District grow-your-own programs bring students home to teach

Finding and hiring qualified teachers is one of the most important tasks facing school HR administrators. Proactive districts look for any advantage they can get to increase their teacher candidate pools.
More than 200 Texas districts participate in grow-your-own teacher programs by offering career education students with an interest in teaching firsthand classroom experience.
Diane Salazar, state director for career and technical education at the Texas Education Agency (TEA), noted that grow-your-own teacher programs are essentially a field-based internship for a high school student, one that provides them with child development knowledge and teaches them the principles of effective teaching practices.
The benefits of the program are many. Participants get a real taste of what it’s like to be a teacher through their work in district classrooms, helping them determine whether teaching is truly the career path they want to pursue. Districts get additional helping hands in the classroom and potentially increase their pipeline of educators in the future.

Showcasing education as a career

The career education course for students has evolved over many years. Initially, its sole focus was on developing elementary teachers. In the early 2000s, TEA’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department moved to standardize the education course, name, and content offered by Texas districts. Dubbed Ready, Set, Teach!, the new course was expanded in scope to offer K‒12 preparation.
The move to Ready, Set, Teach! was accompanied by a surge in district interest.  In 2009, the State Board of Education adopted the course and changed the name to Instructional Practices in Education and Training. Some districts that had already built their programs around the Ready, Set, Teach! name opted to keep it.
In addition to spending classroom time learning the principles of teaching, participating students plan and direct instruction and group activities, prepare instructional materials, assist with recordkeeping, and do anything else a classroom teacher would do. They observe classroom teachers at work and lead classroom lessons. Placement rotations offer students a glimpse at a variety of teacher roles at different grade and ability levels and in different subject areas.

On board in Arlington ISD

Arlington ISD CTE Coordinator Ginger Polster said the draw for the district in offering career education courses “…is the commitment by the district to develop and provide those unique learning experiences for students. What better way to attract future educators than to offer them this experience.”
Arlington’s Ready, Set, Teach! program has been around for a decade and is available at all six district’s high schools. Students typically take three years of career education; some take classes all four years if their schedule allows it.
All 8th-grade students are required to take a year-long, Career and Technology in Higher Education Investigations course where they go over all the career clusters available at the high school level so they can make their four-year plan. Polster said that course has increased awareness of Ready, Set, Teach! and increased enrollment by more than 20 percent this year.
Students spend four to six weeks in class working with their career education teacher learning what they need to know to begin working in the classroom. After that, they are in classrooms around the district working on lesson plans, developing portfolios, teaching lessons, and doing anything else the teacher asks them to do.
Polster said that kids in the program have to be really committed. “They provide support in the classroom, learn teaching strategies, and follow district goals. As a result, they aren’t starting from square one if we hire them back. It’s about having our own pipeline,” Polster said. She noted that a large number of students—about half—return to the district with the intent of getting a teaching job there.
Arlington offer preferred applicant status to their students who complete all program requirements. That status moves them to the top of the candidate pool for interviews. Also, HR gives them a step-by-step presentation of what they have to do in college and once they graduate to get a job in Arlington, so they definitely have a leg up on other job seekers.
Polster said that dropping the letters of intent has not decreased student interest in the program because students are most interested in getting hands-on experience to determine whether teaching is the right career path for them.
Polster outlined three key elements of a successful Ready, Set, Teach program:
  • Be good partners with the principals and teachers that allow students to come in and learn about the profession firsthand. “Without them allowing [students] to come in, the kids wouldn’t have the same experience and the program wouldn’t exist,” Polster said.
  • The students need to be in a true student teaching situation, engaged and working in the classroom just like it is theirs.
  • Teachers must hold students accountable just as they would other student teachers. “How you dress, how you interact on social media, all of that has an impact on how you’re perceived,” Polster said.

Strong student participation in Cleburne, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISDs

Holly Kelley, family and consumer sciences teacher in Cleburne ISD, has a steady group of about 20 students each year participating in career education classes that are interested in a teaching career. Kelley’s students are also very involved in the classroom, tutoring students before tests, learning how to use student data, going on field trips, and helping in the library or computer labs. “They learn classroom management, communication with parents, how to teach and evaluate a lesson…what it takes to be a teacher,” Kelley said.
She feels confident that her students are well-prepared to pursue an education degree when they get to college. “I have checked the Education 101 syllabus with several colleges in our area and I was already teaching 90 percent of what they teach,” Kelley said. In addition, she says her students are well-prepared to work as substitutes to earn money and gain experience while in college.
A handful of Kelley’s former students have returned to Cleburne ISD to teach. Others have kept in touch to let her know that they are teaching in other districts.
Wendy Frisbey, family and consumer science teacher in Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, says that the district is very supportive of having career education students in the classroom, so much so that a student will speak at a  board meeting in January and the group is often asked to help with district and community events.
She has one student who expressed an interest in working with special needs students who is getting to do just that. Other teachers have strongly encouraged her to keep several bilingual students in the program to help staff the district’s three bilingual elementary schools.
“I think the program works because [students] are truly interested in becoming a teacher and they have greater opportunity because they already know what it’s like in the classroom,” Frisbey said. Four of her former students are teaching in the district and more have contacted her to let her know that they are teaching elsewhere.
Neither district offers students any kind of incentive to students who return to teach.

Tapping into student talent

It’s clear that students who have positive experiences working in classrooms are more likely to return to become teachers. Salazar outlined some of the other benefits for students and districts:
  • Students with hands-on experience are more likely to complete their educator preparation program and become teachers.
  • Districts with grow-your-own teacher programs are helping to address teacher shortages.
  • Students that participate are eligible to participate in local, regional, state, and national leadership activities through the Texas Association of Future Educators (TAFE) and the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America. All three districts interviewed for this story have active TAFE chapters.
  • The Teacher Prep Texas Initiative can provide the training and experiences necessary for students to qualify for certification as an educational aide when they graduate. As certified aides, students have advantages in employment opportunities beyond high school.
  • Students can receive training and experiences that lead to public service endorsements and scholarships