Ascension Catholic School using a different method to cope with teacher shortage

Alternative path to teaching

Alternative path to teaching

For Noah Emmes, a gym teacher at Ascension Catholic School, being at work is like a homecoming.

“I’ve always loved going to Ascension,” he says. “Now that I’m back, it’s still the same. It’s like a second home to me.”

But Emmes, 21, who attended pre-K to eighth grade here, doesn’t have a teacher certificate.

Instead, he’s part of a program Ascension calls ‘an alternative pathway to teaching.’

“We’ve had to become very creative in trying to home grow if you will, some of our own talent,” says Benito Matias, the school’s principal. “Giving folks an opportunity to find an entryway or onboarding into the field of education, specifically as a classroom teacher and a lead classroom teacher.”

Matias says Ascension started the program three years ago, hiring people as educator assistants, then encouraging them to start working toward a degree.  

“We still of course seek out teachers that have licenses,” Matias explains. “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.”

A 2023 state report breaks down the extent of the teacher shortage in Minnesota.

The Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board says 84% of school districts are significantly impacted by the shortage. The study also found 38% of licensed teachers aren’t actively working in a public or charter school.

Matias says prior to the pandemic, Ascension would typically have a dozen people applying for a teaching job.

Now, he notes, that number has dropped 20-30%.

Matias believes virtual learning had a huge impact on teachers.

“That wasn’t their mode of training, that wasn’t their original way that they were taught to deliver instruction,” he says. “And then, that transitioning to back in-person, it was a hard transition.”

Matias notes that as a private institution, Ascension has some leeway in hiring teachers without certificates.

State rules require anyone who teaches in a public school needs that certification.

Emmes says after starting work at Ascension in July, he’s been keeping busy.

“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.”

Five of Ascension’s 30 teachers are now working under the program.  

Matias says it’s a manageable number that allows the school to help with the education assistants’ professional development.

Ascension enrolls about 320 students.  

Meanwhile, Matias says Emmes is doing well.

“It’s great that he’s someone who wants to learn,” Matias says. “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.”

Emmes says he’s excited about the job ahead and hopes to start work on getting a degree soon.

“Passion’s a big thing,” he says. “Like 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.”