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Apprenticeships are common in fields like welding, plumbing and carpentry, but until recently, the federal government didn’t recognize teaching apprenticeships. Educators are now hoping that new federal funding, combined with experience from college programs, will open the floodgates to a new class of qualified, diverse teachers. Stephanie Sy reports from Dallas for our series, Rethinking College.
Apprentice apprenticeships are common in fields like welding and plumbing and carpentry. But, until recently, the federal government didn't recognize teaching apprenticeships.
The Biden administration changed that, and educators are now hoping that new federal funding, combined with experience from college programs, will open the floodgates to a new class of qualified, diverse teachers for America's schools.
Stephanie Sy reports from Dallas for our series Rethinking College.
Pricila Cano Padron, Teacher Apprentice:
And then we see that they have some right ones.
Twenty-two-year-old Pricila Cano Padron says she has always dreamed of becoming a teacher.
Pricila Cano Padron:
I have always wanted to help people. I have always wanted to help someone in need. Just seeing the relationship I had with my teachers in elementary school and how they have helped me, it's always been my dream.
She is a first generation Mexican-American, just like many of the students in this classroom at Audelia Creek Elementary in Dallas, Texas.
I see students that remind me of myself when I was in their third grade classroom.
Now, thanks to a teaching apprenticeship, Cano Padron is on her way to realizing her dream. Teacher apprenticeships, at least those registered with the Department of Labor, are new, started last year by the Biden administration in response to the pandemic; 17 states have registered apprenticeship programs, with interest spreading.
Shareefah Nadir-Mason, Dallas College:
After COVID and losing so many teachers in our classrooms, we really had to come back to the table to figure out what new teaching models would look like.
And we knew we had to do something different.
Shareefah Nadir-Mason administers the program at Dallas College, which offers a low-cost bachelors degree combined with paid on-the-job training.
Number one should have how many?
That's what Pricila Cano Padron was doing at Audelia Creek Elementary.
We don't simply want our students to be first-generation graduates. We want them to be first-generation unimpoverished. So we want them to walk into the field without the burden of student loan debt.
In nearly all 50 states, certified teachers are required to have at least a bachelor's degree, which comes with an average cost of over $35,000 per year.
The student teaching in the last year is typically unpaid. It's a barrier for many would-be teachers. The Labor Department's approval of registered teacher apprenticeships unlocks federal funding to cover tuition, books, and fees.
David Donaldson, Founder & Managing Partner, National Center for Grow Your Own: That is a game-changer and allows us to have a different conversation about who gets to become a teacher and how they get to become a teacher.
David Donaldson is founder of the National Center for Grow Your Own, a nonprofit working to expand the teaching work force.
We help states and school districts across the country launch these registered apprenticeship programs, with the ultimate goal of creating pathways for folks to become a teacher for free and get paid to do so.
Donaldson challenges the notion that teaching is no longer a desirable profession. He says there are teachers all around us.
Whether parents, tutors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, folks who have a heart for teaching, who, if simply given the opportunity — and, usually, what this means is removing the financial barrier — would make an excellent teacher if given the chance.
Ramia Dawes, Teacher Apprentice:
I wanted to be a teacher. I just couldn't.
Ramia Dawes drove a school bus in Dallas for more than a decade.
I loved driving the school bus. I drove the big old bus…
with about 50 kids in the back.
Getting a B.A. while feeding and clothing her two kids seemed impossible not so long ago.
I was working with kids for 11 years, driving the school bus.
And that whole time, you were thinking, I wouldn't mind being a teacher.
Yes, I just didn't have the resources to do so.
The Dallas College apprenticeship program allowed her to continue her higher education.
It says carrying nine bags of marbles for a craft.
She made roughly $30,000 as a teacher apprentice in the Richardson Independent School District last year.
I'm working. I'm getting a paycheck every two weeks, and I'm going to school. I have always wanted to be able to still provide for my family, but also do something that I really had a passion for.
High-minority, high-poverty regions like Richardson ISD have been hit harder by the national teacher shortage.
Tabitha Branum is the district superintendent.
Tabitha Branum, Superintendent, Richardson Independent School District:
If you would have told me 10 years ago that we would be a place in education where we start a year with anywhere between 50 and 100 vacancies, I would not have believed you.
But our surrounding districts, we are all faced with having to look at how we staff differently, because the shortage is real.
The shortage is a key reason why Branum decided to partner with Dallas College. The apprentices help support the full-time teachers and also fill vital roles as substitutes.
It's an extra set of hands in the classroom. And then add to it — we have talked about the teacher shortage. Let's talk about the substitute shortage.
We have worked really hard to message to our educators, take care of yourself. If you're sick, stay home. So, the fact that these apprentices are now substitutes for us one day a week, the relief of those teachers in that building who know that I might be off this week, but that apprentice is going to be in my classroom, they can really take the day off and not worry.
Through the Dallas College program, apprentices spend significantly more time working in classrooms than they would in a traditional program, far better preparation for an aspiring educator, says Shareefah Nadir-Mason.
We have a lot of smart people that graduate in education, but haven't had the opportunity to practice enough. And so we built a program that is strictly built around practice.
The teacher apprentices are assigned to experienced mentors in the classroom, building their skills and confidence.
When I first came, I was like, I don't really know how to teach math. And I'm really scared. But I'm learning from people that are doing it in the classroom. They know how to handle classroom management. They know how to teach. And I'm able to look at it and model it.
Eighteen. You have 42 little eyes looking at you.
And with the help of Ms. Gasper (ph) and all my other my team members, they helped me overcome that shyness, that fear that I had of teaching up there.
What do you guys see?
Grow Your Own's David Donaldson says the apprenticeships are the first step toward his ultimate vision, a free quality education for every teacher in America.
Imagine a world with no teacher vacancies. That is a really exciting thing to think about, every kid having not only the teacher they need, but deserve.
A teacher, one might say, like Pricila Cano Padron.
OK, who can help me with number five?
She graduated this month, and has already accepted an offer to teach fourth grade reading at a local elementary school.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I am Stephanie Sy in Dallas.
Watch the Full Episode
Stephanie Sy is a PBS NewsHour correspondent and serves as anchor of PBS NewsHour West. Throughout her career, she served in anchor and correspondent capacities for ABC News, Al Jazeera America, CBSN, CNN International, and PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior to joining NewsHour, she was with Yahoo News where she anchored coverage of the 2018 Midterm Elections and reported from Donald Trump’s victory party on Election Day 2016.
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