Apprenticeship model for teacher certification will tap local talent

Idaho is eight to 12 months away from launching a new certification model aimed at alleviating the teacher shortage, especially in rural or Native American communities.

“We’re hopeful that that’s going to come pretty quickly. But that’s me being really optimistic,” said Jenn Thompson, the State Board of Education chief policy and government affairs officer.

Like apprentice plumbers and electricians who receive hands-on training and financial support, Idaho’s teacher apprenticeship model is a non-traditional path to certification that removes barriers preventing candidates from becoming educators.

The model creates an affordable pathway for candidates who possess the skill and aptitude but lack a bachelor’s degree, because they receive a salary while obtaining training, experience and preparation for licensure.

Lack of financial resources and living in remote locations are the two main barriers. Many potential candidates can’t stop working to enroll in one of the state’s teacher preparation programs because they have to earn a living; others live in rural areas and cannot attend college because of the required driving distance.

“This isn’t going to be the silver bullet that solves everything, but we hope that it becomes another really useful tool for filling positions,” said Thompson.

This new concept relies on local decisions. If a principal or other administrator identifies someone in their schools who displays a commitment and interest in serving students, that individual could be encouraged to use this pathway to certification.

Kathleen Shoup, an educator effectiveness program manager, said, “There is a sense of urgency to fill teacher positions due to the teacher shortage. And the teacher shortage areas for Idaho can be identified through the federal teacher shortage areas.”

According to a U.S. Department of Education report, last year Idaho had teacher shortages in the following instructional areas:

  • Chinese and German
  • English as a second language
  • Science for gifted and talented
  • Health science
  • Music education
  • Library/media specialist
  • Special education for exceptional children
  • Special education for visual impairment
  • Special education for early childhood
  • And director of special education

The salary for teacher apprentices is “at the discretion of the school district or charter school based on a locally set amount,” according to State Board documents. The program could take up to three years to complete but depending on an individual’s education level or experience, that timeframe could be shorter.

They will work under the supervision of a highly qualified mentor.  And “we hope to provide a stipend for those mentor teachers,” said Mike Keckler, chief communications officer.

The apprenticeship model joins Idaho’s four other non-traditional methods of obtaining a teaching certification. The program is eight to 12 months away from accepting its first group of candidates.

Superintendents decide who the best apprenticeship candidates are

The superintendents of local education agencies (LEAs) or charter schools choose whether to participate and who will be offered contracts. Both state and federal funding will be made available to help with course materials, textbooks, professional development, required classes and other costs, Shoup explained.

“The key here is that it’s an employer-driven program,” Thompson said. “The LEA has to want to hire this person. It’s the LEA saying I have a candidate that I think is perfect.”

Apprenticeship candidates do not need a bachelor’s degree. Superintendents might consider someone looking to make a career change or a paraprofessional, but “it could be someone who works in any capacity in the school,” Thompson said. 

The selection criteria has not been decided, Shoup said. “That is part of the standards that we have to include for the US Department of Labor.” Eventually, Idaho’s program will apply to be a registered member of that federal agency. There are currently 21 states registered.

Successful teacher apprentices can obtain full certification

“I do want to emphasize that the competencies are important,” Thompson said.

Once they’re developed, those are the competencies — or teacher certification standards — that have to be evaluated by the superintendent, but “that is also why we want to make sure we have those additional assurances in place that they did pass the content assessment test.”

“That would help keep us all confident that the quality is high,” she said.

The Department of Labor requires 2,000 hours a year of on-the-job learning and 144 hours of related technical instruction. “And so if you multiply that by someone that potentially would have a three-year program, that’s 6000 hours of on the job learning” and then 432 hours of technical training, Shoup added.

“It’s a full-time job,” Keckler said.

Unlike the traditional route of obtaining a four-year degree and then completing supervised part-time teaching in your last semester, “this sort of flips the script on that, so you’re in the school and in the classroom full time, and on the side you’re getting the training you need to complete those competencies,” Thompson said.

“The hope is that at the end you’ve got the same training and experience — you’re just getting it in a flipped model,” she said.

“It’s a different pathway to certification, but they would ultimately receive a teacher certification,” Shoup said. “Non-traditional teaching programs lead to three-year interim certificates but the apprenticeship program will provide a standard five-year certificate.”

Idaho has four non-traditional certification options listed on the Board of Education website: American Board, College of Southern Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College and Teach for America.

The State Board of Education is sponsoring the program but will collaborate with other agencies — like the Idaho Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Labor — and higher education institutions. An advisory committee meeting was held in July and another one is planned for September. There are approximately 26 representatives serving on this committee.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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