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.
"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.
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."
"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?"
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
Copyright Â© 2006 Education World