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Alumni Spotlight: Aaron Lapkin- M.A. in Teaching

Furman Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) alumni and psychology teacher at Berea High School, Aaron Lapkin, sits with the Graduate Studies Department to discuss how Furman’s MAT program prepared him for his teaching career. 


Could you talk about your undergraduate and graduate experiences and what led you into a career in teaching?

This is my first year at Berea High School. Moving to Greenville is a long, long story, but, essentially, I was teaching overseas for a few years, and I had worked with kids my whole life from coaching tennis to taking kids biking across the United States after I graduated from college. I’ve always enjoyed working with children, and I knew it was something I wanted to do once I moved back to the United States.

I found Furman’s MAT program from a friend who was already taking classes in it. There was not a lot of information at the time, so I reached out to Furman a year before I applied. After taking the praxis exams and passing them, I applied and got accepted, and now I’m a high school psychology teacher. 


How do you think Furman’s MAT program benefited you for your career?

It’s beneficial that it is a small graduate program. It’s also in Greenville, and I did not want to leave Greenville; I love it here. Furman also has a great reputation. Plus, Dr. George Lipscomb is awesome and super helpful, and he is always there. There are connections with the Greenville County School District through the program as well.

One of the most beneficial aspects of the program is that someone from the district comes in to coach on the experience of an observation and how to pass it. We had to look at all of the standards and what we would be observed on. I felt I was well prepared for the paperwork and the behind the scenes elements it takes to become a teacher. 

The practicum allowed me to get most out of what it is actually like to be a teacher. I did this during my student teaching at Hillcrest High School last year. I was at a school everyday experiencing what it is like and teaching a class. Other first year teachers, here at Berea High, have been blown away by certain benefits Greenville County School District offers. So, if you want to be a teacher in Greenville County, the best way you can prepare yourself is by going to grad school in Greenville County, which would thus be the MAT program at Furman University.  


How would you describe your teaching style? How did Furman play a role in developing your strengths and approach to teaching?

You have to be yourself. I developed my teaching style during my student teaching. How I am in front of kids is different from how I am in front of my professors, Furman classmates, or colleagues. I like to keep low stakes in the classroom so the students are comfortable telling me about their problems. I think it is best to critique in private and praise in public, which has been my motto with teaching. I try to make myself available and nonjudgmental for my students, and I think they have a lot of trust in me. 


Is there something you learned at Furman that you apply to the classroom on a daily basis?

There’s a lot of things I apply to the classroom from Furman. The MAT program helped me learn to design my own lessons and develop my own units based on Greenville County standards. The program does a good job of replicating what it is like to be a teacher. 


What role did mentorship play during your graduate experience? And how has it benefited you for your career? 

You will have different mentors and you want to have different mentors in the district. It is important to not burn any bridges and be cordial with everyone. This is something I have practiced wherever I go. You also want to have mentors at the school in which you are student teaching. This is helpful because once you finally have interviews with different schools, you can reach out to your mentor to ask for advice regarding your job offers. It is also important to build connections with your MAT classmates, and build those connections early on by starting group chats and talking to each other about anything. Build your connections early. 


Is there anything you wish you’d done differently during grad school? And for those who are considering a career in teaching, what advice do you have for them?

Is there anything I would have done differently at Furman? No. Absolutely not. But when you’re a student teacher, think about what you like about your school and what you don’t like about it. Consider the student body size, the amount of teachers in your department, and how long have the teachers been in your department. Most importantly, think about who is going to have your back. The principal is going to have a million things going on, so you need to know who’s going to be overlooking your success and making sure you’re doing well. Also, think about how much faith you have in that person that they’re actually doing to look out for you. Consider other details too, such as whether or not the staff in your department eats together, whether or not the teachers around you are in the hallways, and how often the teachers in your department interact with each other.

When you graduate from Furman’s MAT program, you are going to have roughly three to four weeks where you have graduated early and Greenville County Schools will still be in session. So, if you want to work in the Greenville County School District, spend those weeks substitute teaching. I subbed at probably eight different high schools and that allowed me to see what high schools were like since my student teaching was only at one. Most likely, the people from the MAT program are going to be directly out of undergrad and have never taught in their life, so they’re going to think that the norms at their school for student teaching are the same for all high schools, which is absolutely not true. Every school is wildly different. The best advice I can give is to get as much exposure to different schools as possible during that month after you graduate. 


Do you want to become a teacher in South Carolina?

Furman University’s Master of Arts in Teaching program is equipped with the education, resources, and connections to make you an outstanding teacher in the state. Furman’s MAT program is now accepting applications for those who wish to enroll. For more information, click HERE.