The ongoing teacher shortage has affected many primary schools across the country, with the number of teaching vacancies estimated in the tens of thousands. While the educational profession faces a crisis, however, a Minnesota Catholic school has launched a program to grow and stabilize its faculty.
For the last three years, Ascension Catholic School has been practicing what it calls “an alternative pathway to teaching.” According to local ABC outlet KSTP-TV, the program invites those without teaching credentials to begin their careers as educator assistants. Then, while they are already working in the field, they are encouraged to pursue a degree and the appropriate teaching license.
For Noah Emmes, who teaches gym at Ascension, the program was a breath of fresh air that gave him direction after a stint working at the local grocer. Emmes, 21, attended Ascension from pre-K until 8th grade and he told ABC that he’d loved his time growing up in the Catholic school, feeling that it was a “second home.”
Emmes has been working at Ascension since July 2023, and he explained that the variety of work keeps him active and fulfilled in his career:
“I could have kindergarten class, a third-grade class, then a sixth-grade class, and an eighth-grade class as well,” he explains. “It’s an important role you have to fill. These kids see you every day, especially if you’re a classroom teacher.”
Emmes said that he plans to enroll in a college where he can get a 2-year degree in order to secure his place on Ascension’s roster, noting that he “would love to be the gym teacher for a long time.”
This is exactly the kind of teacher that Principal Benito Matias had hoped to attract with the program: a local with strong ties to the school and a passion for teaching.
“He’s someone who wants to work hard, and he considers Ascension to be a second home. Those are the kind of folks we want to be with our scholars each and every day, someone who’s going to hold them accountable and love them,” Matias commented.
Matias noted that while the school still prefers teachers with certification, they are not at all opposed to a “home-grown” approach to raising competent and professional educators. At this time five of Ascension’s 30 teachers are part of the program, working on their credentials while gaining valuable experience in the classroom:
“That’s the goal, and we have folks who come on board who don’t. We help them work toward that education they need to obtain those licenses,” Matias explained.
While this program works a little better for private schools than public schools, due to stricter standards, Ascension’s model has shown to be effective. Furthermore, the support of fellow Catholic school teachers will help to mold the newbies into just what the religious-based institution needs.
Emmes could not talk more highly about the program, but cautioned those interested in the program that it is a pursuit that requires passion:
“Passion’s a big thing,” he says. “If you truly want to do this job, then I think you’re in the right place, regardless of whether you have that teacher license or not.”