How One State Is Using Education College Students to Plug an Ongoing Teacher Shortage

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Faced with an ongoing teacher shortage during the coronavirus pandemic, officials in Connecticut announced plans late last year to allow college students to teach in public school classrooms, offering aspiring educators hands-on experience while alleviating the staffing crunch for administrators.

The pilot program, dubbed NextGen Educators, is a partnership between the Connecticut State Department of Education and Central Connecticut State University. It’s already active in Bristol, where 18 education students are working as apprentice teachers in elementary school classrooms. Three additional school districts are in line to participate if the program is expanded.

The pilot works by assigning two participants to each classroom, with the expectation that each will provide “two to three days of support.” The apprentice educators are mentored by “master” teachers and will be paid at the same rate as substitute teachers, with the state funding necessary background checks, according to a news release.

Participants will not receive class credit for their work and because the program is viewed as “clinical placement,” they also do not have to be certified as teachers to participate. This means the apprentices can work with students even if the full-time teacher is sick or in quarantine. That provision is key, as it provides additional staffing options for schools while giving program participants hands-on experience, Gov. Ned Lamont said at a news conference.

“If we can start rolling out these apprentice teachers soon, what a difference that will make in terms of our ability to keep classrooms open,” he said.

The program will also place an emphasis on recruiting education students from “diverse and underrepresented backgrounds” to help the state’s teacher pool look more like its student population. The state hopes to add about a thousand certified educators of color by next year, part of a larger effort to increase the percentage of non-white educators from 8.3% in the 2015-16 school year to 10% by 2021.

“Creating a pipeline like this that encourages our college students to explore careers in K-12 education will not only increase the amount of talent in our schools, but it will also greatly enhance the diversity of those who teach within our school systems,” Lamont said in a statement.

The announcement comes as schools across the country grapple with a shortage of educators, a longstanding problem that in many places has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly a third of teachers have said that the pandemic has made them more likely to retire early or leave the professional altogether, a figure that “increases to about one in two or more among those with more than 30 years of experience or those ages 50 or older,” according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.

Some school districts, including Shasta County in Northern California, have found it difficult to keep schools open because substitute teachers—many of them retirees—have opted out of working due to fear of exposure to the virus. School administrators in Irving, Texas, rejected more than 150 requests from teachers to work from home, saying there were not enough staff members to adequately supervise in-person learners. In Indiana, teachers have asked schools to scale back or pause in-person learning as the virus transmission continues in nearly every county in the state.

“Because of overwhelming staff shortages, we’re seeing teachers and staff being brought back to buildings without completing the CDC recommended 14-day quarantine period,” Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said in a statement. “We have teachers who are not just covering classes that have no teachers, but also filling in front office duties. This situation is unsustainable and unsafe.”

This article originally appeared at Route Fifty and is published in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Exchange.

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