Havilah Guenther was going to graduate in May 2018 with a degree in art education, allowing her to begin fulfilling her dream of teaching art to students.
Now, she won’t graduate for another year and will likely spend several thousand more dollars in tuition.
Why? Because changes to the Missouri teacher certification process and a lack of planning by UMKC have left her with a loss of time and credit hours.
“Not only has my education coursework increased, but the studio requirements have also shifted and
changed,” Guenther said. “So a lot of the classes I had been taking no longer count, according to the new program.”
Changes to Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) certification
requirements have left many students in a similarly tight spot.
Students graduating after Aug. 1 this year will not be grandfathered in to the old certification process. According to John Martellaro, Director of Public Relations at UMKC, the Registrar’s office counted 39
students graduating after that date who are in similar situations to Guenther.
It was October when things began to fall apart. After education advisers were promoted to other jobs, students were thrown into a transition period during which they were hit with new information and little guidance.
Guenther said there was a group faculty advising meeting with education students from several sub-departments. Most students had paperwork telling them how to move forward.
“[There was] no paperwork for the art education students,” Guenther said. “Nothing in their system. They literally couldn’t tell us what to do. And I literally left that like, ‘I still don’t know what to do.’ I can’t run an audit on my degree because it’s not in the program.”
Education Department Chair Dr. Clare Bell holds responsible a delayed response from DESE for much of the confusion. According to her, any new plans for each program drafted by the School of Education required approval by DESE. Bell said the School of Education was told they would receive a response by mid-summer, but did not get one until December. Then they had to edit the plans again.
“Although we were fairly confident about what we’d done with the program, it was not entirely approved by DESE yet, so there was a hesitation to jump the gun and tell students, ‘This is exactly what you have to take,’” Bell said. “But by the end of the summer, we felt it was necessary to go ahead and explain what we believe the new programs are going to look like.”
Bell added that the majority of their programs are now approved, and the school is just waiting on a
couple small confirmations.
“We understand that this has been a difficult situation for our students,” Martellaro said. “We
sympathize with them. We have worked very hard to try to do the best job we possibly can in
communicating with them and helping them through this problem. But there’s only so much you can do
while you’re awaiting approval.”
Despite consolations from administrators, many students still felt frustrated. This prompted Guenther to begin taking action.
Guenther said she had several meetings with professors from both the art and education departments, and no one could give her an answer. Guenther’s last resort was speaking with Dr. Justin Perry, the dean of the School of Education.
According to Guenther, while Perry was very kind and compassionate, he couldn’t offer her much help.
“Essentially, he said it was out of his hands and that he couldn’t help me,” said Guenther. “He kept on saying, ‘I wish I could help you. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.’ And my
response to that was, ‘well, there’s plenty you can do for me.’”
Guenther says she was hoping UMKC would at least offer some sort of financial compensation for her and other affected students. Not only are previous credits now essentially useless, but these students also have to pay for the new classes that will replace those credits.
Several months have passed, however, and there are still no plans to financially compensate or help affected students. Perry said there has not been any action or decision-making so far.
“Based upon information that I’ve had access to, I have not heard of such a remedy,” said Perry, responding to a question about potential scholarships or grants. “I think it’s a great suggestion, though.”
This sort of vague communication was one of the most upsetting things for Guenther throughout the entire process. She believes there was too much miscommunication happening within the university, adding that instead of taking responsibility for their job, faculty pointed fingers at other parties.
Guenther is not alone in this criticism. Faced with similar circumstances and frustrations, student Sam Johnson left the School of Education for the Bloch School.
“The disorganization was apparent with their advising department,” Johnson said. “The entire semester they were understaffed. One adviser for undergrad and grad, and it was a very long wait to see her. Everyone was left to figure things out on their own.”
Christine Timmerman, assistant dean at the School of Education, encouraged students in similar
situations to come voice their frustrations to the faculty and staff.
“Come talk with us,” Timmerman said. “We really would like to make sure [students] feel better. I hate to have any students leave, clearly. It was a time of a lot of transition. It still is a little bit, but we’re very close now.”
The School of Education also wants students to know they are vital to the community and the workforce.
“We need good teachers, dedicated teachers. In this state, in this country, right now more than ever,”
Martellaro said. “And anyone who feels that calling to be a teacher, please don’t let this situation prevent you from realizing that career. Please come and talk to us.”
For Guenther, that’s all it comes down to: a desire to be certified and prepared to achieve her dream of becoming an educator. Unfortunately, that dream was postponed abruptly and without warning.
“I want to be a teacher,” she said. “I love the idea of teaching. That’s all I want to do. And I’m
disappointed in how UMKC has handled this particular situation.”