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It’s been nearly one year since the U.S. Department of Labor approved the first registered teacher apprenticeship program, and experts are now noticing states, districts and educator preparation programs increasingly inquiring about and adopting the model.
So far four states — Tennessee, Iowa, West Virginia and Wyoming — have enrolled in teacher apprenticeship programs, and more states are actively exploring their options, said Cheryl Krohn, a senior technical assistance consultant for the American Institutes for Research. AIR is consulting with leaders interested in establishing their own models.
These developments follow an August joint letter from the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Labor encouraging states to use this model as a strategy to address teacher shortages, Krohn said. That advice is quickly being heeded.
“It is a fast-moving train to say the least,” Krohn said.
Because of varying teacher licensure requirements, each state is approaching the apprenticeship model a little differently, she said. Apprenticeships are paid models similar to grow-your-own programs, which invest in high school students, community members or paraprofessionals to help them attain a teaching certification.
Essentially, an apprenticeship pays for a prospective teacher to receive mentoring from another educator as they complete in-classroom training and study to earn a teaching degree and license.
In January, the Labor Department approved the first apprenticeship program for a partnership between Tennessee’s Clarksville-Montgomery County School System and Austin Peay State University. While the program was only just recognized by the federal government this year, the grow-your-own apprenticeship model really began in 2019, said Prentice Chandler, dean of Eriksson College of Education at Austin Peay.
Three years in, the university now has a waiting list for the program, Chandler said. On top of that, Clarksville-Montgomery schools had been set to completely eliminate teacher vacancies in April, according to a spring webinar presented by Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. As of August, teacher vacancies shrunk from 150 to 70 before classes began for the 2022-23 school year, Clarksville Now reported.
While the model has demonstrated success with addressing teacher shortages in Tennessee, experts note that the approach — if done right — will not show results overnight. Because registered teacher apprenticeships are so new, there’s still no “rigorous research” about what’s effective and what works best, Krohn said.
Experts suggest seven best practices for education leaders beginning to implement these programs:
Tap into existing partnerships
Before starting a program, leaders should ask themselves what local partnerships and relationships are already in place, said Jennifer Jirous-Rapp, a technical assistance consultant for AIR.
Jirous-Rapp said other related questions could include:
- “Do we have an existing relationship with a training provider that is very effective already?”
- “Do we have an existing relationship with our workforce area in the state or at the local level?”
- “What are the relationships, what are they like already, and who else do we need to grow in that relationship to really do this well?”
David Donaldson, managing partner of the National Center for Grow Your Own, said an apprenticeship program is often the second phase of existing, high-performing grow-your-own and teacher residency efforts to address shortages. Federal funds should either support or expand these programs, he said.
“I don’t think this should be a brand new thing, a standalone thing, some new creation,” said Donaldson.
Get district buy-in
The apprenticeship model isn’t meant for everyone, Krohn said, so education leaders need to ask themselves, “Is this the right program for me?”
If it is, then leaders need to reach out to the right partners in their state to get the ball rolling, she said. But as seen from current apprenticeships, those conversations can be difficult, and this work can take years before noticeable results come through, Krohn said.
For Chandler, thinking about the district first is crucial.
“Start with what the district needs,” Chandler said. “Which is a different question than what the university needs or faculty at the university need. We have needs, too, but at the end of the day, we exist to serve the public. We exist to produce good teachers for the public.”
Gather the right people in the room
Even though each state is different, the key players to always involve in program discussions are districts, teacher prep providers and state leadership, said Lynn Gangone, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
“If you can get the right people in the room and build the relationships, then you can have a successful apprenticeship program,” Gangone said.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t include other partners in the conversation, Chandler said. Within the Clarksville-Montgomery and Austin Peay State partnership, community colleges and teacher associations are now involved as well, he said.
Use principals to identify candidates
For Donaldson, tapping into principals to find teacher candidates for these programs makes for a great resource. Principals might notice parents, older students or even staff members like cafeteria workers or bus drivers, he said.
“They’re the ones who are going to have to hire the individual as a teacher anyway,” he said. “Really leverage the people, the leaders on the ground, to identify folks.”
Consider dual endorsement
It’s not a requirement for all apprenticeship programs, but Donaldson suggests leaders strongly consider making teaching candidates graduate with a dual endorsement to either instruct special education students or English learners.
“We’re better preparing folks, and they’re having more tools in their toolkit,” Donaldson said.
Such endorsements could also help education leaders tap into more available federal funds through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for special education or Title I funds for English learner instruction, he said.
“This is an opportunity to truly reinvent and do things a little differently,” he said.
For states, leverage tuition costs
To lower expenses, state education agencies should try to negotiate tuition costs with teacher prep providers, Donaldson said. That way, districts also have more leverage and better options when deciding what college to partner with.
Additionally, Donaldson said districts could use an apprenticeship program as a recruitment tool by advertising to prospective teachers about the potential for a free degree and a higher paying job.
The mentorship aspect is also important, he said, because a district isn’t throwing a teacher in training right “to the wolves,” given the strong support system they'll have in the participating school.
Don’t give up before trying
While the costs of a partnership like the one between Clarksville-Montgomery and Austin Peay State University may seem daunting, Chandler said funding this model is not impossible.
The Clarksville-Montgomery teacher apprenticeship program is entirely free to students, he said, and both district and university leaders often tell Chandler this can’t be replicated. However, he said, he’s yet to hear about a model where they couldn’t overcome the financial obstacles.
Chandler said district and university leaders just need to give it a try before giving up. “There’s a way to make it work,” he said.