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Tapping High Schoolers to Become Teachers

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With education school enrollment down across the country, districts are setting their sights on local high school students to fill teacher shortages.

Nationwide, enrollment in teacher-preparation programs has dropped by 35 percent in the past five years, according to a report from the Learning Policy Institute, and more than 40 percent of those who choose the profession leave within five years. Can local high school students eventually help to fill the gaps in the teaching ranks in their communities? Districts across the country are pinning their hopes on students as young as middle school. The idea is to generate interest in the teaching profession among youth who already have a stake in the community, and who may be more likely to remain in the area long-term.

The teacher academy at Waianae High School in Honolulu, where the yearly teacher turnover rate is 35 percent, began in 2015 with about 40 students, reports Honolulu Civil Beat. The young prospective educators shadow teachers and get lessons on every aspect of the job, from setting up classrooms to writing lesson plans.

In mainland United States, 9th graders can get a taste of the teaching profession through Today's Students-Tomorrow's Teachers, a program that started in 1994 at a high school in Westchester, N.Y., and has grown to 430 high schools in four states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Virginia. High school recruits start by observing teachers in the classroom, according to the Daily Freeman. By their junior year, students are co-teaching in K-12 classrooms, and by senior year, they're leading the class on their own.

Recruiting for Today's Students-Tomorrow's Teachers has just begun in Kingston, 90 miles north of New York City, where 20 students will join the program in the fall, according to a district spokeswoman. The cost is $3,000 per student. The Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, a network of boards created by the state, will foot 52 percent of the bill, and the Kingston City School district will pay the rest. Other districts in the area participating in the program are Fallsburg, Ellenville, Monticello, and Liberty. According to program founder Bettye Perkins, 90 percent of students complete the eight-year program. Of those who choose to become teachers, 90 percent are still in the profession three years after completing their degree and landing their first job.

In western Kentucky, the aim is to recruit young men from diverse backgrounds to become special education teachers through the Young Male Leadership Academy, according to kentuckyteacher.org. Students in grades 7 through 9 attend Saturday education classes, and complete a weeklong leadership academy. This year, 18 students have joined the program. All will get help applying for college scholarships in the hope they'll pursue a career in education. The Minority Educator Recruitment and Retention (MERR) Scholarship provides up to $5,000 a year for minority education majors at Kentucky public universities.

But can such efforts convince students to take a chance on the teaching profession? The co-coordinator of the Young Male Leadership Academy in Kentucky, Michael Coleman, finds that young men aren't that interested in becoming teachers at first. One of the problems is they don't see teachers who look like them.

"When young males see that there are teachers and administrators like them, it will make them realize 'maybe I do want to become a teacher,'" Coleman told kentuckyteacher.org.

At Nanakuli High and Intermediate School in Hawaii, math instructor Julie Reyes Oda tried to start a teaching academy to combat the school's teacher shortage, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. She pitched to 10th graders the idea of starting a two-year teaching academy for juniors and seniors. She needed 30 students to start the academy, but only one student expressed interest. Oda said students don't want to become teachers because the profession isn't highly regarded.

Tracey Idica, an instructional coach at a Hawaii high school, told the Honolulu Civil Beat that students avoid teaching because they're told they're too smart for the job and can make more money in other professions.

This hasn't stopped her from trying to convince young people to stay in their communities as educators. Idica worked with other members of Educators Rising, a program that aims to get high schoolers interested in teaching, to create a two-year teacher academy curriculum for use in high schools nationwide. Sixty percent of teachers find jobs within 20 miles of the high schools they attended, according to Educators Rising.

Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license

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