UMaine earns grant to create rural teacher pathway program

The University of Maine’s College of Education and Human Development will look to establish an inclusive teacher pathway program serving rural schools and communities statewide thanks to a grant from the Rural Schools Collaborative (RSC). 

The $25,000 award is part of the collaborative’s Catalyst Initiative, which provides flexible planning funds to RSC hubs to design and implement teacher corps programs that help rural schools recruit, support and retain educators. The College of Education and Human Development is home to the RSC’s New England Rural Education Hub, a partnership working to advance preparation of rural teachers and school leaders throughout the region. 

Although UMaine’s program is still in the design phase, associate professor of educational leadership and RSC New England hub contact Catharine Biddle says one focus will be to promote inclusion, building on the university’s support for Wabanaki studies in Maine schools.

“We are really looking forward to using this grant to support our work to diversify the teacher workforce in Maine and to support the state in meeting its mandate to ensure that every student engages in Wabanaki studies as part of their K–12 education,” says Biddle, whose research and outreach includes work with educators from the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Mano en Mano, an organization based in Milbridge, Maine that helps farmworkers and their families with access to education, housing and other services.

The requirement that Maine schools teach Wabanaki history and culture is part of 2001 state law still widely referred to by its bill number, LD 291. In recent years, the College of Education and Human Development has launched other efforts to better prepare future teachers to meet the spirit of the law. That includes working with UMaine’s Native American Programs to offer a Teaching Wabanaki Studies course as part of the college’s initial teacher licensure programs, and requiring student teachers to complete the University of Maine System’s Dawnland micro-credential prior to graduation.

Supporting transportation for preservice teachers who want to work in rural schools could be another focus of the grant, says Tammy Mills, senior lecturer of education at UMaine, who will be involved in designing and implementing the teacher pathway program.

“Many of our students are interested in teaching in rural schools, but they can’t afford the gas to commute to their field placements. So, one idea we are exploring is using this grant to address that and make rural teaching more equitable and accessible,” Mills says. 

Biddle says they hope to have about 50 UMaine preservice teachers in rural field placements as part of the program when it launches next year.