fall, and they’ll be in a different placement next spring. I think those kinds of relationships are huge just because those people are going to have to write them letters of recommendation, and that’s who they’re observing to see what’s happening in the classroom. That connection is definitely big and there are connections that they will make with the other teachers.
How does program leadership seek to place students in jobs after graduation?
While most of our MAT graduates have gotten jobs in the Greenville area, honestly, they can choose to go anywhere they want to be hired. We have found at least in the first couple years, though, that most of the students do want to stay in this area, so we have worked with the Malone Career Center to do resume building. Greenville county also does a big event in March called “Shining Stars,” which is like a career fair. Now, other districts around us have open houses and similar events, which we are considering doing in the future. Our students were usually hired by the time school ended in May, and I think having those connections to Greenville county especially is important and benefited our students greatly.
Learn more about the MAT at Furman
Furman is now accepting applications for those who wish to enroll in the MAT. For more information, visit our webpage.