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Perspective | Five keys to a successful pathway-to-teaching program

K-12 educators and administrators in North Carolina are acutely aware of the teacher shortage in our state. For the 2021-22 school year, North Carolina has a shortage of qualified teachers in all grades of special education, middle and high school math, and all core subjects in all elementary school grades, according to the federal government. It is estimated that only 30% of students in our state have a fully licensed math teacher.

As North Carolina’s population continues to grow, we need more teachers to educate the growing number of K-12 students. Additionally, we lose around 7,000 to 8,000 teachers every year due to attrition — retirement, career changes, or teachers moving out of the state.

There is not one sole solution to the issue of teacher shortages, and organizations like TeachNC do a great job of raising the profile of the profession and helping to recruit new teachers. However, one piece of the puzzle is a “grow-your-own” initiative whereby school districts identify top teacher assistants and interested staff, and support them in their endeavors to earn a degree leading to teacher licensure.

These pathway-to-teaching programs have multiple benefits:

  • They can be cheaper than recruiting costs to hire teachers from outside the local school system.
  • Once hired as teachers, there is a shorter learning curve since teacher assistants and staff already know the school and the students.
  • They help keep talented and motivated employees in their home counties.

To help ensure that a pathway-to-teaching program in your school district creates a successful internal pipeline of teacher talent, here are five keys:

  1. Provide information on all available scholarships and grants. Remind your staff to fill out the FAFSA form to see if they qualify for federal aid (many will be surprised to learn that they do). Share information on local and national scholarships. Check with your local college offering teaching degrees to see if they have specific scholarships for local residents. Many civic groups offer scholarships to high school seniors entering college; consider contacting them about offering a similar scholarship to adult learners.
  2. Provide tuition assistance if you can. Yes, this is an expense, but think of it as an investment in a future teacher. The Rowan-Salisbury School System is one such school district that offers tuition assistance to staff enrolled in qualified bachelor’s degree programs. They currently have 17 staff members participating.
  3. Allow flexible work schedules so employees can carve out study time. Most staff will continue to work while pursuing their degrees and will occasionally need extra time to prepare for a major exam or project.
  4. Explore accredited online degree programs and partner with colleges that offer them. Many online schools offer lower tuition rates and more flexibility in terms of class schedules. Look for colleges that are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP), or similar accrediting bodies.
  5. Celebrate your staff who have earned their degrees and teaching licenses. Share the news in your school bulletins, on your website, with your PTA organizations, and in other internal and external communications. Throw them a party and congratulate them on their achievement.

Putting these five practices in place will help ensure that you are supporting and encouraging your teacher assistants and staff who would make excellent teachers. As a bonus, I recommend reaching out to superintendents of school systems that have implemented grow-your-own teacher programs. Here are just a few: Ashe County, Bladen County, Caldwell County, Harnett County, Lincoln County, and Sampson County.

Sunny Jordan

Sunny Jordan is a strategic partnerships manager with WGU North Carolina, an affiliate of the accredited online nonprofit Western Governors University.