OXFORD – As an Educational Technician at Oxford Hills Middle School, John Bolduc provides one-on-one support to students and teachers in the classroom every day. Outside of school hours, he works towards becoming a teacher.
It’s not easy going back to school at the age of 29. Bolduc has a wife, life, and long-term student loans from his college degree to manage. But a new pilot program led by faculty at the University of Southern Maine is making it a little easier for some like Bolduc to earn their teaching certification.
The new Maine Teacher Residency Program provides financial and educational support to student teachers across the state, while also helping to fill critical staffing shortages in Maine schools. These participants work full time as educational technicians, long-term substitutes or certified emergency/conditional teachers within the program, while they take classes towards their degree.
Student teachers in the residency program are salaried employees of the school district, who additionally receive compensation or an annual stipend of $3,500 under the program.
“I’ve been through a lot of those cycles of being like, reframing what I want to do,” Bolduc said. “And I’m really confident that teaching is something I want to do… I was a little skeptical, but I actually have a job where I work with middle school students, and I can actively see some of them convert and learn… It’s really helpful.”
In its first year, the federally funded program has 40 participants in more than 20 school districts, including Lewiston schools, Turner-based Maine School District 52 and Regional Education Unit 10 in Romford. .
Each participant is matched with a mentor, who also receives a salary for their efforts.
“It was a completely different school year for me, having a student teacher in the room,” said Dylan LeConte, Bolduc’s teacher. “This is the best difference — like, the best — because I think having an extra hand is guaranteed for someone who really wants to get their hands dirty . . . I couldn’t ask for more. It’s really the biggest support I’ve had in any classroom.”
LeConte graduated from the same master’s program that Bolduc attended. Just over six years ago, LeConte recalls teaching students for an entire year as part of a certification program without any financial aid.
He said that student teachers in the new residency program being able to receive compensation or a stipend — $3,500 a year — on top of their salaries from the school is a huge advantage. The Individualized Counseling Program also allows student teachers to develop key skills that emergency certification teachers with little experience may lack, such as behavioral management.
According to a prepared statement from the USM, the program’s goal is to “address the teacher shortage in Maine in the short term by filling needed teacher positions with student teachers and supporting teachers who are not yet certified. It hopes to address the shortage in the long term by providing aspiring teachers with the support and training they need.” to be successful teachers.
Bolduc said LeConte helped him become a better teacher by learning from his experience. Most days, LeConte teaches the English lesson in block two, then swaps with Bolduc in block 4 to allow him to give the same lesson.
“Having the support system there is huge,” he said. “If I’m on my own just trying to figure out how to teach and watching it, I’ll probably get burned out after two or three years.”
Most residency program participants are students of education at schools affiliated with the University of Maine, but the program is open to all undergraduate and graduate students in Maine.
When Bolduc was considering returning to school to teach, he was afraid of taking on more debt. In addition to his full-time middle school job, he also works shifts as an emergency dispatcher to make ends meet. However, he eventually chose to pursue an associate degree in teaching.
“I felt like I would be in a situation where it was worth carrying that burden, you know?” He said. “But knowing that some of that is going to be mitigated is huge.”
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