FHSU University Relations
Extreme teacher shortages are hurting schools all across America. This alarming trend is especially acute in rural areas. Many professionals living in rural areas who already have a bachelor’s degree want to become teachers, but they can’t afford to leave home, work and family to complete the coursework required for the second bachelor’s degree that is the traditional pathway to becoming a teacher.
Fort Hays State University, a global leader in serving the non-traditional student, has a solution. The Master of Science in Education with a concentration in elementary education was approved this summer by the Kansas State Board of Education, and classes began this fall.
Anyone with a bachelor’s degree who wants to become an elementary school teacher can now do so without having to obtain a second bachelor’s degree.
“I have been contacted by a number of students who have graduated and want to come back, but they say ‘I have a family. I can’t quit my job,’ ” said Dr. Valerie Zelenka, associate professor of teacher education at Fort Hays State.
Zelenka, the program coordinator, also chaired the committee that developed and guided the program through the approval process.
“It is a cohort program because the students need to take the same courses in the same order. “Each semester builds on the previous semester’s work,” she said.
The program works this way: The students take 27 credit hours, including a semester of student teaching, over the course of two years. Program completers earn a license to teach in an elementary school. By completing an additional nine credit hours, they can go on to earn a Master of Science in Education.
The academic course work is online, and the first semester includes what is called a “clinical practicum,” in which the student is observed working with classes. This, said Zelenka, can be accomplished “with a couple of extended lunch breaks a week” over the course of the semester.
Fort Hays State University’s enrollment goal with this first cohort was 20 students.
“We have 33,” said Zelenka, “and we have another eight on the waiting list for spring.”
Speaking only a week into the semester, Zelenka said that potential students continue to contact the College of Education about the program, even though the outreach has so far been only by word of mouth. “We may double our numbers in the spring,” she said.
Like the Transition to Teaching (T2T) program for secondary school educators, the MSE-elementary education program provides a career change and/or enhancement option that allows the working professional to stay close to work and family while completing the coursework.
This is another example of Fort Hays State “reaching people where they are,” said Dr. Chris Jochum, professor of teacher education and chair of the department.
“This is a very significant development not only for FHSU but, more importantly, for the students, schools and communities that will be served,” he said.
Jochum provided statistics that illustrate the shortage of teachers. Between 2009 and 2014, 240,000 fewer students chose teacher education for their majors, a decrease of 35 percent. For the 2017-2018 school year, the K-12 teacher shortage was more than 100,000. In Kanas, in fall 2018, school started with 612 teacher positions unfilled.
The new program makes it possible for people who want to fill those positions to gain the credentials necessary to fill them effectively, and it will work across the country. Students from other states who complete the core 27 hours gain Kansas licensure, which is converted through reciprocal agreements into licensure in other states.
Jochum said the MSE is “actually more flexible than the T2T program, which requires students to (1) have a bachelor’s degree in the subject they wish to teach in high school, and (2) have secured a teaching job in a district willing to sponsor the student.”
In the MSE program, the student does not have to already be working in a school, but those who are, for instance as a para-professional, can, with the approval of their administrations, complete their observations and student teaching in that school,.
This degree also creates a new opportunity for current teachers who are not licensed for elementary education but who want to add elementary education to their existing license.
“If a high school history teacher wants to earn his or her elementary education license, then this program is a great option,” said Jochum. These people, too, will still have to complete the classroom observations and then go through a student teaching experience in a K-6 classroom.
Zelenka said she and her committee developed the proposal after talking to school district administrators, teachers and students. Members of the committee included Dr. Beth Walizer, professor of teacher education; Dr. Janet Stramel, associate professor of teacher education; and Dr. Kathleen Sanders, professor of advanced education programs.
“We have designed an exceptional program, and we’re really excited about it,” said Zelenka.