GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — You might have a favorite teacher that inspired you to work harder or dream big. If you want to become a teacher like that for current students, a new program here in West Michigan could help you get there.

It’s called the West Michigan Teacher Collaborative. The program will help pay for tuition, other fees and offer support for more than 300 participants over the next three years.

“Our goal is to recruit and train and then support and retain the next generation of excellent teachers in West Michigan,” said Laura Castle, the director of West Michigan Teacher Collaborative.

It is paid for by a $19 million grant from the state. You must send in an application for the program, which includes essays and an in-person interview. Once accepted, classes are expected to begin in January at Grand Valley State University.

Local school districts are partnering with the university to help students take classes for their degrees and teaching certificates. Once your education is complete, the program requires you to stay in one of the districts for as long as your education was. 

“It’s not just the case that you learn about teaching through your university coursework. We really see ourselves as the bridge. So you learn theory and then we support with the learning that needs to happen to make you successful on day one of being a teacher in the classroom,” Castle said. 

She added the program started as a way to fill a need in schools throughout West Michigan.

“We wanted to find a way to address the teacher shortage, especially in critical need areas and so we started to think about, how do we make teaching financially stable pathway for people? How do we make it accessible for people while at the same time, maintaining really high standards for excellent teacher preparation?” Castle said. 

She said the program is also aimed to help students, who Castle said would be gaining excellent teachers. 

“We are especially excited that the teachers we produce could fill critical shortage areas and support in special education, in English language and support students who are growing up in poverty. We think this initiative makes it possible that there will be excellent teachers out there to support these students,” Castle said. 

Morgan Dailey is the program coordinator for the West Michigan Teacher Collaborative. She believes the program helps increase access to the teaching profession. 

“I think this is even an opportunity for people that have always thought about teaching, but maybe I didn’t have the funds before or maybe I didn’t get into the right major at the time. This is the opportunity that they can have to get back into the field,” Dailey said. 

The application for the pre-residency program closes Nov. 1. The application for the residency program closes Nov. 15.