Now Is a Great Time to Become a Teacher

This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn on November 29, 2016. Click here to read the original post.

1.6 million. That’s how many teachers will be required to staff America’s schools in the next 10 years. And the worrisome reality for educators like me is that we don’t have an adequate supply of qualified people who are ready to fill these open spots. Technology is a terrific tool in the hands of a great teacher, but tech can’t yet solve our talent pipeline challenges. And without great teachers in our nation’s classrooms, the future for the next generation of students could be compromised.

But the good news is that there are many innovative programs around the country working to attract new people to teaching, especially in urban and rural school districts. Along with traditional teacher education and preparation programs, there are a growing number of alternative pathways for people who looking to change careers or become teachers right after college.

KIPP has a long partnership with the best known of these programs, Teach For America (TFA). My KIPP co-founder Dave Levin and I got our start in education through TFA back in 1992, and KIPP schools have been lucky to hire thousands of TFA alumni over the past 20 years, including 60% of KIPP’s school leaders. TFA has certainly been a big help in terms of bringing new teachers to KIPP.

But TFA and other alternative programs alone are not sufficient.  The reality is that KIPP needs to engage directly to increase the number of qualified people available to teach in our schools. In 2011, we partnered with Uncommon Schools and Achievement First, two other high performing public charter schools in NYC, to form The Relay Graduate School of Education. This partnership combined the best of practice and theory based preparation for teaching in both charter and district schools. There are currently Relay programs in 13 locations around the country and they have plans to continue expanding in response to growing demand.

While some people are ready to jump into the classroom quickly and succeed, it takes most new teachers three to five years to master the many complex tasks involved with teaching. So Relay and KIPP in Houston created the Graduate Teaching Fellowship, which pairs teaching residents with a master teacher for an entire year, allowing many opportunities for observation and supervised practice before fellows are in charge of their own classroom during the second year. With this approach, we believe Relay graduates will not only enter the classroom ready to succeed, but also be more likely to stay with the teaching profession over the long term.

But don’t take it from me; our KIPP Houston Graduate Teaching Fellows are proving the power of the Relay Education approach. And what’s most exciting is that some of them, like Carlos Vega, are alumni of KIPP Houston schools.

In 2002, Carlos was a fifth grader in Mr. Arturo Martinez’s class at KIPP Academy; today he’s a Graduate Teaching Fellow learning how to be a teacher from the man he now calls ‘Arturo.’ Carlos graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in engineering, but a passion for education led him to consider a switch to teaching. And where better to learn than at KIPP Academy, where Carlos could work side-by-side with a teacher whose support was such an important part of his journey to college?

As Carlos said, “Arturo has encouraged me along the way. He’s going to be there for me, just like he was 15 years ago. I’m thankful for the opportunity to come back and be able to give back to the community that has given so much to myself and my family.”

We teach our KIPPsters the value of giving back, and it’s simply awesome to see Carlos guide the next generation of KIPP students learn to, as we say, ‘Work Hard and Be Nice.’

People often want to know what makes KIPP schools special, and our answer is simple: Teachers like Arturo, Carlos, and hundreds of others like them who believe in the potential of every student and are willing give their best to help our KIPPsters succeed. That’s why we are dedicated to finding ways for more people to experience the joy and power of becoming a teacher, whether it’s through Relay, TFA, or other training programs.

And while the teacher shortage offers a challenge, we also see it as an opportunity to open classroom doors to a new wave of educators who are excited to make a difference in the lives of young people in KIPP schools in Houston and across the country.

So if you’ve ever thought about becoming a teacher, or you’re wondering how to help America move forward together, now is the perfect time to get started. Our kids – and our country- need you.

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