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January 31, 2022
By Sophia Lorusso (she/her), Junior English Major.
Pictured above: Michael Surgeon in his first classroom, featuring his Lady GaGa poster!
Recent SOU graduate with a BA in English, Michael Surgeon, has always had an immense passion for teaching. So, when he saw a job listing for a full-time seventh grade teacher at Scenic Middle School in Central Point, he jumped on the opportunity and it has since paid off. First-year MAT students typically don’t start student-teaching until their second year of the program. However, since Michael got this job on a restricted license, he is able to teach on an emergency license while attending SOU’s two-year MAT Program. He currently teaches five seventh-grade English Language Arts classes – totalling at around 137 students!
Sophia Lorusso: What obstacles have you had to overcome while teaching so far?
Michael Surgeon: Being a first-year teacher who had no previous experience student-teaching, gave me a lot of obstacles to overcome. I knew that I wanted to teach as soon as I could, and my dream was to teach at a middle school. I saw a job opening for a 7th grade Language Arts teacher at Scenic Middle School and seized the opportunity. I started teaching at the beginning of November 2021 and I’ve been with my students ever since. I would say my biggest obstacles have been this global pandemic and lesson-planning. My students must follow the mask mandate and it is my job to ensure that they are keeping each other safe and healthy. I did my part to get vaccinated and boosted, and I encourage every educator to do the same.
Lesson planning has been difficult because my students have gone through several English teachers with different styles of teaching. I have had to teach them my style and what to expect as a student in my class. The biggest change for my students was doing more collaborative work with each other, and not having to take quizzes or tests. I also do not assign any homework outside of class other than independent reading at home. My teaching pedagogy is built around American author and lecturer Alfie Kohn, who believes in progressive education and having a classroom community that is built around students’ interests.
SL: What kind of support is being offered to you?
MS: I have so much support as a new teacher: from my professors and fellow MAT students at SOU, my fellow teachers at Scenic, and from my friends and family. I have a mentor teacher who I meet with weekly for curriculum and lesson planning support. I have my core subject teachers (math, science, and social studies) that I meet with weekly to discuss how our students are doing in our classrooms. I am constantly emailing my SOU professors for advice on classroom management and how to teach certain units which they are more than happy to assist me with! I also talk to my fellow Scenic teachers for teaching advice, especially the ones who have been teaching for almost twenty years as they tend to have the best insight and humor. My parents and family have been so supportive of me, and they knew I would be a great teacher. Even days when I come home exhausted and emotionally drained, they are there to uplift my spirits and keep me going. I am also encouraged by my wonderful students and their desire to learn.
“…as a queer anti-racist and anti-sexist educator I can inspire and uplift all students to build a better world for themselves in a future post-pandemic society.”
— Michael Surgeon
SL: Has teaching while being in the MAT program bettered you as a student and vice versa?
MS: Absolutely! I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life as this job has been so rewarding to me. It’s made me a better student, a better teacher, and a better human being. It has taught me that as a queer anti-racist and anti-sexist educator I can inspire and uplift all students to build a better world for themselves in a future post-pandemic society. It’s also made me realize the importance of public schools and the need to combat misinformation. People should know that there are a lot of powerful, moneyed interests who have always hated public education and want schools closed. They don’t want students who can think for themselves, they want obedient workers who will not question their motives.
SL: Are there any specific SOU English classes that have helped you in your classroom? If so, which ones?
MS: Really all of them. I personally loved taking English classes that interested me. So, I took a lot of classes with Dr. Alvarez and Dr. Lundahl that examined issues such as race, gender, and sexuality through the texts that we read and analyzed in class. Dr. Alvarez’s James Baldwin Literature class is what inspired me to promote primarily the works of BIPOC authors in my classroom. Dr. Maltz’s Class, Culture, and Feminism in Victorian and Edwardian Britain class allowed me to read and appreciate the works of early feminist authors and it also made me a better writer. Dr. Maltz, I know that myself and my students will be forever grateful for your writing advice. During my undergrad, I took Dr. Lundahl’s Teaching Literature and Dr. Perrow’s Teaching Written Composition, which both prepared me for teaching Language Arts at the secondary level. Dr. Perrow and Dr. Lundahl were my biggest advocates in pursuing a career as a teacher, and I’m so glad I took their advice.
Pictured Above: Michael with another one of his favorite posters, of Malcom X.
SL: Do you have any advice for students who want to be teachers? What about students who may have to balance the MAT program alongside teaching?
MS: My best advice for students who want to be teachers is to get experience working with a teacher in a classroom with students first. See if you like it and visualize yourself teaching these kiddos. If you were like me as a student and often thought “I should be up there teaching” while your professor lectured to you then you probably will make a great teacher one day. I always thought I would end up teaching high school, but I taught summer school and worked as an Educational Assistant at a middle school and really enjoyed my time working with those students. Middle school is such an important time in a student’s life. It is a time when you are discovering who you are and who you want to be. This is also a time when students are facing the dreaded stages of puberty. I like to think of myself as “a bright light in dark times.” With humor and empathy, I encourage all my students to embrace the weirdness of growing up.
Balancing the MAT program alongside teaching is totally doable. Not only am I a full-time teacher and MAT student, but I am also a coach and club advisor at my middle school. If you love teaching you will have no problem succeeding as a student in the MAT program. You also have some wonderful professors who will always be there to cheer you on or get you through the term.
If the SOU MAT program is something that you’re interested in for the 2022-2023 academic year, the program is still accepting applications on a space-available basis. Contact Margaret Perrow or Merrilyne Lundahl for more information.
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