johnsonMadison, N.J.—Two student teachers from Drew University’s Master of Arts in Teaching program have been recognized by the New Jersey State Department of Education as Distinguished Student Teachers.

Only 15 student teachers across the state are given the award each year.

In late June, Anna Elson, 22, of West Hartford, Conn., an aspiring social studies teacher, and Gaelan Johnson, 24, of Long Valley, an aspiring English teacher, were honored by the state of New Jersey at a reception held at Rider University.

It is the fourth year in a row that a student teacher from Drew’s MAT program was chosen as a distinguished student teacher.

“For a small program in only its seventh year, this record of success is a truly remarkable accomplishment. It is particularly notable that the Drew program had two recipients out of the 15 awards given. It’s a record in which all Drew MAT graduates share, and it’s one that new applicants to the program will surely take into account as they consider their choices for graduate teacher-education programs,” said Robert Ready, dean of Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies.

Both Elson and Johnson were nominated for the distinction by their professors and mentor teachers. They both earned undergraduate degrees from Drew, and professors said they had a deep knowledge of their subject areas and used creative ways to engage their students – including interviewing Iraqi war veterans in the classroom or discussing the poetry of Chinese dissidents.

Education Professor Mary Brancaccio said she first saw Johnson’s teaching excellence when she practiced teaching her MAT colleagues. “She’s got a great sense of humor and a great presence in the classroom. When she gets in front of a classroom, she has you on the edge of your seat; we were all drawn in.”

Education Professor Linda Swerdlow said Elson became an expert in Holocaust studies as an Drew undergraduate majoring in history, something she brought to eighth graders in Florham Park, N.J., as a student teacher. “Her content knowledge was really outstanding,” Swerdlow said. “She’s really excellent with kids that age and makes information accessible.”

Johnson, whose undergraduate degree is in English and Spanish, spent a year substitute teaching before enrolling in the MAT program. When she began teaching students at West Morris [N.J.] Central High School, she said she knew she’d chosen the right career. “Literature encompasses the human experience,” Johnson said. “I knew this is it. This is where I was supposed to be.” She will continue at the school as a full-time teacher in the fall.

Elson said Drew’s MAT program prepared her to teach global studies through lessons in content, pedagogy and teaching practices. Elson, who is currently interviewing for jobs, said the state recognition is a huge honor. “At the end of the day it’s about the kids,” she said. “It’s about making them good citizens and educated people.”

Besides producing distinguished student teachers, Drew’s MAT program was awarded a five-year initial accreditation in May, which is the longest duration given by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) for newly accredited programs. The accreditation from TEAC, a national organization, is the culmination of a three-year application process that evaluated everything from Drew’s MAT curriculum to the hiring rate of its graduates.

Drew currently offers a Master of Arts in Teaching in 10 subject areas—biology, chemistry, English, French, Italian, mathematics, physics, social studies, Spanish and theatre arts—for students who want to teach at the secondary school level. Drew MAT students take an additional nine credits of intensive graduate-level study in their individual subject areas—something not required in other programs. That makes Drew’s future teachers more knowledgeable and better prepared than their peers, said Ready.