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Shamaria Stikes wants to become a teacher who can recreate the “safe haven” she remembers finding in school during her childhood.

“I could see that my teachers and administrators really cared about my education," she said. "They were truly my support system."

The care poured into Stikes as a student in Louisville is spilling over into another generation as she prepares to lead her own classroom. A senior elementary education major in the University of Kentucky College of Education and the 2023 recipient of the Kentucky Association of Teacher Educators (KATE) Outstanding Undergraduate Award, Stikes believes the college’s innovative approaches to teacher preparation have given her the best foundation possible.

Meeting workforce needs for teachers — and fueling the career goals of future difference makers like Stikes — has led the college to develop educator preparation programs with meaningful experiences along a variety of pathways to meet the needs of people who want to teach.

These options include not only traditional pathways to teacher certification, but also online programs, hybrid options with courses offered online and face-to-face, shortened timelines to a degree and unique field experiences.

“We often say that teachers are very good at being able to respond quickly and adapt, and that is what we are seeking to do as teacher educators with a focus on high-quality learning experiences,” said Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, Ph.D., senior associate dean for academic programs and partnerships and professor of STEM Education. 

Stikes points to courses embedded at local schools as an example of the learning experiences that she feels are preparing her for success as a teacher. Through embedded programs, education majors go to a public school building to attend classes taught by their college instructor, and then journey into other classrooms to apply what they have learned, working with students in the grades they are preparing to teach.

It was in an embedded program setting that Stikes was recently surprised with her KATE award, surrounded by cheering second graders she has gotten to know over the last several weeks.

“It’s good that we have the opportunity to build relationships with students and cooperating teachers,” Stikes said. “It has helped us tremendously.”

The embedded programs are part of a robust strategy to develop high quality teachers.

“The needs are real,” noted UK College of Education Acting Dean Danelle Stevens-Watkins. “We hear from schools not only in the Commonwealth but in other states and internationally, seeking to fill teaching positions. We are committed to meeting those needs with graduates who are ready to be effective leaders in the classroom from day one, and our graduates are highly sought after.”

This year, the college piloted a summer student teaching program, providing a route for students to complete their educator preparation program before the beginning of a new academic year. The college found that this option was a win-win for students and school districts, as teacher candidates were prepared to find – and fill – jobs before schools opened in August.

Beginning in summer of 2023, the college also expanded options for those who want to change careers to teach in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and early childhood. The Kentucky Professional Education Standards Board’s university-based alternative pathway to certification, known as Option 6, allows qualified teacher candidates to work in a full-time teaching position with a provisional, temporary teaching certificate while enrolled in a participating teacher preparation program. 

International student teaching also provides students with a global perspective. As part of the Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching, student teaching placements can include  Australia, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Africa. In addition to offering travel through the consortium, the college has also developed student teaching programs with school partners in Sweden and Spain.  

These opportunities – and more – at UK are strengthened by partnerships, Mohr-Schroeder said.

“Working with schools and other community partners, we create programs that are learner-centered and provide opportunities for early field experiences, paid field experiences, and collaborative learning experiences,” Mohr-Schroeder said.

From community STEM nights to working with children in summer learning programs to leading donation drives for families in need, students become immersed in their roles in the community – part of the support system that inspired Stikes as a child.

“The best part about the preparation at I've been getting at UK is that no matter the circumstance or time, we have 24/7 support from our supervisors. Educators are important for our communities because not only do we teach the students, but we also provide support that some students may not experience at home,” Stikes said. “Educators are the unspoken heroes of our communities and we work miracles every single day.”

Learn more about becoming a teacher at UK at