Monday, September 26, 2022

Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program Turns 10

By Edwin B. Smith

University of Mississippi

The latest cohort of students in the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program at the University of Mississippi works on a team-building exercise at the Ole Miss ropes course before classes begin. Submitted photo

Nine years ago, the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program was created to address the severe teacher shortage in Mississippi public schools.

Approaching its 10th anniversary, METP has become an honors college-style program within the University of Mississippi School of Education, producing a steady stream of high-performing teachers committed to serving K-12 students across the state.

“It has given me a support system of other public school teachers in the state and allowed me the chance to see many different classrooms before I was a teacher,” said Drew Hall, who was in the second cohort and has been teaching in the Quitman County School District in Marks since graduating in 2018. “METP has given myself and others a chance to graduate debt-free, which is an enormous blessing.

“Perhaps most importantly, METP has reminded future teachers of the value of remaining in Mississippi and teaching in public schools.”

Since METP’s 2013 launch, 124 students – representing 27 states – have graduated from the program and gone on to teach in 42 different Mississippi school districts. Each student agrees to teach at least five years in the state’s public schools, guaranteeing approximately 620 total years of commitment to quality instruction.

“Our program creates a pipeline for sets of students to enter a profession that is foundational to society, and to inspire others like them who have no doubt been inspired by those who taught them in school,” said Blake Adams, program manager for the School of Education. “After all, without the education profession, no other profession would be possible.”

Abby Johnston, a 2021 METP graduate, is teaching at Madison Central High School, where she graduated and her younger sister attends. Johnston’s mother is also an educator, and her sister Anna is a junior in the METP program.

“My experiences in METP while at Ole Miss were phenomenal,” said Johnston, who earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy leadership and was Associated Student Body vice president, a Taylor Medalist and School of Education class marshal.

“For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a teacher, so I am truly living the dream. It is made even sweeter because I am doing it at my own high school with several of my old teachers.”

Austyn Jones, a 2022 METP graduate who teaches in the Biloxi School District, recently was named one of only 35 recipients of the annual Knowles Teaching Fellowship, valued at more than $150,000 over five years.

The highest form of praise comes from principals and superintendents where graduates are teaching, said Susan McClelland, professor emeritus of the Department of Teacher Education and METP director.

“Because of the effectiveness of our graduates in the classroom and the rapport they develop with their students, administrators actively recruit our current students,” she said. “They arrange for our seniors to visit their schools. They contact us to see how many METP graduates we have because they want to recruit them to their schools.

“This says to me that our graduates excel in the classroom.”

This fall’s cohort has 25 students from 10 states and an average 3.95 GPA. The graduating cohort includes 31 seniors, six of whom are secondary science education majors. It also includes four special education majors and a few math education majors. 

All three categories are critically needed in the state’s teacher corps.

“The most rewarding thing about this program is that I met three of my closest friends day one of entering the program,” she said. “We, along with everyone else in our cohort, support each other and cheer each other on in all aspects of life here at the university.

“From getting our new placements to receiving higher positions in other organizations we’re a part of outside the School of Ed, to still loving each other after traveling to three Scandinavian countries together within two weeks, we have built a wonderful community.”

A collaboration between UM and Mississippi State University, the program is designed to attract high-performing students into the teaching profession and keep them in Mississippi as an investment in the state’s future.

The program is paid for by the Robert M. Hearin Foundation, which has invested more than $56 million in Mississippi educators to date. Additional donations totaling $1.5 million have created an endowment to keep the program operational long-term.

METP has become not only one of the top teacher education scholarships in the nation, but one of the top scholarship opportunities in all areas, said David Rock, dean of the School of Education.

“Our reputation across the country continues to grow as I receive phone calls and emails from deans across the U.S. asking how to replicate a teacher recruitment program at this level,” Rock said. “I believe it is the signature academic program in the state of Mississippi, recruiting the most passionate and brightest future students from across the country to teach right here in Mississippi.”


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