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First-year teachers at home in classroom
UMW's graduate program helps fill new-teacher ranks in local districts

 Childhood friends Nikki Martin (left) and Jessica Evans are first-year teachers in Spotsylvania County schools. They reunited at UMW's graduate teacher licensure program, which operates at the campus in Stafford County.
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Date published: 1/11/2013


Barbara Maher was in physics class at the U.S. Naval Academy three decades ago when the professor planted a seed for a second career.

"His goal was to help us understand why physics is really important," said Maher, who now lives in Stafford County. "I thought, I want to be like that guy some day."

Exactly 30 years after she became one of the earliest women to graduate from the academy, that seed bore fruit.

Maher, 53, is in her first year of teaching math at Stafford's Gayle Middle School after earning a master's degree at the University of Mary Washington.

Making math relevant to her students is Maher's strength, said Jane Huffman, associate professor in UMW's College of Education.

Maher, who spent five years in the Marines, began pursuing her long-dormant goal when her youngest child was in high school. She chose UMW's master's in education for initial teacher licensure program, joining others who are changing fields.

While the program was initially dominated by people already in the workforce, an increasing number of students are now enrolling right after college, Huffman said.

"I can't pinpoint the exact reason--maybe the difficulty in finding jobs and people say, 'I need to continue in school and broaden my options,'" Huffman said.

Regardless of background, their goal is the same.

"The majority of our students who come in every night are people who are passionate about children and about teaching," she said.


Stephanie Kinard and Nikki Denue met in high school when they worked at a pizza parlor in Spotsylvania County. After heading off to different colleges, they lost touch until about two years ago when they ran into each other at UMW's Stafford campus.

Kinard, who is now Stephanie Burchett, attended VCU after graduating from Spotsylvania High School in 2003. She earned a master's degree in criminology and was involved in special education law before deciding she'd rather be "on the other side" as a teacher.

Denue, who in October became Nikki Martin, studied political science at Virginia Tech after graduating from Courtland High in 2005. She spent a year interning with a government contractor before deciding she, too, was better suited for teaching.

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The University of Mary Washington's teacher licensure program has developed a pipeline into the local school districts with Spotsylvania and Stafford counties hiring the largest number of graduates.

Prince William County and Fredericksburg hire the second-largest number of newly trained teachers, said Jane Huffman, associate professor in UMW's College of Education.

The master's in education classes meet at UMW's graduate school campus off U.S. 17 in Stafford. Most classes are held evenings, Mondays through Thursdays, and the majority of students complete the program in two years, including one semester student teaching.

Students spend that semester in schools throughout the Fredericksburg region, providing local administrators a chance to see prospective employees at work.

UMW administrators meet regularly with local school superintendents on various topics. It provides a forum to discuss the effectiveness of teachers and job prospects.

Communication with local school districts should get even better now that UMW has hired a full-time director to oversee student teaching placements, Huffman said.

--Pamela Gould