In today’s world, there is a constant need for qualified teachers in our public schools. That is why The University of Southern Mississippi offers qualified teacher assistants currently working in the classroom a way to become certified teachers, all while staying in their community and working at their current jobs.
“Teacher assistants provide a great service to the K-6 community,” said Dr. Kelley Stricklin, Teacher Assistant Program (TAP) coordinator. “They play a key role in helping educate students by supplementing what the teacher is doing and helping build upon the quality of lessons and activities.”
While enjoying their jobs as teacher assistants, many also have the desire to become a certified teacher. “We saw the need that many teacher assistants wanted to be certified teachers but needed to keep their salary to provide for their families,” said Stricklin.
That is where the fully online teacher assistant program at Southern Miss comes in. “This program is designed specifically to support teacher assistants in their goal to become a licensed K-6 teacher,” said Dr. Tom Hutchinson, director of the Office of Online Learning at USM. “The fully online program offers qualified teacher assistants a convenient pathway to earning their Bachelor of Science degree and becoming a certified teacher, all while continuing at their current jobs.”
In many cases, teacher assistants have a desire to lead their own classrooms but are unable to leave their jobs. That is what attracted Lacy Brown, of Petal, Miss., former teacher assistant and now TAP graduate, to the USM program.
“I was an assistant who wanted to keep working and continue my education. The online program allowed me to do just that,” said Brown. “Choosing the online degree allowed me to keep working, gaining classroom experience, and building on my relationship with the teachers and families I worked with each day.”
Brown said the program allowed her to create a flexible study schedule around her work. “Choosing the traditional route would have removed me from the classroom, and I felt my daily experience as a teacher assistant was a critical part of preparing to be a teacher. Through the online route, I did not have to compromise that experience,” she said.
Brown says her favorite aspect of the program was being able to take the information being studied in each course and apply it to the work she did in the classroom. “I was the definition of living and breathing the information back into the classroom,” she said.
Stricklin says the program was designed so teacher assistants can take 12 hours each semester and still finish their degree requirements, including student teaching, in two years. “Students enrolled in the TAP program have the opportunity to complete all or part of their coursework online with highly qualified and dedicated university faculty,” she said. “The exciting and innovative curriculum includes opportunities to apply new knowledge and skills through clinical experiences that are completed while you are engaged in your day-to-day responsibilities as a teacher assistant.”
The TAP program at Southern Miss emphasizes technology, clinical experiences and strong literacy foundations. It has been recognized for quality and performance through continuous NCATE/CAEP accreditation since 1954.
Stricklin says students enrolled in the TAP program can choose to major in Elementary Education or Special Education. Graduates of the Elementary Education program are eligible to become certified teachers for grades K-6 with a reading endorsement and the choice of an endorsement in Math K-8, Math 7-12, Science, Social Studies, Foreign Language, or English. Graduates of the Special Education program are eligible to become certified teachers for grades K-12 with certification in mild/moderate disabilities.
Stricklin has seen USM TAP graduates secure jobs such as Elementary Teacher K – 6, Behavior Intervention Specialist, Reading Interventionist, Community Education Coordinator and even Director of Advocacy.
Brown says current teacher assistants should consider the TAP program at Southern Miss. “You already know what it means to build classroom community, work collaboratively with your peers, and what it looks like to readjust your instruction to do what's best for students. You've achieved so much as a TA; don't get in your own way. You can do it!”
The University of Southern Mississippi offers nine undergraduate degrees and twenty-one graduate programs fully online. To learn more about all online programs at Southern Miss, visit https://online.usm.edu/