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Expanded U of M program seeks to bring career changers into education

Enrollment in such programs is growing, data shows
Posted at 5:45 AM, Aug 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-29 07:00:17-04

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — As Michigan students return to the classroom, districts around the state are still grappling with teacher vacancies.

A teacher shortage was a problem well before the pandemic, but COVID only made it worse as many teachers opted for early retirement or simply left the profession.

Districts that are very urban or very rural areas have tended to be hit the hardest, said Associate Dean at U of M's School of Education, Kendra Hearn.

“You’re seeing now sort of an apex, a conflation of a lot of problems that have been going on in the education field for a long time," Hearn said.

One approach to combat the problem has been offering different pipelines into teaching, including fast-tracked initial certification programs which allow teachers inside classrooms as they work toward full certification.

A recently expanded program through the University of Michigan's School of Education seeks to attract career changers into the teaching profession; people like Dave Adler.

He's one of 45 people to recently complete M-ARC's initial certification pathway.

The non-degree program is designed for people who already have a bachelor's degree and in many cases years or even decades of professional experience.

“It’s our hope to attract people who are either career changers or who have been working in education in non-teaching positions," said Hearn.

Dave Adler teaching in Ypsilanti Schools this summer

The program began with a Teach For America partnership in 2010, connecting participants to Detroit schools. Earlier this year M-ARC's expanded to schools outside the city.

Prior to this year, Dave was in a management position in the food service industry; overseeing large operations at college and universities both here in Michigan and out-of-state.

“I was like wow I’m 47. And the initial feeling was I’m stuck. This is just how it’s going to be for the rest of my life," he said.

He wanted more personal satisfaction and fulfillment from his work. It's a feeling he got while coaching his daughter's soccer team and helping to teach religion at his synagogue; so Dave started thinking seriously about a pivot to education.

Money was part of the conversation too, he said, going from a management role to that of a first-time educator.

"We had a family meeting," he told Action News, ultimately deciding that a career change was worth it.

Dave applied to M-ARC because he liked the flexibility it offered, and it came at a fraction of the cost of the traditional teaching certification route.

While participants are not able to receive their full teaching certification until they complete three years teaching under the M-ARC program, their initial certification allows them in the classroom in a matter of weeks instead of years.

Associate director Jean Mrachko said while the program is certainly fast-tracked, it is not cutting corners.

“We’re not sacrificing the integrity or quality or even the content of the training," she said. "What we’re doing is flipping the model.” 

Dave's journey began back in February with several weeks of high level instruction from U of M teacher educators. He then spent two weeks inside a classroom in Ypsilanti, and had to pass a state test before being granted his initial certification.

The program is designed to allow teachers to teach while they work towards full certification.

“In our current cohort we have people from a really wide variety of professional backgrounds," Mrachko explained. "We have someone who is a pharmacist, we have people from the food service industry, we have a couple of retired military officers.”

The idea is that participants learn and teach at the same time.

"We walk beside them into their first teaching job. We stay there with them for those three years," Mrachko said.

Alternate programs into teaching are not without skeptics, some who worry the training and timing is not thorough enough.

Hearn pointed to the requirements M-ARC participants must meet before they're able to teach, and the web of support they receive in their first three years.

“Traditionally in the preparation of teachers, folks are not allowed to sort of try or practice teach before they’re asked to make a commitment in a degree program. And for many people that is scary," she pointed out, making M-ARC an attractive option for people not willing to commit to a 4-year degree program.

Dave already knows some of his skills from his previous career will translate into the classroom.

"Really one of the biggest things is empathy and patience," he said.

M-ARC is one of 10 state approved alternate routes to teaching certification in Michigan. It's not designed to replace traditional certification paths but rather to open an additional pipeline for non-traditional teachers, like those entering the profession as a second career.

Latest data from the U.S. Department of Education shows enrollment in alternate certification routes through institutions of higher learning is on the rise in Michigan.

Enrollment in alternative IHE-based programs for teaching in our state was 198 during the 2017-2018 school year. That jumped to 308 in 2018-2019 school year and was 312 during the 2019-2020 academic year.

The Michigan Department of Education does not track preparation program enrollment data.

In terms of measuring success, Mrachko said there are numerous ways M-ARC does that including through progress reports from teacher educators and the school.

“We have field instructors who are basically one-on-one instructional coaches who are working with them in the field, in their classrooms, observing what they’re doing," she said.

M-ARC's retention rate is growing. It was 63 percent for the last 3 cohorts who completed the program between 2020-2022. That number is up from 57 percent.

It's an increase Mrachko hopes to see grow with this latest expansion.

Dave is now just a week away from his very first "first day."

“I’m excited and nervous at the same time," he said.