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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s College of Education will offer a master’s degree that will enable students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in disciplines other than education to teach in elementary schools.

The masters in teaching in elementary education will eventually replace the College of Education’s elementary alternative teacher certification program.

The new degree is also intended to increase the number of teachers qualified to teach French immersion.

The non-thesis degree program was approved by the Louisiana Board of Regents last month, said Dr. Mary Farmer-Kaiser, dean of the University’s Graduate School.

The program will include two concentrations: elementary education and elementary French immersion.

French immersion is a bilingual education for students whose first language isn’t French. They learn French and are taught a range of subjects in the language, such as math, science and history.

Both concentrations will consist of 39 hours of coursework spread across 14 months – a fall semester, a spring semester, and two summer semesters. At least three hybrid or online courses will be offered.

During spring and fall semesters, students will complete teaching assignments at area elementary schools.

The University’s existing elementary alternative certification program requires 33 hours of coursework and student teaching.

Students who complete the new program will receive a master’s degree instead of a certificate.

“Teachers who have a master’s degree start with higher salaries, and in many ways are better prepared for the classroom,” Farmer-Kaiser said.

Prospective students who enroll in the French immersion concentration will be required to hold a bachelor’s degree in French, in Francophone Studies, or in French and Francophone Studies, which combines elements of each.

Or, if they have earned a bachelor’s degree in another discipline, they will be required to demonstrate fluency in the language by taking standardized tests.

The goal is for an initial group of at least 10 students to begin taking courses next summer.

“We’re expecting the elementary track to have more students than the immersion track,” said Dr. Michelle Haj-Broussard, an assistant professor in the College of Education who will lead the program.

UL Lafayette’s elementary alternative certification program will coexist with the new master’s degree program as the latter develops.

“Students already enrolled in the current elementary alternative certification program will be able to finish. But at some point enrolling in that program won’t be an option,” Haj-Broussard said.

The University’s alternative secondary teacher certification program will remain in place.

“The only program that will be phased out is the elementary certification program,” Haj-Broussard said.

Students who earn degrees with a French immersion concentration will be proficient in the language and in the classroom.

“Immersion isn’t about just French instruction. It’s teaching elementary content in French,” Haj-Broussard explained.

A shortage of teachers qualified to teach French immersion in Louisiana is due, in part, to a lack of degree programs.

No other college or university in the nation offers a master’s degree with a concentration in elementary French immersion, Haj-Broussard said. “There are other programs in immersion, but they aren’t French immersion.”

Schools that offer French immersion programs often rely on teachers from countries such as Canada and France.

In Louisiana, more than 150 French immersion teachers are recruited from other countries each year, according to the Louisiana Department of Education.

“There is a huge need for French immersion teachers in the U.S. It’s important to be able to train French immersion teachers here, where the language is part of our culture,” Haj-Broussard said.

Read a version of this press release written in French.

Learn more about the new master’s degree program