Fourth year we’ve produced a top pick.

Anna Elson, top, and Gaelan Johnson, below, were named 2015 top student teachers in New Jersey.
Anna Elson, top, and Gaelan Johnson, below, were named 2014 top student teachers in New Jersey.

Two outstanding student teachers from Drew created lessons for their students that incorporated everything from interviewing Iraqi War veterans to sharing the poetry of Chinese dissidents.

Anna Elson, an aspiring social studies teacher, and Gaelan Johnson, an aspiring English teacher, were the latest Drew Master of Arts in Teaching students to be honored by the state of New Jersey as Distinguished Student Teachers, an award given to only 15 people statewide each year.

“These awards, given by the N.J. State Department of Education and the New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, mark the fourth year in a row that students from Drew’s MAT program have been so honored,” says Robert Ready, dean of the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies. “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.”

Drew professors say they knew Elson and Johnson were outstanding when they saw them teach a lesson to their fellow graduate students. “[Johnson’s] got a great sense of humor and a great presence in the classroom,” says Education Professor Mary Brancaccio. “When she gets in front of a classroom, she has you on the edge of your seat.”

Education Professor Linda Swerdlow said Elson became an expert in Holocaust studies as a 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 says. “She’s really excellent with kids that age and makes information accessible.”

Johnson, 24, who graduated from Drew with a bachelor’s degree 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 says. “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, 22, said the state recognition is a huge honor and that Drew prepared her to teach global studies through lessons in content, pedagogy and teaching practices. She was hired over the summer to teach social studies at a middle school in South Orange. “At the end of the day it’s about the kids,” she says. “It’s about making them good citizens and educated people.”—Elizabeth Moore

Learn more about Drew’s MAT program at

MAT Program Awarded National Five-Year Accreditation

In May, a national education accreditation organization gave Drew’s MAT program a lengthy review and awarded it a five-year initial accreditation, which is the longest duration given by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) for newly accredited programs.

The accreditation from TEAC is the culmination of a three-year application process that evaluated everything from Drew’s MAT curriculum to the employment rate of its graduates.

Drew MAT students take an additional nine credits of intensive graduate-level study in their individual subject areas—something not required at other universities. That makes Drew’s future teachers more knowledgeable and better prepared than their peers, says Robert Ready, dean of the Caspersen School.

Drew currently offers an MAT 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. Starting this fall, undergraduate students can earn both a bachelor’s and MAT degree in five years. Students who enroll in the program take four graduate courses toward the MAT while still undergraduates.