One Step at a Time: Mike McShane's Journey with Catholic Education
Mike McShane, a member of the 14th cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows, never had a “life-plan” per se, nor did he adhere to artificially imposed one-, five- and ten-year goals. Mike’s life seems to instead have followed a series of twists and turns that some would call luck, others Providence. In an age of micromanaging and hyper-planning, Mike takes the opportunities that present themselves at life’s pivotal moments and allows these experiences to form and prepare him for whatever comes next.
Mike has been involved in Catholic schools in some capacity since the beginning of his own education—attending a Catholic pre-school, elementary school, high school, and even university. Nonetheless, he never viewed the Catholic classroom as the place where he was simply destined to be, but he began to develop a loose interest in becoming a teacher while at Saint Louis University.Though he entertained the possibility of applying to other teaching programs, Mike only submitted an application to ACE.
While Mike may have lacked a definitive plan, God supplied one. Mike was accepted into the Teaching Fellows and spent two years in Montgomery, Alabama, as a high school English teacher. Mike enjoyed various aspects of teaching and regaling his ACE cohorts with dramatic accounts of classroom events, but he did not feel an overwhelming call to stay in the classroom. All the same, Mike was tempted to remain at his school in Montgomery when there was talk of him remaining on as Dean of Students after his time in the Teaching Fellows ended, but his journey took a somewhat unexpected turn with the prospect of further study.
Similar to his decision to apply to Teaching Fellows, Mike did not cast a wide net in his doctoral applications. He focused solely on a new program at the University of Arkansas in education policy, trusting that if it was meant to be, it would happen. Once again, Providence shone its face on Mike, and he was accepted into Arkansas’ program and began his doctoral studies. He became particularly interested in the policy surrounding school choice and completed his dissertation on the importance of mission and religious identity in faith-based schools involved in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program.
Before he had even finished his doctoral degree he met Rick Hess, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank focused on defending human dignity, expanding human potential, and creating a freer world. AEI offered Mike a position as a research fellow, and he spent three years honing his skills as a researcher and becoming an expert on school choice (the first of which he was simultaneously writing his dissertation, not something he recommends to anyone). Mike credits his success as a researcher with being flexible and open to new things in his own life and with his ability to analyze data without bias.
While giving a lecture in his home state of Missouri in 2015, Mike was approached by the Show-Me Institute, a local think tank that aims to expand personal liberty and free markets, about working in its educational policy department. Mike had given some thought to leaving Washington at the time, but he quickly realized this offer was the next step in his development as a researcher, policy expert, and advocate for equal access within education. Since accepting the position of Director of Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute, he has focused on expanding education opportunity in Missouri and equipping policymakers and citizens with high quality research and analysis on important educational issues.
Throughout his career, Mike’s articles have been published in mainstream sources such as Huffington Post and The Washington Post, as well as education-specific journals like Education Week and Education Next. In addition to his articles, Mike has written or edited seven books on topics ranging from educational entrepreneurship to school choice to teacher quality to the Common Core Standards. He is currently in the process of working on his eighth book. He continues to be well served by his flexibility and adaptability to different circumstances, audiences, and available data—skills that he has acquired throughout his career.
One might view Mike’s trajectory as a series of random occurrences or chance encounters; some might even go so far as to say he was foolish to rely always on a Plan A, instead of looking into alternatives if things did not go the way he planned. It’s better to look upon Mike’s life and career as an ongoing discovery of how he lives out his passion, which is shaping equality in educational policy. It is a journey that required taking chances and channeling his passions into something more deeply edifying. Rather than focusing solely on one thing, Mike has embraced the hectic nature of life first seen so poignantly in his school in Montgomery as a Teaching Fellow, and he has used it to create more educational opportunities for all children.