At Wednesday’s meeting of the Governor’s Education Cabinet, State Superintendent Mark Johnson and representatives from BEST NC announced the official launch of TeachNC, a two-pronged teacher recruitment initiative that includes both a media campaign and a website with information and resources to support prospective teachers in entering the profession. The initiative was first publicly announced at Johnson’s Innovation and Leadership Dinner in February.
“What excites me most about this effort is that there is now going to be one central platform for anyone in North Carolina interested in the teaching profession to go learn about what goes on in the teaching profession and how to get there,” said Johnson.
In an interview with EdNC.org, Brenda Berg, president and CEO of BEST NC, said the idea for the initiative sprung from BEST NC’s desire to get involved with teacher recruitment efforts. They realized that those efforts were fragmented and that there was no one-stop resource for prospective teacher candidates to turn to.
“As I’m talking to somebody who really wants to be a teacher, it was falling flat. You can get them interested in the profession, but then where do you send them? Unless you’re 18 years old and going into a teacher preparation program, it’s a void,” said Berg.
That’s why BEST NC and the Department of Public Instruction decided to partner with TEACH.org, a nonprofit created by Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Education, to launch TeachNC. Support for the initiative includes grant funding from the Belk Foundation, the John M. Belk Endowment, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IBM, Microsoft, and Coastal Credit Union.
During a presentation at the cabinet meeting, Princess Brown, communications and engagement coordinator for BEST NC, said TeachNC is a needed effort due to teacher vacancies in hard-to-staff areas such as STEM and special education, inaccurate perceptions of the teaching profession, and a licensure process that is often difficult to navigate.
The first prong of TeachNC’s work is focused on improving the perception of the teaching profession. TeachNC’s media campaign, titled “Teachers Have Better Work Stories,” includes first-person testimonials from North Carolina teachers about memorable moments of their career — like the one below from ShaLeka Covington in Harnett County.
The campaign gives teachers a platform to share what they want the public to know about their profession. Teachers can submit their own “better work” stories by emailing Brown.
“By getting those stories out in the world, I think we can have a better narrative so that high school seniors or college juniors or mid-career professionals are thinking about teaching first when they think about a high skilled, challenging, rewarding profession — and frankly their parents think of it that way, too,” said Berg.
The second aspect of TeachNC is its website — an all-in-one resource for prospective teachers, including step-by-step guidance on understanding licensure, choosing an educator preparation program (EPP), and applying to an EPP. It also includes information on how to apply for financial aid and scholarships to fund EPPs and offers up to $100 in fee reimbursements for EPP application and testing expenses.
When users set up a free account, TeachNC asks about things like their educational attainment and career goals to personalize its suggestions. Then, users gain access to one-on-one advice from current teachers, how-to guides for getting certified, EPP application checklists, and more. Profiles for more than 30 of North Carolina’s 54 public and private EPP programs are included on the site, and more will be added over time.
In its next phase, the website will include landing pages for every district and charter school in the state where prospective teachers can access information on available opportunities within schools and communities that match their interests. And, according to Berg, the website will eventually offer a jobs board that lists open teaching positions across the state.
“If we think of teaching not as one-size-fits-all, then this is the time to demonstrate through this initiative all the different opportunities that especially Millennials and Generation Z would want to have,” said Berg. “This job is hard and it’s complex and it takes multitasking and communication skills and it’s worthy — it has a purpose.”
In the long run, Berg said she hopes TeachNC will help to fill teacher vacancies across the state. She shared the story of a recent East Carolina University graduate with a science degree who was considering a career in nursing. Then Berg asked: What about becoming a teacher?
“She said, ‘I want to, but I was told I have to go back for a four-year degree,'” said Berg. “There are tons of pathways and options. She signed up for TeachNC, and now she’s applying for teaching assistant positions and finishing an application for an alternative licensure program.”
Ultimately, TeachNC aims to combat both the perception barriers and the logistical barriers facing potential future teachers — and push them across the finish line to a career in the classroom.
“All you have to do is talk to the superintendents around the state to know this is a critical, critical issue. We don’t have enough teachers — some are substitutes the entire year,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “We have to attack this problem.”
Updates on myFutureNC and data
The cabinet meeting also included updates on myFutureNC and its attainment goal for North Carolina: 2 million 25- to 44-year-olds in North Carolina will hold a high-quality credential or college degree by 2030.
Peter Hans, a cabinet member and president of the North Carolina Community Colleges System, said that myFutureNC is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit in the process of searching for an executive director and is working on the development of county-level data profiles to assist regional efforts towards the attainment goal.
Gov. Cooper asked about the ability of North Carolina’s education longitudinal data system (ELDS) to assist in measuring progress towards the attainment goal. The ELDS will ultimately include individual-level student and workforce data for all levels of education and the workforce system across North Carolina.
Hans acknowledged that data is a crucial part of myFutureNC’s work, saying that many states measure educational attainment levels via public opinion survey and statistical models rather than actual data.
“As the longitudinal data model builds out, I think we’ll have far more accurate data to make those decisions and evaluate whether we’re succeeding,” said Hans.
Hope Williams, a cabinet member and president of the NC Independent Colleges and Universities, said that the cabinet is in the process of submitting a proposal for what could be the final round of federal grant funding for the ELDS.
“The work of myFutureNC suggests that as part of this next grant we develop ways to have dashboards that relate and tie into the attainment goal and the progress towards that goal, especially in terms of increasing equity among different ethnicities,” said Williams.
Geoff Coltrane, the governor’s education advisor, provided an update on the status of the ELDS, which was discussed in more length at the cabinet’s last meeting in April.
According to Coltrane, a memorandum of understanding that outlines how each agency in the ELDS will share data with one another was drafted with input from the cabinet members and is being revised by the Government Data Analytics Center (GDAC), which is housed within the NC Department of Information Technology. Rules that define the ELDS and outline the data request process, among other things, have been submitted to GDAC who is now working with the office of administrative hearings to set up the public hearing process.
GDAC is also moving forward with a next phase modernization study of the ELDS. To help lead that effort, a project steering committee with a representative from each of the partner agencies was formed. Coltrane said that GDAC has hired a team from UNC Public Policy and the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC) to facilitate the study.
“Those dashboards are exactly the kind of idea for how we modernize our system so that we’ve got information at your fingertips and other fingertips that can be used to help drive those goals,” said Coltrane.
Editor’s note: The Belk Foundation, the John M. Belk Endowment, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation support the work of EducationNC.#EdData in NC News