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Olivia Hanning - Traveling to Albania to Teach English

Published on 3/3/2016 6:00:00 AM

Name: Olivia Hanning
Role: 7th Grade Geography Teacher at the Hammond School, S.C. / Peace Corps English Teacher in Albania
Graduating Degree Program: Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in Social Studies Education

What is your degree in from Pitt?
I completed Pitt’s Master in Arts of Teaching (MAT), focusing on social studies secondary education (grades 7-12). I also was an Urban Fellow and received additional training on urban education.

When did you graduate?
I graduated from Pitt in June 2014.  

Where have you been working since graduation?
I applied to high school social studies positions in North and South Carolina. I accepted my first job in a very rural district in Orangeburg County, S.C., at Orangeburg Consolidated School District 4, after receiving many offers. The principal had told me, 'If you can teach here, then you can teach anywhere,' and I found that to be an enticing offer. I taught 11th grade U.S. history for a year. In August 2015, I was hired to teach and develop the curriculum for 7th grade geography at a private independent school in Columbia, S.C.

Where did your initial interest in education come from?
In my undergraduate study at the University of California Berkeley, I majored in geography, which means I studied many things, including international development and cities. I volunteered with Somali refugees through the International Rescue Committee and tutored English to immigrants through a local YWCA. Education is often touted as “the great equalizer,” a claim which my extracurricular experiences supported. I wanted to pursue a formal graduate degree in education to learn more about teaching methodologies.

How was your experience at the School of Education?
I found the program to be challenging and rewarding. I feel the program prepared me for my first job very well.


What are your favorite aspects of Pitt?
I choose Pitt’s MAT program because of the year-long internship (and second placement site), the Urban Fellows Program, and their high ranking. I found the faculty to be incredibly knowledgeable, supportive, and highly invested in my success as a MAT candidate. The faculty were very dedicated, always responding to questions and honestly evaluating my performance and work. The internship gave me practical experience and training.

What was the best part of your degree program or the most challenging?
My internship at Carrick High School with Dr. Peter Bower was the most valuable experience of my training. I learned an incredible amount about teaching youth, managing a classroom, and designing curriculum. He was the best mentor teacher you could ask for. The students were my favorite part!

Are there moments where students or faculty helped you outside of class?
All the faculty were incredibly helpful. Professor Jesse Leins was incredibly supportive and worked with me outside of class. My supervisor and professor, Dr. Leigh Tanner, was incredibly thorough in her evaluations and also a tremendous resource of knowledge about teaching. Also, Andrea Zito worked very hard to place me with an ideal mentor teacher.

How did Pitt help you with teaching?
I think the intensity of the program due to its condensed nature replicated the stress of first year teaching well. Pitt provided both educational theory and opportunities to engage with them in classroom.

Did you feel ready to enter the field when you graduated?
The information and consultations I received from Andrea Zito and Kelly Wadsworth were integral to my success in the hiring process. I was very ready to enter the field.

Can you talk about the Peace Corps and your upcoming trip to Albania?
I applied to Peace Corps while living in a cotton field in Orangeburg, S.C., without internet access, a perpetually broken water well, and unreliable electricity. My Peace Corps recruiter said it was perfect preparation! I applied to work in the educational sector in any of the 63 countries Peace Corps serves. After over a year-long application process involving many interviews and medical checks, I was offered a position teaching English in Albania. I leave for Tirana on March 6, 2016. I will train for three months with all the other Peace Corps volunteers, and then will be placed somewhere in the country for 24 months. I will be working alongside an Albanian teacher as my primary project. I will be asked to create secondary projects such as securing grants, creating after-school programming, and developing summer camps. One of the qualifications Peace Corps wanted was a MAT or MEd degree. I couldn’t be happier to begin this journey that was heavily reliant on my Pitt experience!

To find out more information about the MAT program, view our video.


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