Teacher shortage creating new paths to fill demand

Current and future programs aimed at recruiting and training new teachers are catching the eye of school districts.
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 7:22 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The ongoing teacher shortage in South Dakota is creating some opportunities for individuals who’ve wanted to enter the profession to do so. Two paths in particular are opening up and becoming more prominent for individuals interested in becoming certified teachers.

One program that’s getting off the ground this fall is a new Teacher Apprenticeship Pathway program for paraprofessionals and para-educators already working in school districts. The goal of the program is to train those individuals to become certified teachers in their own right with education and training in their home district.

MORE: Teacher openings remain high in South Dakota headed into summer

The Department of Education will provide oversight and funding, while the Department of Labor will contribute funding to keep costs to apprentice teachers low. Dakota State University will offer coursework for elementary education and special education, which will culminate in a student-teacher experience in the para’s home district. Northern State University will provide coursework for secondary education.

David De Jong, Dean of the College of Education at Dakota State University, said the program won’t solve the teacher shortage on it’s own. But what it will do is take motivated individuals and give them the opportunity to expand their role in the classroom.

“We all kind of came together, and we learned that we need to create a new pathway for those people already in our classrooms who want to earn their teaching degree. So, we feel like the South Dakota Teacher Apprenticeship Pathway is just one more pathway to help those teachers.” De Jong said.

All coursework will be offered virtually, so participants can continue working as a para while enrolled. For the pilot program, it will run for two years while accepting 60 paraprofessionals to earn their teaching degree. De Jong said similar programs are in place in Iowa, Wyoming and North Dakota, and Dakota State is ready to step up and help address the shortage.

“They’re focused on making the connection between what our paraprofessionals are learning in online classes, to the on-the-job training they experience each day working with students,” De Jong said. “It just has an innovative atmosphere, and it seems natural for us to be a part of this initiative. Our instructors, our professors, we’ve been talking about it all year, and they’re pretty excited to serve these paraprofessionals and help them earn their teaching degree.”

While that program ramps up, school districts are turning to another process through the Department of Education to help attract those interested in teaching. The Alternative Certification process allows individuals with experience in their careers to shift gears and become a certified teacher through coursework and a mentorship.

It’s a process that Sioux Falls School District Senior HR Director Becky Dorman said they’ve already seen success in, and they’re hoping to find more people interested in the near future to help fill their vacant positions.

“We’re seeing more and more educators bring their real world experiences into our classrooms through that route. It’s just something that’s really exciting to see.” Dorman said.

Those that complete the process are often motivated to get into the classroom as a reset on their career, according to Watertown School District Superintendent Jeff Danielsen.

“Sometimes you have people, they don’t know what they want to do. They get a degree in college, they get out, maybe use that degree, and didn’t find it as fulfilling as some other options” Danielsen said.