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Spring 2009

Header of Educational Enterprise & Opportunity


From Katmandu to Ekalaka

Shira Daryn loves to teach. She also loves living in Katmandu, Nepal. For the last three years, Daryn has been teach­ing chemistry, math, and life skills to stu­dents at Lincoln School, an independent pre-K12 American International School in Katmandu. With a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry and pharmacology and a Doctorate in physical chemistry from Oxford University in England, Daryn is highly knowledgeable in her field. However, one thing was missing. She did not have a teaching certificate.

 “Taking time off to do a teacher training course was not a finan­cially viable option, but I harbored this dream for a number of years,” said Daryn.

Then she heard about Montana State University’s Northern Plains Transition to Teaching (NPTT), a program that assists mid-career professionals who want to teach. Her school’s director, originally from Montana, recommended NPTT after he heard about the program from a director at another internation­al school, whose art teacher was enrolled in the program.

Photo of Daryn and her family in Nepal
Daryn and her family in Nepal.

Daryn found herself and her two young daughters living in Nepal when her husband Gil, a social anthropologist, accepted a job there. She began teaching at Lincoln School, which has over 300 students from 35 countries, and looking for a way to become a certified teacher.

“I chose the program because it was very con­venient. I could do it online, and it provided a solid curriculum and was financially manage­able,” Daryn noted. “So far, I have found the program to be challenging and interesting, and I particularly like the interactive nature of the discussion forums.”

Photo of Bhaktapur, Dipankara Buddha.
Festival in Nepal.

How It Began

In the early part of 2000, the College of Education, Health and Human Development began seeing a need to create an innovative way to increase the teaching workforce in the region.  Many current teachers were closing in on retirement or had left the profession to pursue more lucrative careers outside of education.  This would leave many districts, especially in rural areas, looking for ways to fill vacancies. Also, around this time, the college began hearing about professionals in communities who were interested in becoming teachers, but because of time and distance, these individuals were unable to re-enter college to obtain a teaching degree. In 2002, the college applied for a federal grant to create an online program that would deliver curriculum to place-bound mid-career professionals with a calling to teach. Northern Plains Transition to Teaching was created to help fill the void that was becoming an increasing problem for rural states. Today, Northern Plains Transition to Teaching is no longer federally funded but is a tuition-based, self-sustaining program through the Department of Education at MSU.

Montana State University seems to be filling the need for teachers with this highly popular program. Jamie O’Callaghan, Academic and Student Services Advisor for NPTT, says, “NPTT is extremely successful. For 2008-2009, the program has admitted 68 students, with over 15 applications in process for spring.”  In 2007-2008, 80 students were admitted to the program.

How It Works

When students enter the first year of the program, they take three gradu­ate level courses that focus on curriculum design, pedagogy, assessment, diversity, educational psychology, and classroom discipline. These online classes are taught by practicing teachers, Montana Office of Public Instruction administrators, and MSU faculty. After the first three classes, NPTT students can obtain a provisional license, which gives them the ability to get a teaching job.


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In the second year, students participate in an internship, which is at least a half-time contract teaching position in their field of study. Dr. Annette Carson, assistant director and internship advisor, supervises the interns in their teaching positions.

“Last year, we had 74 out of the 80 students enrolled in the program get teaching positions,” said Carson. “During the internship year, they have to find a mentor at their school and be evaluated twice by the school’s principal.”

They also continue taking coursework that enables them to finish the program. Additionally, at the end of the internship, they create a CD ROM portfolio with evidence that they have successfully completed their internship. And they must pass the Praxis II teaching exam.

For two additional courses, students can earn a Master’s in Education, which most students do.  These two courses include a comprehensive portfolio and an elective in their content area.

O’Callaghan says, “Students from around the world in places like Kat­mandu, Egypt, Thailand, and China are discovering NPTT. They often find out about the program by word of mouth from former students or are referred by principals and superintendents.  We even have a student in Mongolia.”

From Polson to Ekalaka

A November 2008 report by Montana’s Office of Public Instruction found that Montana faces a critical educator shortage in a number of fields, such as special education, math, science, music, and world languages.  In 2007-2008, Montana school districts reported 1,800 vacancies for all education fields and reported 506 vacancies in ten hard to fill areas.  Math had 71 vacancies with 56% of those “difficult or very hard to fill.” Science had 54 vacancies with 48% of those difficult or hard to fill.

Northern Plains Transition to Teaching is helping to fill those vacancies. This past year, NPTT placed 55 new teachers in schools in Montana, Wyoming, and South Da­kota. Six teachers are overseas, like Daryn, and nine are in other states. 

Bernie Luger currently interns at Polson High School teaching math, but spent the last 15 years working in the casino industry.  Luger graduated from the University of Houston in 1992 with majors in chemistry and math, and then continued his education at Stanford University.  However, when funding ran out on a grant, he was forced to look for work.  He began supporting himself by working in poker rooms in California casinos. Over the next 15 years, Luger and his wife, Nancy, opened new casinos and rehabilitated failing casinos on Indian reservations in California, South Dakota, and Montana.  Usually, they had one to two year contracts with Indian gaming. In 2005, they moved to Montana so Nancy could work on a doctorate in anthropology at the University of Montana.  Bernie worked for Black Jack Casino in Missoula as a poker room manager. As part of his job in casinos, he was responsible for training people to work the tables.  Photo of Bernie Luger teaching math.

“Many of these people were tribal kids coming right out of high school.  Some were even high school drop outs,” said Luger.  “I had to start training them with basic math and reading skills.  They weren’t prepared.”

Luger in his classroom at Polson High School.

The more he worked with young employees, the more he became interested in wanting to help them “be prepared for a better life and get to them before they dropped out.” He began to think teaching was the answer, so he called the Office of Public Instruction in Helena and was referred to Jamie O’Callaghan in NPTT.

“The program focuses on getting you started with in depth studies on what you need to know to be a teacher,” Luger said.  “The program also does an excellent job of helping you find an internship.”

On the other side of the state in Ekalaka, Mont., Linda Rost is also having a great experience as an intern teacher.  Rost is in her second year teaching science for grades eight to twelve at Carter County High School.  With a Bachelor of Science in Range Science from New Mexico State University, Rost spent most of her time doing field work and lab work in ecology.  When her husband, an MSU alumnus, decided to move back to Montana to work on a ranch 30 miles north Ekalaka, she decided to try her hand at teaching.  Two years ago, she started teaching without a license, hoping to get a provisional certificate. She turned to NPTT for help in obtaining certification.

Photo of a class picture of students in the Ekalaka Public Schools.
Linda Rost with her students in Ekalaka.

“When I began, I thought it would be a challenge to be online, but it’s really no problem,” Rost said.

Living in a most remote part of Montana, she found it easy to take classes online with wireless internet from home. 

Rost said, “I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned.  I’m extremely pleased with the program and so impressed with MSU.”

To date, NPTT has admitted 354 students, of which 178 are actively engaged in teaching activity—178 teachers who would not have been in classrooms without this unique online program—and filling a critical need for quality educators in the state and region. 

For more information about the NPTT program, go to:

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