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May 1, 2018

The Grow-Your-Own Game Plan

Teacher-academy programs get high school students hooked on teaching, but need support from a variety of key stakeholders.
Working with young people is the very best part of teaching. It's the rocket fuel central to every great teaching moment. As decades of research confirm, most teachers who choose teaching and stay with it do so because, at the end of the day, they enjoy working with young people (Drury & Baer, 2011).
This insight is the key to cultivating the next generation of highly skilled, well prepared teachers. Providing more bright, altruistic teenagers with an authentic taste of the best of what teaching can be—the experience of working with young people—can inspire more students to become teachers. It needs to be the heart of any grow-your-own game plan to sustain a strong teaching workforce.
And we need a game plan, both because teaching shortages exist and because we need to broaden and diversify local teaching talent pools. Every community can build its own teacher pipeline by starting early and focusing on the core of what makes teaching attractive—hands-on experience. It makes sense for communities to look within to nurture their teaching workforce; more than 60 percent of U.S. teachers work within 20 miles of where they went to high school (Reininger, 2012).

Teaching as Career and Technical Education

Since 2010, many U.S. high schools have offered "teacher academy" courses as a career and technical education (CTE) option. These programs have many names—Teacher Cadet, Education & Training, and Teachers for Tomorrow are a few. Executed well, these courses give secondary students rich opportunities to learn the ropes of teaching under the wing of a veteran teacher and to gain experience through internships in local elementary or middle schools. These experiences can be eye-opening. Teacher-academy participants can make informed choices about where and how to pursue teaching. They get a running start on the road to becoming accomplished practitioners as they begin building a toolbox of teaching skills. And they become part of a larger movement to strengthen education.
But teacher-academy programs currently represent only a drop in the bucket of career-pathway programs in American high schools. More than 2 million high school students are active members of career and technical student organizations, but only about two percent of those students are exploring teaching. With a need to hire 300,000 new teachers every year, it's clear we need a lot more teacher-academy programs to attract young people into the pipeline. Waiting passively for prospective teachers to step forward once they're in college is too late; according to ACT data, 95 percent of college-bound youth have already chosen a career option other than teaching by the time they graduate high school (ACT, 2015). We must tap altruistic youth sooner.
The career-academy model offers an outstanding vehicle for this. Students long to make an impact; teacher-academy programs give them a way to do so, often with dual credit to boot. These programs yield both long-term benefits (by positively affecting teacher staffing years down the line) and immediate ones (by raising the bar on students' college and career readiness, school culture, and teacher retention).

Game Plan: A Role for Many Stakeholders

To get the quality and numbers of new U.S. teachers we'll need, we must engage a phalanx of stakeholders who have a keen interest in the success of grow-your-own efforts. Broad support to promote grow-your-own initiatives can engender momentum and create more effective programs than we have now, with individual schools pulling together their own teacher-academy courses on the fly. Here are some promising ideas for how various stakeholders can catalyze and support grow-your-own efforts.

State Education Agencies: Putting Skin in the Game

State education agencies (SEAs) can lead grow-your-own efforts in many ways, from facilitating communication to coordinating a comprehensive program. At the very least, SEAs can give local education agencies and schools permission and encouragement to build teacher-academy programs. State superintendents can explicitly prioritize grow-your-own initiatives in their communications and recommendations, linking it to other key areas of focus like diversifying teaching and increasing teacher quality. In recent years, for instance, the Council of Chief State School Officers has amplified state-level grow-your-own efforts through their programming and messaging, including its current Diverse and Learner-Ready Teachers Initiative.
One concrete way SEAs can advance grow-your-own programs is for state career and technical education offices to formally recognize and allocate resources to Educators Rising, a career and technical student organization that can easily be integrated into teacher academy programs. (Disclosure: I am the former codirector of the organization, which is part of PDK International) School-based Educators Rising chapters offer students taking teacher academy courses leadership opportunities, competitions, and the chance to network with a larger movement of like-minded peers beyond their school walls. Delaware and Arizona have seen sharp upticks in teacher academy participation and quality since they began housing the Educators Rising state coordinator at their state education agency. When Kansas recognized Educators Rising in 2016, it was the first change to their CTSO community in 60 years! In other states, sadly, ancient CTE turf battles have frozen out Educators Rising, a relative newcomer to the field, despite dire need to grow the teaching workforce.
Some states restrict eligibility for who can teach the teacher academy courses, requiring teachers to have family and consumer sciences (formerly known as home economics) certification. This type of red tape should be cut. States should encourage districts to think of recruiting teachers for teacher academy courses as a way to offer excellent practitioners a chance to lead without leaving the classroom—and to become ambassadors for teaching.
Beyond removing barriers, state education agencies can act as coordinating hubs for jumpstarting grow-your-own programs statewide. For instance, the Texas Education Agency launched a $3 million grant in January to promote district-based grow-your-own activities. The grants are primarily targeted towards credentialing teachers for teacher-academy programs, as well as for funding paraprofessionals who are seeking teaching licenses and providing stipends for student teachers.
No state has put more skin in the grow-your-own game than Kentucky. In 2017–2018, Kentucky Department of Education's Division of Next Generation Professionals launched a sprawling pilot of nearly 80 teacher-academy programs (known in Kentucky as Teaching and Learning Career Pathways) in high schools across the state. The agency plans to double that number next year. Kentucky's education department worked closely with four leading colleges of education early in the planning phase to ensure that the high school course content was aligned to postsecondary expectations and that dual-credit opportunities would be available to participants. The colleges (University of Louisville, Kentucky State University, Murray State University, and Northern Kentucky University) were so inspired that they're now actively involved in training teacher leaders and providing ongoing support to schools.

Districts: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

The grow-your-own rubber hits the road in districts when the superintendent supports such efforts and when the teacher-quality, CTE, and human resources offices become involved in them. The teacher-quality shop is well positioned to guide program-related professional development, while the CTE office can effectively maintain administrative components like keeping the work-based learning industry-aligned. The HR connection is important, since the district isn't just running these career-focused programs—it's also the future employer for students who go through them.
For nearly a decade, Virginia Beach City Public Schools has offered its schools a very comprehensive grow-your-own program. Perhaps most notably, the district purposefully cultivated a widespread perception of the program—known as Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow, or VTfT—as cool. VTfT courses are offered in 10 of Virginia Beach's 11 comprehensive high schools, where high-achieving students are able to participate. Despite multiple superintendent transitions, Virginia Beach has institutionalized certain expectations that keep the value proposition for VTfT participants strong. Students who sign up for VTfT
  • Work under the best teacher leaders in the district. The district is highly selective in choosing teachers to facilitate VTfT courses; several are district teacher of the year recipients or National Board-certified.
  • Enjoy well-supported, hands-on teaching experiences.
  • Earn early college credit with Tidewater Community College.
  • Have a chance at a Future Teacher Award, which guarantees winners a teaching job within the district.
The last item is essential. Virginia Beach expertly closes the grow-your-own loop by committing to hire their own. In 2017, 21 graduating seniors earned Future Teacher Awards. All students in VTfT—and across the school community, for that matter—know that excelling in the program comes with the reward of securing gainful employment. This ingenious incentive, managed by the district's human resources office and celebrated publicly at a year-end board meeting, costs the school system little, but provides a priceless boost for the program's accountability and local brand.
Districts can lead in building pathways to high-quality postsecondary teacher-prep programs. Houston Independent School District's Teach Forward Houston partnership with the University of Houston offers undergraduate scholarships to select aspiring teachers who commit to returning to the district to teach as professionals. Supporting career centers within the district—and ensuring that teacher academies are included in such centers—is also important. While many high schools, especially in rural communities, may not have capacity to implement a complete teacher-academy program, career centers that specialize in work-based learning and offer courses related to working in schools can go a long way.
Encouraging homegrown teachers can even be an effective component of a grant application. The New York City Department of Education recently won a federal Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program grant for a suite of programs to elevate and modernize teaching in the Bronx. Part of the winning proposal emphasized an oft-stated priority of recently retired schools chancellor Carmen Fariña—to implement "Future Teacher" clubs and courses in high schools across the city.

Colleges of Education: Motivated to Innovate

Formal teacher preparation primarily takes place in institutions of higher education, where nearly 80 percent of teachers are traditionally prepared (Warner-Griffin, Noel, Tadler, & Owens, 2016). As the academic and programmatic home for the discipline of teacher preparation, colleges of education have expert faculty and staff members who can bring phenomenal leadership and support to grow-your-own programs. And colleges of education are more motivated than ever to invest in innovative, recruitment-based efforts because teacher-preparation enrollment across the nation remains in deep decline.
Towson University, the largest producer of teachers in Maryland, is heavily invested in grow-your-own offerings. The school's college of education partners with the Maryland State Department of Education to lead Teacher Academy of Maryland, supplying high schools across the state with curriculum, summer training for students, an online portal for participants, early college credit, and scholarships. In 2017, Towson went further to sign on as the hosting organization for Educators Rising Maryland, facilitating events and support for more than 2,000 secondary students across the state enrolled in teacher-academy courses.
University of Nebraska Omaha effectively hands its introductory Foundations of Education course to teachers in Omaha's high schools to use with their 12th graders in teacher-academy programs. The flagship university's buy-in, enthusiastically led by school of education Dean Nancy Edick, has helped to solidify and sustain the district's commitment to its teacher-academy programs. And University of Colorado Denver wisely supported visionary professor Margarita Bianco's development of Pathways2Teaching, a teacher-academy program that emphasizes cultural competence and increasing diversity in teaching.

Teachers' Unions: Mobilizing Affiliates

Grow-your-own can be a delightful area of common ground between unions and districts; everyone benefits from getting skilled, durable teachers into all classrooms. At the national level, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten are ardent grow-your-own supporters who have repeatedly expressed eagerness to engage teenagers as aspiring educators. In the past two years, both unions have invested resources in developed grow-you-own content and in mobilizing their affiliates to support new programs in high schools.
In Rhode Island, a coalition to launch teacher-academy programs statewide was initiated—and is currently led—by Rhode Island Federation of Teachers staff. A similar, union-led effort is in operation in Montana, and NEA affiliates in Missouri and Kansas commit part of a senior staff member's time to facilitating grow-your-own work.
Going forward, unions could provide stronger leadership by pressing to institutionalize elements that support teacher-academy programs—such as stipends for teacher-academy instructors and incentives like Virginia Beach's guaranteed future employment—within local labor agreements.

Regional Allies: A Potential Game Changer

Limited funding is an important part of why grow-your-own efforts have been only on the fringes of teacher workforce conversations until recently. Without a natural industry partner—the public school system is the industry—teacher-academy programs have historically lacked the private sector investment that career pathways in agriculture, business, and technology have enjoyed. Given the inherently local nature of grow-your-own efforts, it would be a game-changer if governors, state legislatures, local and regional businesses, and chambers of commerce were to rally around this approach and make it a priority. Allies in the public and private sectors could ensure that teacher-academy programs are perceived as must-have keystones to a vital local workforce-development initiative.
In pockets where funders have made a significant financial investment in future teachers—the North Carolina Teaching Fellows and the Golden Apple Foundation in Illinois are prime examples—results have been inspiring. After being shuttered due to budget cuts in 2011, the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program is being revived for a new cohort of students beginning this fall. The Golden Apple Foundation continues its mission to provide financial and educational support to homegrown aspiring teachers in Illinois, although its funding has sometimes been a political football in the state budget process.

A Chance to Test-Drive Teaching

One size never fits all in education. However, the recent activation of so many committed, creative leaders has provided diverse examples of how to build promising grow-your-own pipelines. Whatever approach is used, all good grow-your-own programs give young people a chance to take teaching for a test drive. Lived experience is the most valuable clay for molding a person's identity as a committed future educator—and the strongest armor against the discouragement they inevitably will face in the profession.
Every child deserves a highly skilled, well-prepared teacher. These don't grow on our trees. With smart programs, policy, and partnerships, we have to nurture them ourselves.
References

ACT. (2015, April 20). Future teacher pipeline narrows even further. (press release). Iowa City, IA: Author. Retrieved from www.act.org/content/act/en/newsroom/future-teacher-pipeline-narrows-even-further-act-report-shows-fewer-high-school-grad-planning-to-become-educators.html

Drury, D. & Baer, J. (2011). The American public school teacher: Past, present, and future. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Reininger, M. (2012). Hometown disadvantage? It depends on where you're from. Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 34(2), 127.

Warner-Griffin, C., Noel, A., Tadler, C., & Owens, C. (2016). Sources of newly hired teachers in the United States: Results from the Schools and Staffing Survey, 1987–88 to 2011–12. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

 Dan Brown, a National Board Certified teacher and the author of The Great Expectations School (Arcade, 2011), serves as director of national engagement for the Jefferson Education Exchange. 

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