USM and UMF receive grants to recruit educators, help alleviate Maine’s teacher shortage

Two University of Maine System schools, the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Farmington, are creating educator apprenticeship opportunities to help recruit, train and retain educators in Maine thanks to grants recently awarded by the Mills Administration

USM received $160,000 to start or expand Registered Teacher Apprenticeship Programs (RTAP), which allow school system employees to complete their degrees and teacher certification through a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. Partners with USM in this project are Southern Maine Community College, and school systems in Gorham, Westbrook and Calais, with additional involvement by other southern Maine schools. The state’s funding will support apprenticeship design and implementation, teacher apprentice tuition and expenses, and professional mentoring by current teachers. There are a number of ways to enter the program, including as a student or transfer student at USM or SMCC or as a school system employee. The funding will serve 36 apprentices through June 2025.  

“Because of that preparation and that job description and the mentoring they receive, they’re better at working with Maine students right then. And they will be more experienced when they start working as a professionally certified teacher,” said Dr. Walter Kimball, Education professor and chair of the Special Education department at USM. “The school district is actually getting a higher level of quality of the services they’re providing their students. That’s the bottom line.”

UMF’s Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education Programs will develop and implement a teacher apprenticeship program in collaboration with Promise Early Education Center- the Head Start Program for Androscoggin County.  

The $144,000, two-year grant awarded to Dr. Patty Williams, UMF professor of early childhood education, will assist UMF in developing and implementing the Teacher Apprenticeship Program in collaboration with Promise to train and certify future early childhood and early childhood special education professionals. RTAPs allow working adults to complete their degrees through a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. 

“Well-prepared early childhood educators play an essential part in Maine’s workforce. They provide working parents with quality childcare while enriching their young children’s educational and social experience. This two-year grant will enable Farmington to build on the strength of its Early Childhood Education programs, expand and diversify the early childhood workforce and develop new apprenticeship pathways for future teachers,” said Williams.

Farmington will also partner with the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children’s T.E.A.C.H. Program. This collaborative program offers scholarships and supports to enable early childhood professionals to thrive through career development opportunities, scholarships, and advocacy work. Grant funds will provide additional scholarships to support adult learners and employees of Promise in pursuing their bachelor’s degree in early childhood or early childhood special education. 

UMF and these community partners are all dedicated to supporting adult learners to achieve their career goals and obtain economic self-sufficiency. In addition, UMF’s Learn and Develop (LEAD) Program for Future Early Childhood Professionals hopes to expand and diversify the early childhood workforce so young children in Maine can be educated in classrooms where they can see themselves reflected in the language, culture and faces of their teachers.

USM’s and UMF’s apprenticeship grants are funded in part by Gov. Mills’ Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan and are part of a larger effort by the Mills Administration to connect employers with a skilled workforce and workers with career opportunities.  

The universities’ initiatives will partner with the Maine Department of Education, the Maine Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship Program, and educational programs and organizations in the State to provide individuals with  the professional preparation and support that will help them be successful as educators. 

Maine’s public universities are the state’s largest producer of classroom-ready teachers, having awarded nearly 4,000 education degrees or certificates in the past five years and launching innovative initiatives like these and the Maine Teacher Residency to collaboratively address the state’s educator workforce shortage. The educator preparation programs at UMF and USM, as well as at the University of Maine, are the only in the state to have achieved national accreditation. Seven of the past 10 Maine Teachers of the Year are proud UMS graduates including the 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year and USM alum, Joshua Chard.