BOZEMAN — A new one-year, online master’s degree program in teaching that Montana State University expects to offer soon aims to provide more access to education and help solve a critical schoolteacher shortage in rural Montana.

Students from several grades learn together in the Bynum Elementary School in this archive photo from 2012. This K-8 school has an enrollment of approximately 25 students and is typical of many rural schools across Montana where one small school serves an entire county. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

The Montana Board of Public Education, which oversees public elementary and secondary schools in Montana, will vote on the proposed program in January. If approved, students who already have bachelor’s degrees may apply to the program in the spring for summer 2019 enrollment.

The new program, housed in the College of Education, Health and Human Development’s Department of Education, means that prospective teachers from across Montana – from Eureka to Wibaux and beyond – can earn a master’s degree in education and be eligible for initial teacher licensure in Montana. Students would come to Bozeman for a 10-day intensive introductory teaching academy in the summer and take 12 credits of graduate-level courses in each of three semesters: summer, fall and spring. All classes would take place completely online after the initial summer introductory session.

At the end of the year, after successful completion of the year’s coursework and field experience, students would earn a master’s degree and recommendation for a teaching license that would enable them to be eligible to teach either elementary grades or high school social studies, math, English or science. Prospective secondary teachers could also take additional summer classes to qualify for teaching dual enrollment classes, which offer high school students credit toward both high school graduation and a college degree.

“We have gotten lots of calls and emails about this program already,” said Tricia Seifert, head of the Department of Education. “There is lots of excitement. It just shows the demand for a program like this.”

Seifert said the department initially expects to attract 20 students per year to the program and will eventually accommodate 40 students per year.

Seifert emphasized that the program will be focused on graduate students in rural parts of the state, because that is where the need is greatest.

“Our intention is really to provide an opportunity for education for those who don’t have the capacity to come to our campus,” she said. “We have to meet the students where they are. This focus distinguishes this program from others.”

During the fall semester’s coursework, students would participate in an embedded practicum where students would work in classrooms in their local community.

“Students will really be practicing the methods they’re learning in their coursework,” Seifert said. “They’ll be asking questions like, ‘when I do this lab, how will students respond? How did my assessment of student learning match the instructional goals?’”

Then, in the spring, students will complete 14 weeks of student teaching.

Seifert noted that the new offering is an expansion of the department’s longstanding efforts to meet the needs of Montanans across the state.

In previous years, a program leading to secondary teacher licensure, known as Northern Plains Transition to Teaching, was offered online.

The new program expands on the work of that program by offering coursework leading to elementary teacher licensure in addition to secondary licensure.

And, faculty from across the education department, and even from some other university departments, have been developing the curriculum for the new program. The result is a program that is “deeply embedded” within the college and across the university, Seifert said.

“These faculty members have been utilizing professional resources and research to craft the most ideal learning space online,” she said. “We are really using those resources to guide all of the decisions.”

Alison Harmon, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Development, said the new program shows that the college can innovate to meet an urgent need for rural schools while also delivering an accredited curriculum that upholds high standards to prepare qualified educators.

“Improving access to this kind of program is part of our institutional mission,” she said.

Individuals who are interested in learning more about the program are invited to contact Seifert at 406-994-3127 or tricia.seifert@montana.edu.