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State Department of Education Proposes New Pathway to Teaching

Maine Public
A first grade Spanish class in Portland

Maine's Department of Education has proposed new rules that would make it easier for some people to become teachers. Instead of having to take a teacher prep program through a college, they could qualify by having enough "related" work experience. Opponents, including some professors in Maine's teacher preparation programs, say the new proposed rules could bring under-prepared teachers into the classroom and eventually cost districts more money.

Most aspiring teachers in Maine need to pass a set number of courses related to education and a specific content area before they can become certified. But the Department of Education is floating a new pathway into the classroom that would require a bachelor's' degree, a few required education classes and at least eight years of "related" work experience.

The Department's Jaci Holmes said it could expand Maine's teaching force. Speaking in support at a legislative hearing on the rules Wednesday, Holmes said she had already heard from local officials who were excited about the change.

"Several commenters appreciated the new pathway, indicating that a passionate professional will engage students in the classroom and help them make connections to career opportunities," Holmes said.

But the proposed change hasn't gone over well with some educators. The state's teachers' union has spoken against it. Professors from Maine's teacher preparation programs also voiced their own concerns in front of the legislature's education committee.

"When you are unprepared, you don't stay," said Flynn Ross, a professor at the University of Southern Maine who has studied teacher certification and preparation. "It leads to the teacher attrition."

Ross told the committee yesterday that she understands Maine is suffering from a shortage of teachers. But Ross says this isn't the way to fix it. She says that when new teachers haven't had enough training or experience in the classroom, they often don't stick around for long. And that turnover winds up costing districts lots of money.

"We have seen this," Ross said. "There are schools with 50 to 60 percent annual teacher turnover rates. That undermines everything we are trying to do."

Anita Charles, a Bates College professor and member of the Teacher Education Alliance of Maine, told the committee that the proposal comes at a time when the Department is proposing more requirements on teachers who go the traditional, college route.

"And yet, simultaneously recommending that work experience alone can prepare to teachers to be teachers," she said. "Through an unregulated path to professional certification."

Some officials did voice support for a work-related pathway. Sen. Brian Langley, who taught at a career and technical education program in Ellsworth, says the new pathway could help people who have transitioned into teaching from another career.

College and university officials at Wednesday's hearing offered to work with the Department on alternative pathways. Kathy Yardley, the Dean of Education at the University of Maine at Farmington, said that there are strategies for training teachers quickly and also keeping them in the profession, such as teacher residency programs that combine education classes with intensive teaching experiences.

"Those residency programs, where there's a lot of feedback, and there's course continuation, those are really effective," Yardley told the committee. "So I do think there are possibilities."

The legislature's education committee will take up a work session on the new rules next week.

For disclosure the Maine Education Association represents most of the reporting staff at Maine Public Radio.

Education reporting on Maine Public Radio is supported by a grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.