Mentors, Co-Teaching & Apprenticeship

Record teacher shortages have forced school districts to up the ante as they try different ways to attract and retain qualified, effective educators.  From pay raises to four-day work weeks to stipends and signing bonuses, from various new alternative certification pathways to lowering hiring standards altogether, districts keep throwing lots of things at the wall, hoping to see something stick.

Brazosport ISD threw a novel (but in hindsight, a very common sense, why hasn’t this been done already?) idea out there and it looks promising.  A small district south of Houston in the small town of Clute, BISD has had a hard time drawing new teachers, and staffing vacancies have been steadily growing for years.  Last summer BISD started a new program that is essentially a pipeline for funneling new teachers into BISD classrooms.  It is an apprenticeship program that provides a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification—for free—in exchange for teaching in the district for a minimum of three years.

As a graduate of an alternative certification program who taught in a Title I school, what’s most notable to me is that it’s truly an apprenticeship in that participants are paired with a mentor and they co-teach with that mentor in a classroom for one full school year.  I taught for one week during summer school for my student teaching requirement; it was not helpful.  Some programs require even less, though the average seems to be one semester.

Studies have shown that what new teachers really need for success is ample opportunity to practice teaching prior to running their own classroom and strong mentorship to lean on while they do so.  Considering that 44% of teachers leave the classroom within the first five years, programs that offer lots of professional support and time to practice in a classroom seem much more valuable than a program that spits out newly certified teachers at the end of an online course.

In Brazosport ISD, even students can begin the program and start to earn college credit while still in high school.  Individuals who are already employed by the district in other support positions or people who already have some college under their belt can also apply to join the program.  BISD seems committed to meeting an applicant where they’re at.  Additionally, the apprentices are paid for their time while co-teaching in addition to having their college tuition and certification fees covered by the program.

This is clearly a win-win for all involved—those who want a college education and a lifelong skill but don’t want to take on a mountain of college debt; aspiring teachers who want the support of a strong preparatory program that will set them up for success; and school districts desperate to hire qualified staff who won’t later turn into a turnover statistic.

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