By Carol S. Young, Department Lead, Accountability and School Improvement
This article is the second in a series about the teacher shortage and whether we can save a profession I love. I credit Meaghan Tobar at Dohn Community High School with the title. Thanks, Meaghan, for making me think about teaching as a career technical education (CTE) program.
As I was talking about teaching as a career with youth at Dohn and other drop-out recovery schools, I noticed sparks of interest. Student responses contrasted sharply with those of young people who find teaching unattractive, “a thankless job.” “Dropout youth” have left school, only to later find the strength to return. These youth deeply appreciate and admire the work of their teachers. They also have insight into the complexity of teaching; they admit the job is not easy. It occurred to me that these savvy urban students could be a force for saving the teaching profession. But we need to involve and engage them now. A strong program of early, engaging career technical education may help interested, underrepresented youngsters become teachers. A young, savvy, and diverse workforce may also revitalize a now-stagnant profession.
Ohio has defined a career-technical pathway for teaching/education. The problem is too few schools offer this CTE option, a fact related again to an “unattractive” societal view. The career ladder for Ohio’s teaching pathway progresses from teacher aide to teacher, and then potentially to school administration. Knowing education as I do, the pathway conveys limited options. What about interesting positions like literacy specialist or coach?
Consider, in contrast, the exciting diversification in nursing and health sciences pathways. There are several rungs in the career ladder. Prospective nurses may take baby steps or leaps: STNA, LPN, RN, Nurse/specialist (cardiac, surgical), and certified nurse practitioner. We must diversify career ladders in education to pose exciting possibilities that may be reached by either baby steps or leaps as well. (Stay tuned – diversification will be the topic of a future article.) We need to make career pathways for teaching attractive AND achievable.
Could early middle school and high school CTE experiences excite an interest in teaching as a career? The current pathway includes early job shadowing experiences and two courses about teaching. It would be my hope that these experiences extend to allow the following:
Early, rich interactions with high quality, practicing teachers. While in high school, I joined a Future Teachers of America club even though I did not intend, at the time, to become a teacher. The experience allowed me to end my high school day at 2:00 and volunteer from 2:30 to 4:00 at the nearby elementary school. Fortunately, a wonderful teacher became my mentor; I still use techniques I learned from her. Might a career-technical pathway allow students to become intern teaching assistants in classrooms for a portion of their school day? Could boards of education fund early internships to offer youth summer or after-school jobs at schools instead of at Wendy’s?
Supported academic and professional learning. Youth from disadvantaged backgrounds may lack the literacy, sophisticated vocabulary, and soft skills to enter professional preparation programs. I have seen young people become discouraged when they enter college assigned to remedial courses. Students need to build skills and capacity through early college planning. Mychal Wynn1 offers successful college planning programs for disadvantaged youth. Beginning in eighth grade, youth in his programs prepare for college applications, ACTs and SATs, and the language and lifestyle of a college experience. Wynn’s program surrounds youth with personal support from educators who believe in them. Most youth in Wynn’s workshops avoid remedial coursework in college. A substantial number of them win scholarships. In a career technical pathway for teaching, could college planning courses count as credit toward graduation?
Currently, in South Carolina a “Grow Your Own Teacher” program called Teacher Cadets offers dual high school and college credits, AP weighted courses, and a pathway for youth to serve their own communities as a teaching assistant and teacher. 2 The program is designed to attract the “best and brightest” candidates. Might a career technical education program in Ohio acknowledge that the brightest prospects for teaching may be hiding behind barriers to their success? Becoming “the best,” is a process, not an inborn talent.
Early college experiences and flexible pathways. If we are to solve the teacher shortage, schools and universities must work together. Teacher education programs and teacher accrediting agencies are unaccustomed to career-technical thinking. Their focus is college-level requirements. For prospective teachers, requirements are like hurdles to jump. Candidates must complete early field experiences, internship(s), and student teaching in addition to required college courses. As a result, students often spend five or more years in college. Could students complete early field experiences in high school through college credit plus or dual credit courses? How might students fulfill requirements through steps not leaps so that they can maintain some paid employment related to education? Could entry into the profession become a clear but flexible pipeline, better meeting the needs of non-traditional prospects?
Financial support. It is not all about money, but a significant aspect of the teacher shortage is indeed about financial support and compensation. The same applies to training and entry into the profession. We must find ways to train teachers without a mountain of debt. A serious shortage requires serious action; we have faced similar challenges in the past. With male teachers entering armed services during World War I, both of my grandmothers trained as teachers through six-week “Cadet” training programs. Cadet teachers were paid to work in schools with supervision, accruing more training courses each year. In response to shortages in engineering, Congress in 1984 created the Eisenhower Mathematics and Science grant program. The program provided funds for career and college education. The grant also provided training for K-12 teachers so they could better prepare and encourage students into these fields. Might schools, colleges, and governmental leaders work together to ensure high quality teacher preparation with free or supplemented tuition?
I have made inquiries to find out more about Ohio’s teaching/education career technical pathway. How could we make this pathway attractive enough to offer in more middle schools and high schools? And, working together, how may we create an effective, hurdle-free pathway to teaching, one that will bring our students the diverse, savvy, and well-trained teachers they deserve into the future?
1 Mychal Wynn is the founder and CEO of Foundation for Ensuring Access and Equity. For more about his work, see https://www.accessandequity.org.
2 For more information about South Carolina’s Teacher Cadet program, see Teacher Cadet Training – Teacher Cadets.