When the school year began in 2017, more than 2,000 teacher positions in the state of Arizona were unfilled. By December, a few hundred more teachers had tendered their resignations.
It’s too soon for the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, which released the 2017 data, to have numbers for this year, but educators suspect the shortage will be just as severe.
“The teacher shortage in Arizona is very difficult on schools and our children,” said Ramona Mellott, dean of the College of Education at Northern Arizona University.
To help combat this shortage, each of the three Arizona institutions of higher education began a Teachers Academy at the request of Gov. Doug Ducey. The mission of the Teachers Academy was clear: produce more qualified teachers who are prepared for the challenges of teaching in the 21st century and do so without teachers graduating from college with a lot of debt. What the program looked like, however, was up to each institution.
NAU opted to focus on its Grow Your Own programs, which take the teacher education degree programs to different areas of the state, partnering with community colleges and K-12 districts to offer programs for students to become certified teachers. An NAU faculty member oversees each program, and in two locations, the faculty member is jointly employed by the local school district and NAU.
“NAU is committed to reaching underserved populations in the state of Arizona, and the Teachers Academy is doing just that—bringing the degree to where students live and creating effective, passionate teachers who go back into their hometown schools,” NAU President Rita Cheng said. “I am grateful for the partnerships with community colleges and local school districts and also for the dedicated faculty and staff in the College of Education for quickly making the Teachers Academy a reality.”
Students who are eligible to enroll in the Teachers Academy complete their first two years of the bachelor’s degree at a community college, which includes completing prerequisites required for the teacher education program. Upon acceptance into a teacher education program at an eligible site, students must fill out a FAFSA, if they haven’t already, and accept all financial aid offered to them, including Pell grants, the TEACH grant and other scholarships. NAU covers any balance of whatever tuition (and, starting in 2018, fees) after all financial aid has been applied.
Almost all of NAU’s students are returning for the second year of the program, and dozens more are in the application process. Mellott estimated the Teachers Academy would have close to 150 students this year—more than 50 second-year students and almost 100 new students.
In exchange for this scholarship, teachers commit to teach in an Arizona public school for at least one year for each year they receive this scholarship. With NAU’s community-oriented programs, that often means teachers are staying in their towns and their schools—the schools their kids and their kids’ friends attend, the schools where their neighbors volunteer, in some cases even the schools they went to growing up.
“We decided to focus on our Grow Your Own programs because we felt those are the areas that need teachers the most,” Mellott said. “The key part of these programs is that people get to stay in their communities and complete their program at the same time.”
Another way students are keeping costs down is starting their education at community colleges. They complete 64 course hours, earning an associate’s degree, before beginning the teacher education program. To make that transition as transparent as possible, NAU has implemented JacksPath, which enables transfer students to track which courses they need to graduate on time and see what courses are available at community colleges.
Nor does the commitment to student success end upon graduation. The Teachers Academy includes post-graduation support. New teachers, who may be at schools without a mentor teacher, will receive support, encouragement, guidance and advice through induction programs and the support of the Arizona K12 Center. Without such a lifeline, new teachers may not make it through their first few years of teaching.
“We want to make sure that our students, right before they go into student teaching, are really prepared for it,” she said. “We want them to be successful. We want them to stay in the profession.”
For more information or assistance, contact Governor Ducey's press office: (602) 542-1342.