Program offers new path in the classroom despite teacher shortage

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo .– Katie Lee graduated from the University of Wyoming with a master’s degree in communication last spring, but by early summer she had yet to find a job.

At the gym, she was talking with new Craig Middle School principal Sara Linsacum, and suggested that Lee should try teaching, potentially filling one of the district’s openings amid the pandemic.

“I said, ‘I can’t really teach, Sara, because obviously I don’t have an education degree,” Lee recalls. “She said, ‘Well, no, there’s this really cool program now in Colorado that just lets experts in our community come into our schools.'”

Lee walked in and took a class in college, where she said she convinced herself to at least give it a try. Almost two months after the start of the school year, Lee, who teaches English in seventh grade, said things were going well.

“I didn’t think I realized how much I loved education until I got put into this role where I really had to care about the education of others and not just my own,” Lee said. .

Lee is one of 19 teachers in Northwest Colorado this fall who didn’t go to school for education but are using their degrees to enter class at a time when there is a shortage of teachers locally. and across the state. Since 2016, 50 teachers have completed the Alternative Teaching License program through the Northwest Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

The Steamboat Springs School District has three teachers taking the program this year. Two more teach in the Hayden School District, and nine more in Moffat County. In total, the 19 teachers are almost double the number of the program last year.

“There is a critical shortage of teachers throughout Colorado, but especially here in the rural northwest,” said Maggie Bruski, who heads the program for Northwest BOCES. “It’s designed to help districts feel the effects of the teacher shortage to hire people who have… a bachelor’s degree. “

Typically, a teacher would attend school for several years and learn to teach students before seeking employment. But the alternative bachelor’s program, overseen by the State Board of Education and the Colorado Department of Education, allows a person with a bachelor’s degree who can prove their skills in a particular subject (exams or credits) to start teaching immediately.

“If a person has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, in a scientific field, they might be qualified and could apply for a teaching position in a high school teaching science,” Bruski said.

For people who may have a degree but are struggling to find a job that would use it, Bruski wants them to consider the program.

“It’s an option that they could help our local school districts by becoming a teacher,” Bruski said.

Assuming someone has a degree and has enough relevant credits or passes a proficiency exam, the next step is to apply for a teaching position. Once hired, they can officially join the program, which costs around $ 4,400 and takes the entire school year. In addition to their teaching duties, candidates undergo 225 hours of continuing education throughout the year.

“At the end of the school year, they will be eligible for their initial teaching license,” Bruski said. “They will be like any other teacher who has followed a traditional teaching path.”

Hayden School District Superintendent Christy Sinner said the program has been a game-changer by helping the district add more people in recent years. They may need extra support early on, Sinner said, but before long they are just as valuable as any other teacher.

“The majority of them have done things in education and have worked with students in different avenues,” Sinner said. “You can get people in your community who want to be teachers and teach. It’s a great game there.

The hope is that if people are already in the community, they can hold a teaching position for over a year. Christie Stepan went to art school, worked in some studios and in art publishing, but was eventually replaced long-term at Soda Creek Elementary School in 2017.

“I just loved it, and then I found out about my principal’s alternative bachelor’s program,” said Stepan, an elementary art teacher at Soda Creek who completed the program and now has her bachelor’s degree. “I felt pretty confident that I already knew how to teach art, so for me it was kind of natural.”

Bruski and others have said the program could be an alternative for people who have considered it but have already pursued another career.

“I was 34 and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s too late.’ … But it’s not too late, ”Stepan said. “If you think you would be a great teacher, if you have something in you that wants to teach, it is possible. “

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