Meet Katie, Emma and Jesse - three change agents in the power-packed 2017 cohort of our one year master’s program “180 Days in Springfield”

Katie Carman, teaching 7th grade science at STEM Middle Academy, Springfield
Emma Opitz, teaching high school biology at Putnam Vocational Technical Academy
Jesse Putnam, teaching English at Central High School, Springfield


Between classes on a late afternoon, Katie Carman, Jesse Putnam and Emma Opitz, all teaching interns in Springfield schools, stopped by Furcolo Hall to talk about education, their program of study and why urban classrooms are where they want to teach. In a rapid-fire, far-ranging conversation, we covered a lot of ground. Here is some of what they had to say.

Let’s get started. Why did you choose 180 Days in Springfield?

Katie: When I told everyone what I was looking for, they all said 180 Days is what I want. It’s intense but it brings you out with a lot of practice and experience you would not have gotten anywhere else. And your credentials afterward for working in an urban school make you a much better job candidate than graduates of other programs anywhere in Massachusetts.

Jesse: When I was thinking about where to go, I was looking for a teaching program that would get me into the field faster. At 29, I didn’t have time or funds to just be a student. So 180 Days not only gave me what I was looking for but I spoke to students who were in it and they all had jobs. It was promising on so many levels.

Emma: All my friends are 180 Day graduates! I applied because I wanted to be an inner city science teacher. I very intentionally wanted to work in urbans schools, wanted to do biology in diverse communities. I researched education programs and this is one of a very few from a highly accredited institution in which you can become a highly trained teacher in urban high schools and middle schools. While I know people who did the program - I’m marrying one soon - I didn’t apply because of the stats, which are very nice.  I applied because of the specificity of the program.

Why is it important to you to teach in urban schools and what is happening in classrooms now that is exciting to you?

Emma: I come from an international family so after coming to western Mass and living in Hampshire County for a while I moved to Holyoke in Hampden County and felt in my element again. There is food I grew up with there! Going into Holyoke was like being in my family culture so when I started thinking about teaching, I really wanted to stay in western Mass, because while I don’t appear to be a very diverse person, I am. So I feel far more at home in these spaces than other spaces. There is something interesting about being in a part of the state where the racial, cultural and demographic differences are immense.  I feel that to effectively teach here you have to understand what’s going on here. I wanted to learn how to teach here.

180 Days in Springfield
  • A one-year, 36-credit pathway to a master’s degree and teacher licensure at the middle or high school level.
  • Combines graduate coursework with full time teaching in urban schools in Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Began in 1995
  • More than 338 master’s degree-holding students graduated
  • More than 119 graduates still working in the Springfield school district

Katie: Growing up in a suburban area next to a city, it was interesting to see how schools treated multicultural education, which was: they didn’t. When I got to UMass – I was an education minor- I took education courses, which taught me to be more sensitive to those different from me, and  I realized how important that work was. 180 Days was attractive to me because it was going to throw me into something I felt uncomfortable with, something I’d never done before, and I needed to go into that uncomfortable position so that I could grow and learn something about myself. And these kids we’re teaching are amazing kids and they need amazing teachers and that's what this program prepares us to be.

Jesse: I feel like a lot of my reasons for wanting to be a teacher are platitudes. But they are still true. I want to make a difference. I know, I know. I told you, it’s going to be platitudinous. But, I wasn’t sure how to do that. The world is a big place and there’s a lot to do. I felt that one of the helpful and political acts I could do was to become a teacher. 180 Days is a challenge, it puts you in a position to be ready to teach in districts that seriously need good teachers. There’s that unfortunate reality that some districts, especially those in lower income areas, get the newer teachers and, yes, we are going to be those newer teachers, but we have a leg up...

Katie: If you don’t mind me interjecting... not only a leg up, but we have the crutch of this program. The faculty aren’t holding our hands, they aren’t carrying us.  But we are in our first year of teaching with several mentors. We’ve an amazing support system in the college. 

Jesse: Every professor is helpful. They are out there pushing us to think, learn, and work and at the same time you’re in the public school talking with classroom teachers, watching them, asking ‘Why did you do this, how do you do that?’ I’m shadowing English teachers, math and science teachers.

Emma: We’re learning to teach and doing co-teaching. Our clinical teaching starts in January or February. Then it’s ours. We take two-thirds of the classroom teacher’s course load.

Are you worried about that? Excited, nervous?

Katie: We have freedom to fail and learn from it.  A lot of teachers in their first year of teaching are responsible for student learning and if they’re not comfortable or haven’t tried something out yet, they could miss important content. Our mentor teachers can add something we might have missed. They are there for us. I already love the school I’m in and I’m trying to let them know I want to be here after I graduate.

Emma: This program is different. It acknowledges that it is intentional for the inner city. The faculty understand what we need to teach there. Working with people who get it is unbelievable. I think the people who choose this program understand the political nexus of education. When you create a highly educated group of people who have scientific and inquiry skills and deep knowledge of history and our place in society, when you create a group who have effectively been taught, you create people who have questions.  This program teaches you in a way that shows an understanding of what a difficult and important job we have as teachers. I looked at a lot of programs and there was a lot of placating. In this program I heard, “Let’s go, let’s talk. Let’s get real.”

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