After graduating from what is now the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design in the mid-1990s, Carrie St. John worked as a graphic designer in a small firm in Chicago for a few years.
Her first teaching experience came a few years later when she was a graduate student pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting at the University of Massachusetts.
- Michigan Alternate Route to Certification
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“After graduation, I taught a few classes before diving into the local public school system as support staff in 2011 and I loved it,” St. John said. “When I moved back to Michigan, I continued to work in public education as a Braille instructor and a reading interventionist for middle school.”
Last year, St. John decided to pursue a secondary English language arts certification in Michigan. She was looking for a program that would allow her to continue working full time while studying.
“After some research, the Michigan Alternate Route to Certification was at the top of my list,” she said. “Strengths of the program include the range of experiences in education and careers mixed with the variety of ages. I have gained so much from fellow participants. The program also offers continued support after participants are actively teaching.”
Since 2010, M-ARC has prepared teachers to develop high-quality, equitable and socially just educational opportunities for all students. The program merges the School of Education’s 100 years of experience preparing teachers using practice-based approaches with the flexibility alternative routes have to support educators learning as they teach.
In the 2022-23 school year, M-ARC is training and supporting 49 early-career teachers in 42 schools across southern Michigan.
“These teachers come from a variety of career backgrounds ranging from education to pharmacy to food service,” said M-ARC Associate Director Jean Mrachko. “In 2022, we expanded the existing M-ARC program to help alleviate the teacher shortage while ensuring the development of quality teachers.”
The participants engage in part-time online coursework from March-June, followed by an intensive summer practicum in July, working with children in an educational setting. These learning experiences, coupled with passing the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification, qualify candidates for Michigan interim teacher certification and allow them to enter the classroom as certified teachers in the fall.
“As a school leader working to hire caring and dedicated educators in a time when teacher shortages are pervasive, I appreciate what the M-ARC is doing,” said Nhu Do, principal at the Washtenaw International High School and Middle Academy. “The program makes the teacher certification process more accessible while maintaining relevant standards for those who are eager to make a positive difference in the lives of children.
“Many educators I have worked with in the program demonstrate the necessary skills, knowledge and mindset to be successful teachers. In addition, they bring valuable skills and experiences from a wide range of professions.”
M-ARC teacher Jesse Richmond moved to Ann Arbor about two years ago while finishing a master’s degree in electrical engineering remotely. He was considering switching fields and started picking up substitute shifts to try out a secondary education career.
“Flash forward a few months, and I was feeling more and more like I wanted to give full-time teaching a shot,” he said. “I looked at alternate certification options to see which fit me best. Finally, I went with M-ARC because it seemed cost-effective and matched what I wanted to get out of such a program.”
Richmond said he expected to hear a lot about lesson planning and “the nuts and bolts of running a classroom” but was surprised that the main focus has been making sure they are trauma-informed educators.
“I really appreciate this focus, especially because it has opened my eyes to issues that I wasn’t aware of then but feel strongly about now,” he said. “As it turns out, there are many ways that trauma can be perpetuated in classrooms, even if that wasn’t the teacher’s intention. I want to be aware of them to make my classroom a space where students feel comfortable and accepted.”
St. John added that staff and educators in the M-ARC program offer current resources and insights into teaching practices, besides answering every inquiry with thoughtful and relevant information to assist participants.
“The program offers continuing support from a range of educators and we can easily have a conversation with veteran educators and peers on planning and educational practices,” she said. “There is constant room for improvement on my end. I can always find ways to grow and develop my teaching practices. M-ARC offers that support through classroom observations and immediate feedback with suggestions.”
M-ARC is looking to expand its presence throughout the state of Michigan and is accepting applications through Feb. 1 for the incoming 2023 M-ARC cohort.
This sounds like a great program and I support it, but as far as the larger issue of teacher shortages—perhaps if we treated them and paid them like the professionals that they are, then more people would be interested in the field. It’s no surprise that there’s a teacher shortage when teachers are constantly targeted and blamed for societal issues out of their control, and then given a measly $35-$41k salary to start their careers. Perhaps we could start tackling those issues to address the teacher shortage too?