By Stephen Smoot
Late last year, the State of West Virginia identified a teacher shortage issue that continues to bedevil local school systems. Huntington’s WSAZ news in November reported on a key indicator. In 2015, approximately 600 classrooms were led by teachers not certified in the subject they taught. That number doubled by 2020 and rose this year to 1,544.
The problem has deep roots, some of which were anticipated for decades. In 2008, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago reported that “we find that teacher hiring needs will continue to rise over the next decade, and a good portion of this will be due to retirements.” Additionally, “In particular, there should be more research into which communities might be most in need, especially if the burden falls on schools that traditionally have had the most difficulty recruiting.” The same paper reported that the other consequence of mass generational retirement lay in a combined loss of experience.
At the time it was expected that the generational transition might take a smoother path, but no one anticipated how the onset of the pandemic would affect how that played out. The pandemic caused a sharp rise in retirements for a variety of reasons besides fear of catching COVID.
Pendleton County, Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, and West Virginia University at Parkersburg have forged a partnership to try to identify potential future teachers early on. It also provides a program to encourage that they work in the communities in which they grew up.
Charles Hedrick, Superintendent of Pendleton County Schools, explains that “the Grow Your Own program is designed to facilitate a career path for students to a career in education.” He added that the program will help high school students interested in teaching to “fast-track into their careers through a combination of dual credit/advanced placement courses, and an accelerated pathway.”
That partnership is happening under the statewide “Grow Your Own” initiative. According to Curtis Hakala, dean of academic services for Eastern, “West Virginia’s ‘Grow Your Own’ Program not only provides an early start for students interested in a career in education but also the opportunity for them to graduate from college in three years and be well-prepared to make a difference in the classroom.”
The “Grow Your Own” program starts in high school. According to the state Teach WV website at https://teachwv.com/grow-your-own, high schoolers start the process by speaking to high school guidance counselors and college faculty advisors. Students can take up to 30 hours of dual credit courses that advance students toward both a high school and a college degree. Upon graduation from high school, the student can enter college as a sophomore.
Additionally, as Sherry Michael, Eastern’s education program coordinator says, “these courses require classroom observation hours so students can get that firsthand experience of being in a classroom.”
The first two years in college will see the student completing the rest of their coursework. After that, the student will enter a year-long residency that works along the same lines as an apprenticeship. The county system will provide a cohort supervisor to mentor, coach, and support multiple teacher residents serving as teachers of record. Next, as the Teach WV website explains, “the county system will provide a cohort supervisor to mentor, coach, and support multiple teacher residents serving as teachers of record.”
One of the benefits of the program lies in the reduced cost of earning a degree. Dual credit courses cost the student relatively little or nothing. Students can take the college courses virtually, saving the costs of room, board, and other fees on a college campus.
Hedrick added that “the ‘Grow Your Own’ resident teacher will hold a unique permit that allows them to serve as the teacher of record under the parameters of the West Virginia Residency model.” This could include both Residency 1 and 2. Also, “the county will provide a cohort supervisor to mentor, coach, and support multiple teacher residents serving as teachers of record in Residency Hubs or multiple schools.”
Students in their third year of residency would become eligible for pay.
Michael adds that, “the last two semesters of the bachelor program students will be completing their residency. The residency can be completed in the local counties of Grant and Hardy. If we have students interested in completing their residency in Hampshire or Pendleton counties, we can discuss the options and possibly decide to establish a Memorandum of Understanding to meet the needs of the students.”
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