Teacher Preparation

‘Teacher Prep’ Charter School Seen as a First

By Julie Blair — October 09, 2002 3 min read
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Future teachers living in the Phoenix area are invited to begin their training as early as age 14 at a new charter high school designed to grow educators for the region’s classrooms.

Slated to open next fall, the Teacher Prep Charter High School is believed to be the first charter school in the nation to focus on grooming students for teaching careers. It plans to provide students with introductory classes in pedagogy and various field experiences in education, in addition to the rest of the high school curriculum, said Corina Gardea, the president of Phoenix College, one of two community colleges in Phoenix partnering to develop the program.

“We keep hearing about the great need for teachers not only in Maricopa County, but nationwide,” Ms. Gardea said. “We know the shortage is only going to become greater as scores of teachers begin to retire ... so we created a high school that will target young people.”

Experts agree the school could move to the forefront of such programs nationally.

Grow-your-own-teacher programs aimed at high school students and at adults interested in changing careers are gaining popularity as administrators aim to stretch their recruitment dollars, said Barnett Berry, the director of policy and state partnerships for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a privately organized panel made up of educators, public officials, business leaders, and others. Such initiatives are a good bet because they yield teachers who want to work in the communities in which they are trained, he said.

“It makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Berry said, “especially in urban and rural communities that generally have a difficult time attracting folks from the outside.”

Administrators at Phoenix College and its partner, South Mountain Community College, hope to serve 80 students in the new school annually, Ms. Gardea said. The school will seek students from throughout Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes Phoenix.

Although the curriculum has yet to be worked out, students will have an opportunity to earn dual high school and college credit. Their work will be ungraded, though their performance will be assessed before they are promoted.

Housed by Colleges

The school’s organizers intend to hire high school teachers who have worked as teacher-educators and anticipate that college faculty members will offer guest lectures, Ms. Gardea said.

The goal is to usher students on to higher education, where they will earn degrees in education before returning, the organizers hope, to teach in one of the more than 30 school districts in and around Phoenix, she said. The school will be housed in a building now used by a consortium of community colleges and managed by Phoenix College.

The program will be useful because it will likely yield minority teachers, who are in especially high demand, said Penny Kotterman, the president of the Arizona Education Association. Most administrators are currently able to fill vacancies, yet the teacher workforce lacks diversity, a particular problem when schools serve mostly Hispanic students, as is the case in the Phoenix area, she said.

But not everyone is sure the concept of a high school dedicated solely to prospective teachers will fly.

“I think it is fantastic; I hope it can work,” said Susan Katzman, the director for career and technical education in the St. Louis school system, which runs a program for such students within a traditional high school. “But it is not always easy to convince young people this is a profession they should pursue.”

Students often worry they won’t make enough money as teachers, or say they don’t want to spend four years in college to earn the degree necessary for employment, she said. Enrollment in the St. Louis program is low enough, Ms. Katzman said, that administrators are considering expanding the scope to include child-care workers.

But such initiatives can have—and have had—a positive impact on the teacher pipeline, said Janice Poda, the senior director of the division of teacher quality in South Carolina.

Her state began offering high school students education courses in 1985 and, to date, 45 percent of the 30,000 participants, known as “teacher cadets,” are now teaching. About 32 percent of those educators are members of minority groups.

“Just yesterday, I spoke with all the district teachers of the year ... and out of 65 or 70 people, eight were teacher cadets,” Ms. Poda said. “One was a finalist for national teacher of the year.”

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