Special education

The teacher shortage, especially in special education, is at crisis levels. This week, Maine was in the news with new initiatives from the University of Southern Maine (USM) that hope to help alleviate a problem so bad that a call to arms (headline: If you ever thought about teaching, Maine needs you. Now.), was just published in the Bangor Daily News.

The multi-layered program features a new bachelor of science special education degree (the school hasn’t had one for some 30 years) — a 39-credit major leading to certification to teach students with mild to moderate disabilities  — and a new apprenticeship program.

“We’ve got to do something about the shortage,” Rachel Brown-Chidsey, associate professor of Special Education at USM, tells The Boost. “Right now it’s all about increasing capacity to provide special education services. We’re really being very aggressive in trying to address the teacher shortages.”

The bachelor’s degree is geared toward those already working in schools, especially people working as special ed education technicians (or “ed tech” ), better known as “paraprofessionals” in much of the rest of the country. School districts, that want to encourage people already interested in teaching, are giving their ed techs “release time” from their jobs to do their student teaching requirements.

To make the degree as accessible as possible, classes are being taught online, and students can do their student-teaching internship while working in their current ed tech jobs.

“We need to be innovative and things like online instruction mean people don’t have to drive an hour to get to campus,” says Brown-Chidsey.

USM, in collaboration with Southern Maine Community College (SMCC), also offers an apprenticeship program, which Brown-Chidsey says “is the thing that’s most new about our program. It takes the idea of apprenticeship, which has been around for years, and brings it into education.”

How it works is SMCC students will work as apprentices in public schools, earning half of their credits in the classroom. Those credits will automatically enroll them, upon graduation, into the SMU bachelor’s degree in special ed.

The apprenticeship program is part of a recently announced initiative co-sponsored by the U.S. Education and Labor departments, and the Maine Education and Labor departments.

Because community college tuition currently is free in Maine, these students “are saving money while working towards their bachelor’s degree,” explains Brown-Chidsey.

“Teacher education in Maine has followed one specific model for a long time,” she adds, “and part of all this is rethinking the components and making them more accessible so people don’t have to quit their day job to go to school to be a teacher.”

Photo: Adam Winger via Unsplash

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