ASU’s Teachers college looks outside the box to understand education workforce, improve student achievement

Working as a car mechanic, Ray Utter one day overheard a co-worker make a sarcastic comment to another employee about how to “enjoy this job for the rest of your life.”

The off-the-cuff banter stuck with the former Marine who also had worked as a machinist before becoming an automobile mechanic. He didn’t hate his job, he thought, but he didn’t love it, either.

“It just kind of hit me,” he says. “I asked myself, ‘Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?’”

The answer was clearly “no.” Utter decided to go back to school, opting for a dual major at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in both secondary education and history with the goal of becoming a history teacher.

Upon graduation in 2014, Utter found work as a social studies teacher at Deer Valley Middle School. Passionate about his subject matter, he won the “rookie of the year” honor from the Deer Valley Education Foundation. He now works at Sandra Day O’Connor High School, is pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership and loves his new line of work.

“In the military, I felt like I was part of something bigger than me,” he says. “I wanted a career where I could give back and have that similar feeling.”

Career changers like Utter are a growing group of education degree seekers at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Some come to earn their undergraduate degrees, and others attend the college’s graduate programs. As school districts across the country confront challenges in recruiting and retaining teachers, people changing career paths might be part of the solution.

Tapping other career experience

Students like Utter are still in the minority in the world of teacher education, but they are a growing profile, particularly at the master’s degree level, according to Paul Gediman, director of marketing and advancement at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

ASU’s education graduate programs are now ranked №11 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The college’s growing number of master’s degrees could be a sign that career switchers with a bachelor’s degree and some work experience in another field are rethinking their professional life.

Of the 2,014 master’s degrees in education conferred in the state during the 2015–16 academic year, 1,176 came from ASU. Growing in popularity is ASU’s Induction, Master of Education and Arizona Teacher Certification (InMAC) program, through which participants become full-time teachers of record via the Arizona Department of Education’s Teaching Intern Certificate while completing their degree. The college also offers the Master of Education with Arizona Certification program, where students take courses and enroll in a residency, then enter the classroom as a lead teacher. Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College offers a number of master’s degree programs, in a range of formats.

“Whether they come to us as undergraduates or graduate students,” says Gediman, “teacher candidates who’ve lived and worked a little before pursuing their degrees have a lot to offer. Often, they are people who have decided to link their desire to make a meaningful change in their own lives with their desire to have a positive impact in their communities. Schools want these people. And we want them at our college.”

In fact, Gediman explains, a primary objective of the college’s current fundraising campaign is to offer scholarships to students who want to make the commitment to change careers. The goal is to ease the transition for students who might need to leave jobs to attend college and lessen their student loan debt once they start teaching full time.

Reimagining the education workforce

Carole Basile, dean of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, thinks addressing the teacher supply and retention problem might require looking at the challenges schools face through a new lens.

“In addition to asking ourselves how we can be more successful at recruiting and retaining teachers, we should reframe the question and ask, ‘What should a 21st-century education workforce look like, and how should it be deployed?’” she says.

Basile thinks there may be room to add different types of teaching professionals into the mix. She and the college’s researchers are exploring shifts to credentialing and certification requirements that might allow people with varying degrees of expertise to be “credentialed” teachers working alongside certified teacher leaders. These instructors could complement traditional full-time teachers, not replace them, and take on new roles that break down the traditional one-teacher, one-classroom model.

“These are not just guest speakers, but they are coming in with expertise and actually know how to teach,” Basile says. “If we do this right, we’ll not only address a headcount problem, but will also bring talent into schools that will improve student experience and outcomes.”

Implementing “design labs”

Reimagining the education workforce is one example of the type of problem that Basile says the college wants to address with school partners and communities through the implementation of “design labs.”

Danah Henriksen, assistant professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, facilitates a design session with students, teachers and administrators at Coronado High School.(Photo: Arizona State University)

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College currently partners with 29 school districts and more than 300 schools statewide to prepare future teachers by granting them residency opportunities in classrooms as well as practicum (internship) experiences.

Each school has an assigned ASU site coordinator, explains Basile. With design labs, the idea is to leverage a site coordinator’s knowledge of the school and community into a design and facilitator role. The coordinator, working with other faculty in the college and partnering with schools, districts and community leaders, can then help develop solutions to a school’s most persistent problems.

Basile was approached by Scottsdale Unified School District to test the concept at Coronado High School. As part of the Coronado Success Initiative, the ASU team planned a yearlong process that began with a Saturday design day for school, community and student input. More than 150 attendees showed up.

“It was everyone from the custodian to the mayor to local legislators, students and families,” Basile says.

The effort created more than 50 big ideas that the community will continue to refine and redesign. Solutions will be implemented by the fall 2018 semester. Ideas on the table include reimagining the school’s workforce and a day in the life of students and educators. Gaining momentum, the design lab concept will be tested in six to eight communities in the coming year, Basile adds.

“We’re not saying reimagining the workforce is the only solution out there,” she says. “But it’s important to me that these are the kinds of questions, as a teacher’s college, we’re asking, and that we aren’t just sitting back and asking, ‘How do we get more people to become teachers?’ The education community has been banging its head against the wall, concerned with the teacher shortage. It’s time to think in new ways — 21st-century ways.”

Addressing Arizona’s teacher shortage

Educators like Ray Utter, who embrace teaching after working in other fields, are helping Arizona kids, and they embody one part of the solution to Arizona’s teacher shortage.

Through Campaign ASU 2020, a $1.5-billion fundraising effort, ASU seeks to secure resources that will help it address a range of challenges that face the state. Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is rising to meet the state’s education challenges on several fronts.

One major objective of the campaign is to build scholarship support for a range of prospective students — whether they come to ASU directly from high school, first attend community college, or, like Utter, make a career change in order to teach.

Additionally, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is seeking private support to fund design labs in which the college works with school districts and communities to identify key challenges and develop solutions.

“We believe that a college of education can play a unique role in bringing people and ideas together to ask the right questions about how we can improve student outcomes in our schools,” Basile says. “Whether we are addressing questions about the education workforce or other challenges, we know that our role is not to be the experts who have it all figured out and tell schools what to do. Each community is unique. Every school is its own community. Context matters. Our role is to help develop a renewable resourcefulness in individual educators, in schools, and in communities.”

To learn more about Campaign ASU 2020, visit To learn how you can join the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in strengthening Arizona’s education system, contact Carly Nieri, senior director of development at the college, 480–965–8724 or

Originally published at on March 30, 2017.



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