Search form

Pathways Program Helps Combat Teacher Shortage

Education World recently spoke with Dr. Beatriz "Toni" Clewell about Pathways to Teaching Careers, a program that has transformed non-certified teachers, experienced paraprofessionals, and former Peace Corps volunteers into fully qualified teachers working in urban schools. Discover what puts this model for teacher training ahead of the class! Included: Pathways-trained teachers talk about how they were prepared for the demands of teaching in inner city schools.

Public schools throughout the United States face a growing shortage of teachers; that shortage is already critical in many urban schools. The Dewitt Wallace Pathways to Teaching Careers Program is trying to address that need.

According to two reports funded by the Pathways program and produced by the independent Urban Institute, the Pathways program not only has trained more than 2,500 new teachers in 42 programs across the country since 1989 but also has succeeded in placing 84 percent of those teachers in identified areas of acute teacher shortage. An impressive 81 percent of program graduates were still teaching three or more years after graduating from the program! Both reports -- Ahead of the Class: A Handbook for Preparing New Teachers from New Sources and Absence Unexcused: Ending Teacher Shortages in High-Need Areas -- were developed as part of a Pathways initiative to evaluate its own program.


"I attribute a lot of the success of the Pathways programs to very careful planning," said Dr. Beatriz Clewell of the Urban Institute, co-author with Dr. Ana Maria Villegas of Ahead of the Class. "The first key element was creating successful partnerships between the training programs and the school districts."
Three Pathways-Trained Teachers Give Program Kudos

From "Para" to Professional
"I took a position as a teaching assistant in order to save enough money over five years to go back to school and get certified," Pat Reuben told Education World. "Then my principal told me about Pathways. I completed the program, obtaining certification and a master's degree in two and a half years.

"I'd been out of college for 15 years," said Reuben, who is a fourth-grade teacher at Lindenwood Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia. "The support I received from Dr. Littleton, the [Norfolk State University] Pathways program director, and Mrs. Brown, the program coordinator, was invaluable. I feel blessed to have gone through a teaching program that prepared me so thoroughly to enter the classroom."

"I'm now a second-year teacher, and my colleagues thought enough of my preparation and on-the-job training to nominate me for teacher of the year!" added Reuben. "That says a lot for the Pathways program."

From Non-Certified to Certified Teacher
"I was promoted from art teacher to the library media specialist position at H. B. Stowe Fine and Performing Arts Academy when I entered the University of Illinois (Chicago) Pathways program," said Juan Fernandez. "The Pathways program caters to full-time employees. The counselors are genuinely interested in helping students succeed. The program provides high-quality instruction at reasonable tuition. Student teachers network and share resources and knowledge."

"I am proud to be a teacher from a new generation of educators who are fully prepared to teach the students of the new millennium," Fernandez told Education World.

A Career Switcher
"Before I enrolled in Pathways, I worked as a media analyst," said Maria Fresse-Giffels, a bilingual facilitator in Region 5 of the Chicago Public Schools. "The switch from a competitive environment to a cooperative one was a big change for me. Dr. Karen Sakash, my (University of Illinois at Chicago) advisor, came to visit my classroom and actually got involved in my teaching. It was important to me to know that someone at the university cared about my teaching skills. Dr. Sakash even came back to read to my students after I graduated!"

"Each training program partners with a school district and identifies a teacher shortage area," Clewell told Education World. "Pinpointing the needs of the district and working to fill those needs in a systematic way really helps the Pathways programs be successful."

Clewell explained that before the program partners do anything else, data is gathered. After identifying the specific kinds of teachers a district needs -- math teachers, special education teachers, teachers of color, for example -- the planners target a pool of potential applicants, such as paraprofessionals and non-certified teachers already working in the district or, in some cases, returning Peace Corps volunteers.

"Selecting the program participants is another key component for success," Clewell said. Pathways program planners "look at such traditional criteria as grade point averages and test scores, but they also use interviews and writing samples to select people who are committed to teaching in urban schools."

"The school districts are integrally involved in the recruitment and selection process," Clewell added. Recruiting from the ranks of district paraprofessionals and non-certified teachers provides public schools with a pool of potential teachers who already live and work in the district.

"The retention rate for paraprofessionals who entered the program was an astounding 91 percent over a three-year period," Clewell pointed out, giving them the best retention rate of all program participants.


"The curriculum is another important piece" of the program, Clewell said. "Many participants are already seasoned teachers, but they lack degrees. Pathways programs are designed to build on their strengths and fill in what they need."

Clewell explained that for paraprofessionals with years of classroom experience, this might mean fewer classroom management courses and more educational theory. For those preparing to work in inner-city settings, it can also mean supplemental workshops in drug education or domestic-violence issues.

"The final key to the success of Pathways is the support services it provides," Clewell told Education World. She explained that support services, which vary from program to program, are geared to meet the needs of the target student population.

"Paraprofessionals tend to work for low pay, and many have children to support," Clewell pointed out. "Programs for them include childcare, transportation, and tuition support. "Paras" also tend to have been out of school for a long time, and they may be reluctant to come back into an academic setting. Pathways programs provide support groups and academic tutoring for those non-traditional students."

"Returning Peace Corps volunteers generally don't need all that out-of-school support," Clewell told Education World. "They need classroom-management experience and in-classroom support. They need someone to supervise them, to observe them regularly, and to provide feedback."


Unlike those who pursue some alternate routes to teaching, Pathways program participants must meet all the requirements for full teaching certification -- which does not preclude creative solutions to the problems Pathways non-traditional students face.

"Pathways programs for paraprofessionals have been able to restructure the student teaching experience," Clewell explained. "Paras can lose a lot of income and benefits while they're student teaching. In Pathways programs, school districts and colleges allow paras to teach in smaller chunks or on a part-time basis." Some even waive the student teaching requirement entirely for participants who have significant classroom experience.

Other accommodations might include offering night and weekend courses, even when such classes don't already exist. "In one model collaboration at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia, the university and the district arranged their respective schedules so that all paraprofessionals in the program could attend classes on Fridays," Clewell told Education World. "Other students in the program who needed practicum experience could go in and teach on Fridays. Isn't that great?"


Although Clewell's funding for evaluation of the Pathways Initiative has ended, her enthusiasm about Pathways knows no bounds. "When you see something that works as well as this, you become a real booster!" said Clewell. "The model is out there, and the Wallace Fund has paid to put together detailed materials so people can replicate the programs. Many of these programs have been institutionalized and are now self-supporting."

Since the publication of Ahead of the Class, Clewell has been contacted by agencies that would like to recommend Pathways to their member institutions. "Educators are coming to talk to me about how to get started. I will do anything I can to get the word out and help people use this information," Clewell told Education World. "I feel it's something I owe to the field of education -- and to the kids."


Article by Leslie Bulion
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World