Teaching Kids to Teach Q&A With Frank Till, superintendent, Broward County (FL) Public Schools
With the need for teachers rising, administrators across the country are scrambling to come up with ideas to find and train qualified educators. Florida's Broward County alone will need 13,000 new teachers over the next decade. As a result, district officials there have taken a novel approach to build their teacher force: recruiting teenage teaching candidates and promising them a job after college.
Rather than recruit from out of the area, Broward County officials are "growing" their own teachers. Two years ago, the district started the Urban Teacher Academy Project (UTAP) to prepare students for careers in urban education. The first group of students graduated last June, and the program, which began in one high school, is now expanding to four.
Participants are paired with mentors, are trained in teaching techniques and classroom theory, and student-teach in elementary schools. After high school, UTAP students receive scholarships to a local college. When they finish, there's a guaranteed job. We spoke to Broward County's superintendent, Frank Till, about his district's bold approach to teacher recruitment.
How bad is the teacher shortage in Broward County schools?
We have to hire about 2,000 new teachers to start each school year and then we have to hire another 150 per month because of attrition, retirement, moves, and other concerns. So we end up hiring about 3,500 teachers a year. And the state of Florida produces only 6,000 new teachers a year through teacher-training programs, so you can see we have quite a challenge.
Don't you also lose quite a number of teachers in their first few years in the profession?
We lose only about 18 percent of teachers in their first three years. That's significantly lower than the state, but 18 percent still means you have to replace about one out of every five teachers in just a three-year period.
What are the problems that cause teachers to leave the district?
Some of it is the age-old thing that perhaps they weren't as ready as they thought they were. South Florida is a very mobile population, so they'll move back home, which for some is out of state. And when you're getting close to two-thirds of your teachers from out of state, a lot of people get homesick and a lot of it is simply those kinds of things.
What was the impetus behind creating the Urban Teacher Academy Project (UTAP)?
It really came from a combination of things. We began to talk about the whole idea of "grow your own teachers" about five years ago. We began to recruit and actually pay for secretaries and paraprofessionals in the district to go to college to be teachers here.
Through that, and working with the schools to provide teaching experiences, Dr. Bob Parks, one of our school board members, and Sarah Rogers, who's now in charge of UTAP, pointed out that we have a lot of kids coming out of high school who want to be teachers. [Parks and Rogers] suggested that we develop something to help get these students on a career path toward teaching.
The high school where we were running our adult teaching program had a "future teachers" club for high school students. We thought if we're trying to grow our own teachers among paraprofessionals we should also tie it into the high school's future teachers club.
So in 2003 we started UTAP. We graduated the first group of students last June—four students who each received scholarships to attend local community colleges and universities. Two of the students are attending community college and two are going to the university.
How does UTAP work?
High school students in future teachers clubs get the opportunity to learn how to be teachers by providing one-on-one tutoring to elementary-school students, helping teachers out in classrooms, and things like that. They'll generally do more tutoring as ninth graders and, as they get older, they will work as teachers' helpers and work with small groups and deficient students. We're not going to overwhelm them by giving them the five most rambunctious boys in the class so that they suddenly decide they want to become nurses.
As they move into senior year, they are officially in UTAP. At this time they're included in many of our adult programs on how to best integrate technology and other teaching tools into lessons for children. Since most of our young people are so far ahead of us adults in technology anyway, that instruction is more a matter of helping the kids learn how to apply in the classroom the technology that they already know.
Once the students finish high school, we try to get them scholarships to pay for college and guarantee them a job when they graduate from college as certified teachers.
The students aren't obligated to return to the district, though we hope that they will. We do make sure to tell each of our UTAP students that if they plan to be teachers and finish college with a teaching credential then they should come back home because we'll have a job for them.
What are your criteria for selecting the candidates for UTAP and the scholarships?
To be in UTAP they must be in the future teachers program. To get the scholarship, they have to meet admission requirements for the local university they want to attend, which usually means having a good GPA and a good SAT score. They also have to attend the local universities—Florida Atlantic University and Nova University—we have partnerships with for this program.
Because we have limited scholarships we can't give them to everyone. If there are more students than scholarships we're going to have to figure out a way to determine the competition for the funding. This year we've been able to raise about $50,000 so we're OK. If they are in the future teachers club but don't get a scholarship, we will still promise them a job if they decide they want to teach.
What do you say to the critics who believe it's not fair to pigeonhole a teenager into making a career choice so early?
Students are doing this on their own accord, and if at any time they don't want to do this they can stop. The key is that at the end of the time of the scholarship we want them to go into teaching, so they're required to take education courses. But the worst thing you can do is to force somebody into teaching.
If they get a scholarship and decide not to be a teacher, they wouldn't have to pay us back. Those things happen. That's why the key is to give them the experience in high school, so that they see teaching as something they want to do. The whole idea in the high school program is to really see that this is what their career choice is, and if they decide not to do it after high school, that's fine.
Why do you think it's better to recruit these young teens rather than to hire a teacher with several years of experience?
We're doing both. We're just at a point in our teacher shortage that we're looking at every avenue. When you're trying to find 3,500 teachers a year, you try to find things. This seemed like a great idea, to make a commitment to our students who want to teach. This was just one way we felt that if we have students in our community who want to be teachers we could help them get ready, and we could find ways to benefit them. And at the end of the time, their agreement is that they would come back and teach for us.
Do you think more school districts, especially those in urban areas, will recruit high school students to be future teachers to help increase the pool of qualified candidates?
I think if district officials are smart they'll increase their talent base by recognizing that four years down the line, one of their best sources for potential teachers is already sitting in a high school classroom.