Future of Teaching

Too few teachers? This Indianapolis school district is growing its own

PHOTO: Dana Altemeyer, Lawrence Township
This year's Lawrence Township alternative license program cohort.

Michael Johnson has worked in schools for almost two decades, but he might finally stand in front of his own classroom next year.

Johnson, 45, is one of 14 prospective teachers in a new program designed to help teachers aides and other non-licensed school staff members earn teaching licenses while they work. The goal is to increase the district’s hiring pool while making it more diverse.

“We’re missing the mark on a lot of homegrown (teachers) that we have right within our own four walls,” said Tim Harshbarger, executive director for human resources in Lawrence Township Schools. “These are folks that know us, know our culture — some have been with us for years.”

The “district-based alternative certification” program was formed out of a partnership between Lawrence Township and the Indiana University School of Education at IUPUI. The 18-month program offers classes in the evening so students can work toward an elementary school teaching license while keeping their district jobs.

For Johnson, who has worked at Harrison Hill Elementary School for the past four years as a liaison between students, families, and teachers, the new program lets him move into a more direct role to help students while also teaching him more about what to look for in his own children’s education.

“I started to realize I can only go so far with what I have,” said Johnson, a father of two. “Doing this not only supports you as an individual to get the certification and get into teaching, but it helps you as a parent.”

For years, Indiana has been struggling to find ways to encourage more people to become teachers and keep experienced teachers in the classroom. The state has launched internet campaigns, created scholarships, and given districts permission to award some teachers in high-demand areas stipends, but districts still report that they struggle to hire — especially teachers of color.

That is a particular concern in urban districts like Lawrence Township and Indianapolis Public Schools, where most students are not white. In 2015-16, the most recent year’s data available, 93 percent of Indiana teachers were white, while 4.3 percent were black and 1.3 percent were Hispanic. The state’s enrollment this year shows two-thirds of students were white, and about 12 percent each were black or Hispanic.

Lawrence is hoping a “grow your own” approach could be a more effective solution for hiring that also allows students to learn from teachers with a better understanding of their backgrounds. Research has shown that students can benefit from learning from teachers who look like them.

Twelve of Lawrence’s 14 teacher program participants are people of color, and most of them are social workers, teaching assistants and behavior specialists who have been working in Lawrence Township for years.

“Traditional programs oftentimes tend to attract white women as students, and the research shows us that these alternate certification programs are more likely to attract students of color who will be teachers of color down the road,” said IUPUI professor Paula Magee.

The 18-month teacher certification program includes seven college classes and a semester of student teaching, and it costs about $14,000, with no financial assistance provided by the district or the university. Participants will finish in December with an elementary school teaching license and could be employed as teachers as early as January, although a job is not guaranteed.

They’ll also be six classes short of completing a master’s degree in education and will have the foundation to add-on other license areas, such as special education or English as a new language.

Because the classes are offered in the evenings, students can keep their district jobs during the day — often a hurdle for career-changers who need a full-time income, but only have the option to go to school during business hours. The classes are also held in Lawrence Township, so students don’t have to travel far.

“We’ve tried to make it really accessible for the students,” Magee said. “It makes that entry back into grad school a little smoother for them.”

Several other states have explored similar teaching programs for years, sometimes with mixed results.

Illinois’ effort to educate and license 1,000 new teachers ran into problems early on when students, who could take out loans provided by the state, were found to be dropping out in high numbers, due to poor academic performance or personal reasons. But programs that take students who already have a college degree, like the one in San Francisco, and those that don’t require the state to make a financial gamble, could be better positioned to succeed.

Magee said IUPUI and Lawrence are working on ways to address how to support its prospective teachers even when they leave the program. So far, only one or two students are not expected to move on to the student teaching portion in the fall, officials said.

Lawrence officials said this project has been in the works for years, and they’re excited by the turnout so far. The district is already making plans for a second cohort next year, and Magee said Wayne Township has also shown interest in starting a similar program.

To be eligible, prospective teachers need a bachelor’s degree and must be a full-time employee in the district in a non-certified role. Johnson said it was initially difficult to get back into school mode, but the support from his district and the university made a huge difference. He likens their support to the kind he frequently gives to his students and their families.

“It’s rewarding,” Johnson said. “We are all just meeting each other where we are, and that’s helping us to meet families where they are. And that’s education.”

This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of remaining classes necessary for teachers to earn a master’s degree.

Top teacher

Franklin educator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: TDOE
Melissa Miller leads her students in a learning game at Franklin Elementary School in Franklin Special School District in Williamson County. Miller is Tennessee's 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.

A first-grade teacher in Franklin is Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year.

Melissa Miller

Melissa Miller, who works at Franklin Elementary School, received the 2018-19 honor for excellence in the classroom Thursday evening during a banquet in Nashville.

A teacher for 19 years, she is National Board Certified, serves as a team leader and mentor at her school, and trains her colleagues on curriculum and technology in Franklin’s city school district in Williamson County, just south of Nashville. She will represent Tennessee in national competition and serve on several working groups with the state education department.

Miller was one of nine finalists statewide for the award, which has been presented to a Tennessee public school teacher most every year since 1960 as a way to promote respect and appreciation for the profession. The finalists were chosen based on scoring from a panel of educators; three regional winners were narrowed down following interviews.

In addition to Miller, who also won in Middle Tennessee, the state recognized Lori Farley, a media specialist at North City Elementary School in Athens City Schools, in East Tennessee. Michael Robinson, a high school social studies teacher at Houston High School in Germantown Municipal School District, was this year’s top teacher in West Tennessee.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen praised the finalists for leading their students to impressive academic gains and growth. She noted that “teachers are the single most important factor in improving students’ achievement.”

Last year’s statewide winner was Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher in Nashville who has since moved to a middle school in the same Franklin district as Miller.

You can learn more about Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year program here.

PSA

Have you thought about teaching? Colorado teachers union sells the profession in new videos

PHOTO: Colorado Education Association

There are a lot of factors contributing to a shortage of teachers in Colorado and around the nation. One of them — with potentially long-term consequences — is that far fewer people are enrolling in or graduating from teacher preparation programs. A recent poll found that more than half of respondents, citing low pay and lack of respect, would not want their children to become teachers.

Earlier this year, one middle school teacher told Chalkbeat the state should invest in public service announcements to promote the profession.

“We could use some resources in Colorado to highlight how attractive teaching is, for the intangibles,” said Mary Hulac, who teaches English in the Greeley-Evans district. “I tell my students every day, this is the best job.

“You learn every day as a teacher. I’m a language arts teacher. When we talk about themes, and I hear a story through another student’s perspective, it’s always exciting and new.”

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has brought some resources to help get that message out with a series of videos aimed at “up-and-coming professionals deciding on a career.” A spokesman declined to say how much the union was putting into the ad buy.

The theme of the ads is: “Change a life. Change the world.”

“Nowhere but in the education profession can a person have such a profound impact on the lives of students,” association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a press release. “We want to show that teaching is a wonderful and noble profession.”

As the union notes, “Opportunities to teach in Colorado are abundant.”

One of the ads features 2018 Colorado Teacher of the Year Christina Randle.

“Are you ready to be a positive role model for kids and have a direct impact on the future?” Randle asks.

Another features an education student who was inspired by her own teachers and a 20-year veteran talking about how much she loves her job.

How would you sell the teaching profession to someone considering their career options? Let us know at co.tips@chalkbeat.org.