July 23, 2024
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Apprenticeship Program helps future teachers gain classroom experience

TLEL students work in local school districts, program designed to recruit new teachers

Jasmine Draper gained experience as a student teacher at Homer Brink Elementary School in Endwell, N.Y. Jasmine Draper gained experience as a student teacher at Homer Brink Elementary School in Endwell, N.Y.
Jasmine Draper gained experience as a student teacher at Homer Brink Elementary School in Endwell, N.Y. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

Before Binghamton University’s Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership (TLEL) unveiled its Apprenticeship Program, future teachers all too often moonlighted during their off hours, finding themselves overwhelmed and strapped for cash.

Many students studying education start the day in a local school, learning critical skills from a classroom teacher. While necessary for a New York state teaching certification, these fieldwork experiences are typically unpaid. That means in addition to their own graduate coursework, would-be teachers typically need side gigs, often in retail or restaurants. For nontraditional students, add in childcare and family responsibilities for an extra sprinkling of stress, assuming they are able to pursue an educational pathway at all.

“We’ve been struck by how people going into education aren’t supported,” says TLEL Associate Professor Jenny Gordon. “They can face massive student debt, which deters a lot of people from going into education.”

Unveiled at Binghamton in fall 2021, the Apprenticeship Program allows students to gain the teaching experience they need in local school districts — along with a stipend of $25,000 per year. This support lessens the financial burden students face and ultimately helps attract a more diverse cohort of future teachers. Statewide, apprenticeship programs were approved in the hope of addressing widespread teacher shortages.

From their very first days in TLEL, participating students work full time with a school district to provide support in various ways, from substitute teaching to small- and large-group instruction, drop-in centers and academic intervention services. Partnerships with local school districts mean that these new teachers are more likely to remain within the Southern Tier once they earn their master’s degree.

“A lot of us were juggling teaching all day and substitute teaching, but it wasn’t paying the bills. The apprenticeship was really a saving grace for a lot of us,” says Kassidy Seary, a second-year master’s student in early childhood education who also earned her bachelor’s degree in human development at CCPA.

The pandemic only made the situation worse, with lockdowns eliminating the possibility of a convenient part-time job. Students like Seary snatched any job they could to pay the bills, such as making welcome signs for testing locations.

Seary now works every day in Tioughnioga Riverside Academy, an elementary school in Whitney Point, N.Y., attending her classes after the workday wraps up. Some days are long, she says, but it’s worth it.

“I really love this program and the professors and the relationships I’ve built,” she says.

In the districts

While TLEL and local school districts wanted to create an apprenticeship program for a while, the coronavirus crisis ultimately lit the spark, explains Andrea Decker, senior director of academic

affairs and clinical partnerships for TLEL. To address pandemic-related learning gaps, the federal government channeled funds into school districts for additional classroom personnel. The pandemic also prompted the departure of teaching professionals nationwide, making personnel needs particularly acute.

Today, a half-dozen Broome County school districts take part in the program: Binghamton, Johnson City, Maine-Endwell, Susquehanna Valley, Whitney Point and Windsor.

From the school district perspective, the program proves beneficial in multiple ways, according to Scott Beattie, assistant superintendent for instruction at the Windsor Central School District.

Even outside the pandemic, some K-12 students will require additional academic resources to close the skills gap, but school districts often can’t afford to add personnel. Apprentices allow districts to meet students’ educational needs at minimal cost, after fulfilling the requirements of a traditional student-teaching placement.

“When folks are on our campus earlier and full time, they’re getting to know our kids, our procedures and practices,” Beattie says, “and then they’re being worked into our master schedule in addition to their classroom assignment.”

Financial compensation is an essential component. Unlike the popular myth of getting the summers off, teachers spend much of their downtime developing and honing lesson plans and educational strategies. In short, Beattie points out, a part-time job elsewhere would take away from the focus they need to have as educational professionals.

That’s especially important for nontraditional students, who may be changing careers or have families, says Dina Hartung, director of the New York State Master Teacher Program and recruitment for TLEL.

Long term, school districts are looking to address persistent teacher shortages through career pathways that start within the K-12 system. Once fully realized, that path will begin in high school, connecting students interested in educational careers with a range of resources. They will receive mentoring and professional support as undergraduate and graduate students, with initiatives such as the Apprenticeship Program playing a major role in their education.

Later, as experienced professionals, they will recognize and nurture that spark in the next generation of educators as mentors and guides.

“We have to identify and grow our own talent to sustain ourselves,” Beattie says.

A broader view

During its inaugural year, the Apprenticeship Program at Binghamton had 39 candidates, some of whom have since graduated and are working in the field — sometimes in the very same district where they apprenticed.

Among them is Chris DeDonato, who earned his Master of Arts in Teaching in adolescent mathematics in fall 2021, after earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematical sciences at Binghamton. He now works full time as a long- term substitute at Windsor High School.

As part of the student-teaching component of his apprenticeship, DeDonato was matched with a middle-school math teacher during the day. But the apprenticeship gave him the opportunity to help out in classrooms in other areas, including history, social studies and English, where he provided small-group support and individual academic intervention.

“It gave me a broader view of education and insight into how other teachers operate with different teaching styles across different disciplines,” DeDonato says. “It also gave me an appreciation for how interconnected a lot of these topics can be.”

The apprenticeship gave Jasmine Draper insight into the grade level she ultimately wants to teach. A first-year student earning her master’s in early childhood education, she originally planned to teach fourth or fifth grade; thanks to her varied experiences, she hopes to land a position teaching students who are a little younger.

Draper, who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Binghamton, works at Maine- Endwell’s Homer Brink Elementary School. Outside of classroom teaching, she has observed her school’s speech and occupational therapy programs and helped out in reading groups. Substitute teaching has taken her to all grade levels, including special education.

Officials at both the University and in local school districts are considering ways to make the Apprenticeship Program sustainable long term. It’s already proved its value in multiple ways: providing K-12 students with the academic support they need, while relieving the financial burden of future teachers and allowing them access to skills-building experiences they may not otherwise have.

Draper offers some advice to TLEL students considering the program.

“You need to make sure you’re the type of person who can juggle, because it does mean working full time while going to school full time,” she says. “If you can handle that, there

are so many great things that you gain from the experience.”

Posted in: Campus News, CCPA