Last spring, Landyn Bowers got three job offers to teach — one officially the same day she interviewed, two others from school leaders who wanted her if that first job fell through.
She hadn’t even graduated yet.
“It was a huge relief off my shoulders,” said Bowers ‘21, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and a K-8 teaching certificate last May. “My program had prepared me and I was reaping the rewards that I had put in all the hard work for.”
In USM’s teacher education programs, Bowers isn’t the exception — she’s the rule. The University’s education grads are increasingly sought after by Maine school systems that need well-trained teachers who can hit the ground running from their first day.
At the start of the school year, Flynn Ross, Associate Professor and Chair of Teacher Education at USM, was fielding multiple inquiries every day from schools looking for USM grads to hire.
“It has been insane in August and early September. Superintendents and principals are reaching out to me intensively,” Ross said.
USM provides several pathways for students who want to become teachers. One of the best known is the Extended Teacher Education Program, or ETEP, which offers a fast-track nine-month or flexible two-year class schedule for people who already have an undergraduate degree and are looking for a new career as a teacher.
“I used to say I converted a lawyer every year,” Ross said. “We’ve had CEOs and nurses and lawyers and architects. People from all different backgrounds.”
USM also offers traditional undergraduate degrees in Elementary Education, Art Education, and Music Education, teaching certification in a variety of secondary education content areas, and graduate degrees for initial teacher certification in Special Education and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
One thing that makes USM’s teacher education unique: Its full-year internship, which places student teachers in a classroom full time for up to a year. The unusual internship allows students to learn and practice real world skills — handling a classroom, dealing with behavioral issues, crafting lesson plans, engaging kids. In some cases, student teachers are responsible for their own classroom for all or part of that year with support from a mentor.
“I was full time in the classroom from day one (of the internship) teaching math and science, and I’m an English major, so there’s irony there,” Bowers said. “I got all the tools of classroom management that a traditional student teacher doesn’t really get the opportunity to develop.”
The intense internship also gives school systems a good sense of the student teacher. Would this person be a good fit long term?
“There was a lot of competition (for the job I wanted). . . I felt like I had an edge because it was like I had done a year-long audition,” said Tristin Thomsen ‘21, who interned with the Biddeford school system while in the ETEP program and is now a kindergarten teacher there.
It’s a year-long audition for the school system as well. In the midst of a teacher shortage, school leaders are anxious to fill openings, and the internship is a recruiting resource. This year’s intern could be next year’s new math teacher — especially if they had a good experience.
“They understand the environment that they’re getting into,” said Jeremy Ray, Superintendent for the Biddeford, Dayton and Saco school systems. “They have familiarity with the staff and administration, the programming, professional development, the community. So we know that for all the struggles a first year teacher can have, this helps break down a few walls for them and they have that greater experience.”
But whether they have a paid internship or not, USM’s education grads are virtually guaranteed a teaching job if they want one right now. Part of that is the teacher shortage, part of it is USM’s outstanding reputation when it comes to teacher education — a reputation bolstered by multiple Teacher of the Year winners, including this year’s winner for Androscoggin County, Jessica Harvey, who received her certification in 2015 as a Liberal Studies major and completed her master’s degree in 2018. Maine's latest Superintendent of the Year, Christopher Howell, is also an alum, graduating with his bachelor's degree in Biology in 1992 and his master's in Teaching and Learning in 1996.
“Our graduates have always always had a good hiring rate, but it’s insane right now,” Ross said.
Thomsen learned that first hand last spring when she started looking for a job.
“I didn’t have to fill out a ton of applications,” she said.
Ultimately, she applied to two, one public school and one private school. The private school offered her a job within days of her interview. The public school was right behind.
“They said ‘Look, we can’t officially say anything, but we want to tell you that if you want to take it we’re going to offer it to you. We know there are other positions you might be offered,” she said.
It was made official within a day or two, and Thomsen took the public school offer.
Bowers got three offers, two from schools in Biddeford and one from a school in Dayton. Two offers were unofficial — school leaders wanted to make sure she knew they wanted her if the first job offer didn’t pan out.
“I think USM has a good reputation with schools around here,” said Bowers, who now teaches sixth grade at Biddeford Middle School. “I know that we have several graduates of USM in this building. I know several on the fifth grade floor. . . we have two here in the sixth grade.”
But USM’s education grads don’t just feel wanted by schools; they feel ready to teach.
“I definitely think the program prepared me very well,” Thomsen said.