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Recently retired Cape Breton educator begins new career helping future teachers in the Maritimes

October 29, 2004



Margie MacNeil of Sydney, Nova Scotia meets with Don Raymond, UMFK registrar during a recent visit to campus. MacNeil will be starting her own home-based business to help prepare students for the PRAXIS.

When Margie MacNeil retired last June from her 35-year career as an educator in Sydney, Nova Scotia, she never imagined her desire to, in some way, remain active to help future teachers would lead to the start-up of a new, innovative home-based business.

However, with the encouragement of faculty in the education division at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, where more than 250 teacher certification students from Nova Scotia are currently enrolled, that is exactly the direction that MacNeil's life is taking.

In the coming weeks, MacNeil will be launching MacPeck, new private business venture that will provide a much needed tutoring service for Nova Scotians working toward their certification in places, such as Maine, where passing a standardized test is required before one can be certified as a professional teacher.

The PRAXIS exam is composed of reading, writing and mathematics components, and in the case of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, must be passed before students are allowed to begin the student teaching component, or final semester of the program.

The standardized test costs $130 (U.S. funds) to take the first time, and $30 (U.S. funds) for each component that needs to be re-taken, above and beyond a standard $40 registration fee.

"There is a definite need for this kind of service because PRAXIS and standardized testing is not something that most of our Canadian pre-service candidates are familiar with. If students have not passed their PRAXIS before they leave Fort Kent, they cannot apply for, and therefore not be placed in student teaching," said Dariel Jacobs, UMFK director of student teaching. "At UMFK, we believe that we should not give students false hope toward their certification. If they have not passed the PRAXIS, they cannot become certified."

Although she hadn't envisioned beginning her own business, MacNeil was determined to offer her assistance to future teachers, and more specifically those attending UMFK, the same school from which her daughter Alanna earned her teaching certificate four years ago.

MacNeil was also familiar with the Fort Kent university because she had, as guidance counselor at the elementary school in Sydney, Nova Scotia for the last decade, gotten to know and even had "taken under her wing", many practice teachers from UMFK.

"I wasn't interested in being retired full-time. I still feel an energy and I want to be involved, however, I didn't start out thinking about the idea of mentoring and working with practice teachers to specifically help them prepare for the PRAXIS," said MacNeil. "I originally spoke with Dariel (Jacobs) about being a supervisor for practice teachers. She came up with the idea of working with students to prepare them for the standardized test and invited me to visit Fort Kent to further explore the idea."

That visit to Fort Kent took place last month, when MacNeil met with faculty in the education division, as well as staff in the academic and counseling services, registrar, and admissions offices.

"Once our students are away from the university, there isn't an existing support system in place where they can seek help. With someone like Margie in the area to tutor them, they will have a better chance of gaining success and moving on to complete their student teaching," said Jacobs. "Before students come to UMFK they could meet with Margie and learn what is required to take the PRAXIS exams and successfully pass them."

As a result of discussions in Fort Kent with Jacobs, other members of the education faculty, and George Diaz, director of academic and counseling services and his staff, MacNeil is working toward establishing the new venture.

"I am excited about this new challenge. I love a new challenge. There is so much more these students need and I decided I would be the one to do it. I love working with young adults and furthermore, it is rewarding to know that I will be giving back to my community and my profession. I will be providing a service for students who want to become teachers," said MacNeil.

The retired educator does intend to work with each student who approaches her individually. The needs of the respective student will determine what area or areas MacNeil will concentrate her mentoring.

That is an approach which is supported by the education division at UMFK.

"What we are attempting to do is find a way to 'keep the faith'. As the director of student teaching and thus the 'gatekeeper' of the candidates' professional lives, I would like to work in such a fashion that preserves the spirit of teaching and learning, and find a way to make successes of very talented and capable pre-service teachers. It is my task to find a way to instruct them into the strategies of writing and passing standardized tests so that the real magic of the teaching and learning relationship can begin for our youth, the citizens and leaders of tomorrow," said Jacobs.