Last fall, Chloe Wade taught art under the supervision of an experienced teacher. This semester, she’s the one in charge.
“I’m having an amazing time being in my own classroom and getting to choose the lessons myself,” said Wade, whose students at Falmouth Elementary in Stafford are experimenting with tempera paint and watercolors.
A graduate student in University of Mary Washington’s College of Education (COE), Wade is participating in a paid internship program launched last year to address the critical teaching shortage in local schools. So far, it’s working – and so are the 20 Mary Washington students who have taken full-time teaching positions this spring in Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania. Gaining hands-on experience while earning a paycheck, completing final requirements for their master’s degrees and helping to fill a community need? That’s a plan that deserves an A+.
“This partnership is beneficial to the school divisions, apprentice teachers and most importantly, the students,” said Theresa Aberg, human resources supervisor for Stafford County Public Schools. The program developed from a conversation between her team and COE Director for Clinical Practice and Partnerships Kristina Peck.
“We brainstormed how we could best meet the needs of UMW students while helping local schools place qualified teachers in their classrooms,” said Peck, who worked with the districts to identify mid-year vacancies and graduate students who could fill them. A COE committee reviewed each applicant’s grades, recommendations and performance evaluations from student teaching experiences that took place in the fall.
Those selected interviewed for their positions and were placed in classrooms for the spring semester, receiving guidance from UMW faculty, school administrators and colleague mentors who work in their building. After graduating from Mary Washington, interns have the option of applying for a permanent position. Six of the eight students in last year’s pilot program ended up being hired by the same schools where they completed their internship, Peck said.
Fredericksburg City Public Schools Superintendent Marci Catlett is already a fan of the program, which helped her fill two vacancies this spring. “We look forward to continuing this valuable opportunity to collaborate with the College of Education,” she said. “I can’t say we’ve ever gone wrong with a UMW graduate.”
The initiative, said COE Dean Pete Kelly, has helped with retention of Mary Washington students, who in the past would sometimes take jobs instead of finishing their degrees. Completing requirements while gaining autonomous hands-on experience is a win-win for students like Wade, who filled a position that had been open for several months. “I think the program has helped me advance even more than my peers,” she said, “since I’ve taken on the role of being the only teacher in the classroom.”
Maggie McCotter ’20, who earned a master’s degree in elementary education last year after participating in the pilot program, said interning at Lee Hill Elementary in Spotsylvania gave her the confidence to approach administrators about a full-time job.
“They were all for it since they already had seen my skills leading my own classroom,” said McCotter, who now teaches fifth grade at the school. “The connections I made and the respect I gained as a result of the program were so important.”