A year ago, Niagara University’s highly accredited College of Education created a unique partnership with area school districts to meet their needs for a diverse pool of teachers committed to serving in their schools. Today, nearly 60 graduates of the One Year to a Teaching Career program are poised to take their place alongside the teaching faculty in those districts.

While addressing the impending teacher shortage in the partner districts was a focus of the program, aligning the diversity of the teacher candidates with the students they will serve was also a priority. The One Year to a Teaching Career program was successful in obtaining both goals—enrollment in the college nearly doubled, and the number of both African-American and Hispanic participants also increased.

“We have an incredibly diverse population of students and are especially mindful of how important it is for our students to have teachers and role models who share the same or similar racial and ethnic background,” said Maria Massaro, human resources administrator for the Niagara Falls School District. “We are appreciative of NU’s commitment to this goal and the recruitment efforts centered around attracting candidates with diverse backgrounds into the program.”

The partnerships provide the opportunity for teacher candidates to work as building-based substitute teachers, giving them additional classroom experience while being compensated for their time. These experiences supplement the teacher preparation program in multiple ways, including giving the candidates a school district orientation that enables them to learn about the policies, procedures, programs, and technologies of the district prior to entering the classroom. 

Joshua Montalbo says the ability to substitute teach was “a huge plus,” because it gave him a broader base of experience in the elementary school level.

“I experienced all grades K-6,” he said. “(It) challenged me to improve and reflect on classroom management strategies constantly, and gave me the ability to be a more active part of the school community than I would have with a typical placement where I only student taught.”

The program is designed so that individuals with a bachelor’s degree in virtually any field can fast-track a career in education. Its flexible schedule, with classes offered evenings, weekends, and online, and paid field experiences in partner schools make it especially attractive to adult learners who want to transition from their current careers. The program leads to New York state teacher certification at the elementary (grades preK-6) or secondary (grades 5-12) levels in English language arts, math, biology, chemistry, French, Spanish, social studies, or business and marketing after just three semesters of study.

“A one-year program is the most efficient and effective way for me to get my degree and begin my career,” said Taylor Aversa, who began the program just weeks after earning a BFA in drawing and painting. “While this program was tough and intense, it was extremely effective, and it gave me all of the experiences that I would need to become a teacher. I learned a lot and made connections with people and places to boost my development as a future teacher.”

Shaniqua Todd was a working mother of two with another child on the way when she applied for the One Year to a Teaching Career program. She said several components of the program compelled her to apply, including the fact she could earn a master’s degree in education in just one year, and that she would be paid for substitute teaching, enabling her to continue to provide for her children. Completing her degree through this program, she said, “would secure a career as well a better future for myself and my children. Participating in this program has helped me develop personally and professionally. I am grateful for the opportunities and experiences that I have had.”

“Shaniqua was a welcome addition to our Hyde Park staff,” said Gerald Orfano, principal of Hyde Park Elementary School. “Her relationship with teachers, students, and administration was excellent, and she was always willing to take on any challenge, assignment, and situation as needed. She worked hard to maintain relationships as well as building her knowledge of the curriculum at every grade level.

“The students (from Niagara University) are ready, willing, and able to take on the tasks that are assigned to them,” he continued. “The program benefits Hyde Park and the Niagara Falls City School District because while they are working in the building, the students are learning the curriculum, receiving professional development at every grade level, and acquiring experience that will be valuable in their future career. Our hope is that once the students complete the program, they make the decision to continue working at Hyde Park or the NFCSD and eventually receive a permanent teaching position with the school district.”

“The results of the pilot year of implementation suggest that innovative partnership programs, such as this one, can increase overall enrollment and influence the diversity of the candidates preparing to be teachers,” said Dr. Chandra Foote, dean of the university’s College of Education. “Students in our One Year to a Teaching Career program benefit from the college’s dedicated and highly experienced faculty, who lead the way in their teaching, research, and service in their profession while preparing the highest quality teachers.” 

A new group of aspiring educators will begin their One Year to a Teaching Career program at the end of May.

“I firmly believe the program is a win for all,” Massaro said. “There is a clear benefit for partnership students because they receive compensation, tuition reduction, and invaluable experience. For the district, in the face of a teacher shortage, we did not have substitutes to cover classes for teacher absences. More and more, we were required to ask teachers to cover classes and take additional students, or sacrifice important planning time. The program helps to alleviate this strain on our teachers, and the district has the opportunity to once again have substitutes in our schools who are able to become familiar with our teachers and students.”

“The One Year to a Teaching Career Program helps to benefit the school district, the university, and especially, the student/future teacher gaining valuable daily experience while continually building relationships with students and excellent teacher mentors,” said Orfano.

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