BOZEMAN, Mont. – Montana State University’s Center for Rural Education Research has received a $1.5 million grant to provide free mentorship to teachers who lack teaching preparation or license to help address Montana’s critical teacher shortage.
The two-year Advancing Support, Preparation, and Innovation in Rural Education (ASPIRE) project created the MentorMT initiative for teachers reassigned to different subjects or grade levels, under emergency clearance or provisional license, or simply ill-prepared while school districts are trying to make up for lost positions.
MentorMT program director and MSU professor Dr. Jennifer Luebeck said the biggest need they see and prioritize is for teachers in rural schools.
“Every semester I get phone calls from principals saying, ‘I don’t have a teacher now,’ and I’ll give you an example… In a small town in Montana last fall, there was no there was no math teacher, they used computer software to learn and they found someone who was willing to be a math teacher – she’s not trained to be a math teacher, she started in October and she’s entered our program, so she’s going to get support,” Dr. Luebeck said.
According to Project ASPIRE research, when rural school districts are unable to hire or retain a qualified, fully licensed teacher, the necessary alternative may be to reassign teachers outside of licensing areas.
Some rural school districts will go so far as to hire an adult from their local community who has content expertise but little or no formal preparation.
According to state data from Project ASPIRE, in the past three years, principals in Montana have hired nearly 400 people who did not have full teaching credentials.
The number of school emergency clearances for new teachers has increased from 171 in the 2020-21 school year – to now 259 so far in the 2021-22 school year.
The MentorsMT program can mentor up to 75 underprepared teachers through blended virtual and in-person formats, including those meeting an emergency need or those receiving provisional teacher licenses and working toward obtaining a full teaching license.
Anne Keith, MentorMT Outreach Specialist and retired teacher, said the program was individual and not assessment-based, with more emphasis on structured suggestions, content and teaching support to enable them to be flexible.
Recruitment and retention of teachers is critical in Montana. MSU-Bozeman has a solution: provide new teachers with master mentors in a supportive virtual relationship to help relieve stress! SIGN UP NOW and please share! https://t.co/GGLK5hRZcThttps://t.co/mrTTeQWL4b
—Anne Keith, NBCT (@MTTeacherCoach) January 24, 2022
Dr. Luebeck said the program seeks to address immediate hiring and retention issues in rural school districts, but the design should be a long-term help for rural schools and teachers after launching in April.
Program mentors will be matched with similar grade levels and subject areas of the teachers they assist.
Dr. Luebeck said there was an overwhelming response in just one week from more than a hundred teachers across the state who wanted to be mentors.
Currently, the program is looking for teachers who need help rather than mentors.
There is no cost to schools and principals/superintendents/administrators can discuss the program with their teachers and sign up until the end of February as mentees.
There are two documents attached to this web article along with links to apply, one for master/mentor teachers and one for new/”under-prepared” teachers to register as mentees.
The application for new/”under-prepared” teacher registration lists a Jan. 28 deadline for mentees, but Keith said mentees/new teachers can register until the end of February.
Mentoring applications have a strict deadline and will end on January 30 while training starts from February 21 to March 20.