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Maine college students getting paid to fill open teacher positions at schools statewide

Five of seven of the University of Maine System undergraduate schools offer the program.

BIDDEFORD, Maine — Maine's colleges and universities are chipping in to fill the dozens of vacant educator positions at districts across the state. 

Thomas College in Waterville is mobilizing its "pre-service" teachers: students majoring in education. 

Lewiston Public Schools and the Alfond Center for Workforce and Professional Development started the Educator Pathway Program.  

Now, five of seven of the University of Maine System undergraduate colleges offer a "resident teacher" program. It allows teachers to get paid and work in classrooms while completing their degrees for certification.

Nearly 40 college students are working in roughly 24 districts as part of the new Maine Teacher Residency Program this fall, with 70 more slots open next year.

The University of Southern Maine administers this program, but it is open to education students throughout the University of Maine System and to students from other Maine colleges, as well as to new teachers who are emergency or conditionally-certified.

The Maine Department of Education requires 15 weeks of student teaching as part of certification. This program fulfills that need and beyond. The year-long internship places college students in classrooms for about 35 hours a week, compared to 20 hours for unpaid student-teachers.

Lexi Howe, a 22-year-old senior elementary education major at USM, is working at Biddeford Primary School. The district uses the money it normally would have paid long-term substitutes to pay these student-teachers.

"There's a teacher shortage and it's definitely a barrier of entry for so many people to go a year of working — six months to a year of unpaid work is impossible for many people without going into extreme debt," Howe said. "If everyone was being paid, I think they'd find that there'd be way more people who are wanting to, and willing, and able to take the step to be a teacher."

Students in the program also receive $3,500 in tuition scholarship money.

In addition to money and hands-on learning in a classroom, students like Howe get guidance from veteran teachers, like Vicki Pineau, who has worked for the district for 28 years.

"Every day I see her learning new things, trying new things, correcting things that didn't work," Pineau said. "It's making me a better teacher having her here with me."

Biddeford is the pilot model, which started in 2019, according to Mandy Cyr, director of instruction and innovation for the district. She said the district hires a large percentage of students who go through this program.

"I think it's programs like this that help attract qualified folks and retain them, and that's what we want," Cyr said. "We were able to train them, then they're here — their first year of teaching is now a breeze because they've already done that. They've done it with all the support to be successful."

"It's kind of like a deep-dive into teaching. I'm just like, jumping right into it, which has been great because I don't want to sit back. I want to become the teacher that I want to be," Howe said.

The residency program is federally funded for two years. 

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