UDM's Experience Plus Program:
Offering Catholic school teachers the tools to excel
Highligher & Laureate, Summer 2002
Thirty Detroit area Catholic school
teachers will soon earn teaching certification through the University
of Detroit Mercy's Experience Plus Program, now in its second year. This
unique and innovative program enables teacher candidates to complete certification
coursework in 12 months, in addition to a required semester of student
teaching. Experience Plus actively involves mentor teachers in Catholic
schools as co-instructors, and facilitates student teaching in the same
school that sponsors each candidate. Each candidate currently holds a
special teaching permit for the State of Michigan as a substitute teacher
and must have a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree.
integrated program includes the same curriculum and objectives as UDM's
on-campus certification program, but is accomplished in less time. The
intensive, hands-on approach is rigorous and requires a significant commitment
of time and energy from each teacher. Coursework occupies afternoons,
evenings and weekends year-round during an 18-month period, culminating
with a student teaching requirement that the teachers complete in their
current Catholic school classrooms. Their dedication demonstrates the
commitment to excellence so important to the success of Catholic and parochial
"This program requires quite a time commitment from the teachers," says
Elizabeth Carlson, UDM associate professor of Education, and creator of
the Experience Plus concept. "But our enrollment indicates that people
are willing to make sacrifices to become better teachers," she says. While
UDM projected the first year enrollment at 20, nearly 60 teachers signed
up to participate, and 42 Catholic schools in the archdiocese of Detroit
have joined as sponsors.
One of the program's greatest assets is its cohort curriculum, designed
so that each group progresses through courses at the same time. This consistency
provides a support system, in which candidate teachers get to know and
help one another. Class members create individual portfolios of specific
teaching strategies, such as methods that work for different types of
learners and learning styles.
Another key benefit is the program's field-based approach, which gives
teachers the opportunity to put theory into practice right away. "Teachers
learn by doing, taking a research-based concept and applying it," says
Judy Shelton, co-director of the program.
Mitchell, who teaches first grade at Holy Name in Birmingham and was certified
through Experience Plus in May, agrees that being able to use what she
learned right away is advantageous. She stresses the importance of the
field experience she has gained, and states that the aspect she most enjoyed
was visiting the different types of schools in the Detroit area--public,
private and charter--and adopting their best practices. "We were exposed
to a lot of different teaching methods, which were very helpful. I believe
the more open you are to trying different things, the better chance you
have of reaching every child."
Mitchell's situation emphasizes the suitability of the program for those
returning to the workforce after some time away. She was a stay-at-home
mom who suddenly found herself needing to support two children, one in
college, the other in UDM's School of Law. She had a degree in social
work and had always wanted to teach kindergarten or first grade, but her
options were limited. The Experience Plus program made it possible for
her to get her certification while supporting her family.
"The program is great for people who have other responsibilities and
need to work to support their families while being certified," she said.
"I could not have become a teacher otherwise." She added that some of
her fellow Experience Plus teachers are retirees from other professions
who always wanted to teach and now apply their valuable life skills to
their new vocation.
Another part of the equation is the Catholic schools that sponsor the
teachers. They show their commitment to excellence as well: Catholic school
principals must agree to sponsor each teacher (and in some cases serve
as mentors), and to open classrooms to observers (who are the professors
of the classes). Principals consider the program a tremendous opportunity
for their teachers and students, according to UDM Associate Professor
of Education Joslen Letscher.
"Principals see the program as a way to assure that students in their
schools have the benefit of a certified teacher in their classrooms,"
Pat Gajewski, co-director, agrees, saying, "We consult with our Principals
Advisory Board and value their impact regarding the program. The principals
have also provided classroom space for our off-campus coursework."
Teachers interested in applying to the Experience Plus program must
meet UDM's normal admissions requirements and be currently teaching in
the Catholic school which sponsors them. Those enrolled in the program
can take advantage of UDM's benefits for teachers, which include a 50
percent tuition remission and an interest-free monthly payment plan.
For more information on the Experience Plus Program, or to obtain an application form, please call Pat Gajewski at 313-578-0479 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.