U-M program helping solve state’s teacher shortage

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In Lizzie Lockwood’s fourth-grade class at Ada Vista Elementary School near Grand Rapids, a poster in the front of her classroom says, “Nunca dejes de aprender,” or “Never stop learning.”

Looking around the school, the walls are adorned with sentences in Spanish, such as “Esto somos nosotros,” “Somos una familia,” “Cree en ti mesmo,” or “Como te sientes?”

It is Lockwood’s first year as a teacher. A communication studies graduate from Western Michigan University, Lockwood began researching the possibility of diving into the education field without getting a new undergraduate degree. She then learned about the Michigan Alternate Route to Certification at the University of Michigan and decided to apply.

“M-ARC helped me open a door that I didn’t know could be unlocked since I studied communications and Spanish in college,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want to go back for another undergrad. This route for certification was exactly what I needed. I don’t think I could be in the classroom without it.”

Photo of Lizzie Lockwood working with students in her fourth-grade class at Ada Vista Elementary School
Lizzie Lockwood teaches in her fourth-grade class at Ada Vista Elementary School near Grand Rapids. She gained her teacher certification through the Michigan Alternate Route to Certification. (Photo by Jeremy Marble, Michigan News)

Six months after applying to the program, Lockwood got her own class in the same school she attended as a kid.

“I was one of the first classes to go through Spanish immersion,” she said. “And I’m the first alum to return and teach full time as a homeroom teacher in the program. It’s really exciting to be back teaching with my former teachers.”

Long-term guidance, fighting teacher shortage

M-ARC was designed for anyone with a bachelor’s degree interested in becoming a teacher in Michigan. Program participants work as certified teachers (with salary and benefits) for three years while enrolled in and supported by the program to earn their standard teaching certificates.

Watch a video about the M-ARC program.

Since 2010, the program has prepared hundreds of teachers. In the 2023-24 school year, M-ARC trained and supported 112 early-career teachers in 96 schools across Michigan. These schools are operated by 64 different public school districts, charter school organizations, and Catholic dioceses.

The program starts every February and includes training in core teaching practices, lesson planning, and trauma-informed and equity-centered education before candidates earn an interim teacher certification.

Candidates then teach in a summer school setting facilitated by a mentor teacher and take the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification. “That allows them to begin teaching that fall in a certified position in a Michigan school,” said M-ARC associate director Jean Mrachko.

For the past few years, enrollment in teacher-preparation programs has decreased nationwide, particularly in traditional university-based degree programs. In Michigan, the shortage has been more severe in less-resourced communities, such as rural areas.

Photo of M-ARC Associate Director Jean Mrachko working at her laptop
M-ARC Associate Director Jean Mrachko. (Photo by Jeremy Marble, Michigan News)

“M-ARC addresses the statewide teacher shortage in Michigan by opening access to teacher certification to people for whom it might not otherwise have been feasible,” Mrachko said. “These are people for whom time, money, location and professional obligations are barriers to participating in a traditional degree-granting certification program.

“We provide high-quality U-M-based teacher-preparation programs to people wherever they are in Michigan. And that is contributing to filling those gaps in our teaching profession.” 

In-depth conversations

David Jimenez teaches an advanced-placement seminar class to 10th-graders at Kelloggsville High School in Wyoming, Michigan, near Grand Rapids. It is Jimenez’ first year teaching after completing the M-ARC course. He was a fitness club owner and had to close his business during the pandemic. After a few months as a stay-at-home dad, he was invited to help out at his children’s school.

“I went into it initially thinking it would be part time,” he said. “Then the principal came to me one morning excited and said, ‘Hey, we just got approved to have a full-time building sub here. Do you want to do it?’ I went home, talked to my wife about it overnight, went back and accepted.”

Jimenez kept subbing, and day by day, he fell more in love with teaching and interacting with students.

Photo of David Jimenez leading a high school class
David Jimenez switched careers from owning a health club to teaching at Kelloggsville High School in Wyoming, Michigan, after earning his certification through M-ARC. (Photo by Jeremy Marble, Michigan News)

“I feel like many things have led me to ultimately being a teacher,” Jimenez said. “Like any other transition into something new, it’s been a little scary at times and I’ve had some self-doubt. But I’ve had a lot of support and encouragement from family, course colleagues and other people I worked with last year. Overall, I’m confident I made the right choice and I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing now.”

Being a teacher as a second career brought many advantages.

“As a previous business owner, I can’t help but view my students through the lens of being someone’s future employees,” Jimenez said. “I do tell them this is why this is important down the road. Paying attention in class, not only being here but being present.

“I’m setting them up so that when they leave here, they can think about the bigger picture and have opportunities beyond the AP Seminar in English. I decided to become a teacher to influence them, encourage and have some impact positively.”

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