Kansas schools had 800 vacant positions last year, and the lack of certified teachers has some districts trying to get people who want to change careers into the classroom.
Breanna Lovett got her bachelor’s degree in forensic biology, but she didn’t love working overnight in a lab. So when she learned the Kansas City, Kansas, Public, Schools had a fellowship program that would let her teach while she earned a master’s degree, she decided to apply.
After six weeks of training, she was in her own classroom at Washington High School.
“It was a lot of second guessing and a lot of trying to figure out who I was as a teacher,” Lovett said. “It was a lot to teach during the day and juggle master’s classes in the evening, but I made it through that first year.”
Lovett was in KCK’s inaugural class of teaching fellows. Since it launched in 2016, 70 career changers have completed the program, and 84% of them are still teaching in the district. That’s significant, because nationally, about half of all new teachers quit within the first five years.
“We get a lot of individuals who say, ‘Oh, I always wanted to teach, but I didn’t go down that route,’” said Tracey Nix, an advisor for KCK’s alternative certification program. “We’re looking for individuals who are high energy, dedicated, determined to work with kids.”
Not only is the program helping KCK retain teachers, it’s also helping the district recruit more diverse educators. About half of the teaching fellows come from diverse backgrounds. The district’s students are about 50% Latino, 27% black and 13% white.
“When students see teachers who come from diverse backgrounds, it encourages them to persist,” said Cynthia Fulk, the district’s assistant director of operations. “(They’re) more likely to go to college, more likely to finish their degree, and more likely to come back and give to their community. So, that’s why the teaching fellows program works so well for us.”
Mark Tallman of the Kansas School Boards Association said increasingly, districts want to “grow their own” teachers rather than wait for graduates from schools of education to come to them.
“It’s more about identifying your own students or your own staff now. Make a commitment to them, and try to get them to make a commitment to you,” he said. “That’s part of what I think increases the retention or the diversity, but maybe it just means you have people who look more like your community when you develop teachers from within your community.”
Lovett says she had such a positive experience as a teaching fellow that she convinced one of her cousins to apply for the program. He’s now teaching at J.C. Harmon High School.
She thinks the best new teachers understand that KCK students have a lot going on in their lives outside of school, but they also don’t need anyone to “fix” them.
“These kids don’t need a savior,” Lovett said. “They need someone that is going to love them and have high expectations for them so they can be successful in life.”
KCK has regular information sessions for interested teaching fellows. The next one is at 6:30 p.m. Monday, February 3, at the Central Office and Training Center, 2010 N. 59 St., Kansas City, Kansas.
Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.