Preparing Teachers and Leaders

A gift from career educators Bob and Sara Maxfield, ’63 ’64, is bolstering and helping to expand a core element of Albion College’s teacher-education program.

A gift from career educators Bob and Sara Maxfield, ’63 ’64, is bolstering and helping to expand a core element of Albion College’s teacher-education program.

January 3, 2020 | By Jake Weber

Bob and Sara Meriwether Maxfield got together more or less by accident. Sara needed to invite a football player to the annual Delta Gamma football banquet, and the first-year student knew only one—the sophomore who was made to sit next to her in their political science class. (Professor Darrell Pollard liked his students to sit in alphabetical order.)

“It was a date of convenience,” Sara says with a smile. “But the fact that we’re still together after almost 60 years, I think that’s a good sign.”

While their life together may have started without any big intentions, the Maxfields have a definite vision for the C. Robert, ’63, and Sara Maxfield, ’64 Endowed Teacher Enhancement Fund. The fund will support efforts in the Fritz Shurmur Center for Teacher Development and the College’s Department of Education to ensure that Albion students will have the engaging educational experiences needed to be transformative teachers and leaders.

Now in its 14th year, Albion’s Boundary Crossings spring-semester course is an innovative “win-win” for Albion junior-year education students and students throughout Marshall Public Schools (which includes Harrington Elementary and the Marshall Opportunity School, both in Albion). Under the watchful eye of a mentor teacher, student teachers take over a classroom in May, directing a large-scale project that is seen later in the month by hundreds of community members at the annual Showcase of Learning. The Showcase, held each year in the Science Complex atrium, culminates the course, which is commonly—and affectionately—known as Maymester.

The Maxfields attended the 2019 Showcase. “I loved it,” Sara says, adding she was especially intrigued by how Maymester’s creative, community-education focus gives student teachers a unique chance to grow. “Doing something outside their specialty—those student teachers are going to learn how education all falls together,” she explains. For example, “you might be interested in math, but also had a class in creative writing. Now it’s up to you to teach creative writing with your math background.”

‘A Great Source of Pride’

An elementary teacher for many years, Sara knows the value of teaching students how to create a month-long lesson plan, while giving them the opportunity to see if it really works. “You can have the most beautiful lesson plan and watch it fall flat,” she says. “Sometimes you have to know how to punt.”

Bob, who spent more than 40 years working in Michigan public schools and 10 more as professor and interim dean at Oakland University’s School of Education and Human Services, sees their gift as also important at a time when public education is under ever more scrutiny and the demands on teachers are greater than ever before. “I saw a recent survey where 75 percent of teachers didn’t want their children to go into teaching,” he says.

“Sara and Bob Maxfield’s gift is truly meaningful because it ensures opportunities for interdisciplinary, experiential learning both outside of school and inside classrooms,” says Kyle Shanton, professor of education and department chair. “This year, specifically, the Maxfields’ Endowed Teacher Enhancement Fund provided prospective teachers and their Marshall Public Schools’ mentor teachers and K-12 students funding for field trips to museums or nature centers, as well as for materials to design and enact investigations and projects. This remarkably generous gift will touch generations of learners and their families, mentor teachers in the Albion and Marshall communities, and Albion College alumni.”

The key, Bob says, is to provide teachers—and those preparing to be teachers—with thorough preparation to teach and to lead. “As a passionate advocate for teacher leadership, I believe that all teachers must see their role as extending beyond the classroom. They must become ambassadors for their schools and for their children, and we need to prepare them so they see themselves that way.”

“I think that after all these years, we still cherish our days at Albion in so many ways,” he continues. “I didn’t study education at Albion, but what I learned in classes such as Julian Rammelkamp’s history class helped me become a leader in education. The Albion faculty’s gift to us—a great education—allows us to provide support that will enhance Albion’s teacher preparation by supporting programs such as Maymester. For Sara and me, this is a great source of pride.”