New teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates, and colleges are graduating fewer licensed teachers, leaving many schools hurting for qualified instructors. Southwest Colorado is one of four areas in the state particularly hard-hit by the shortage.
Nationwide, about one-third of new teachers leave the classroom in the first three years, and more than half leave within the first five.
Enter the Boettcher Teacher Residency program, which is working to shift those numbers. Aspiring teachers in the region are finding it a gateway to success, and small rural districts such as Ignacio, Cortez, Dolores and Dove Creek are beginning to fill hard-to-fill positions, particularly in math and science.
“I’m fully behind Boettcher because they’re providing teachers to me, and I can’t deny it,” said Rocco Fuschetto, superintendent of Ignacio schools, which has two Boettcher teachers this year for the second year in a row. “Anyone who goes for an alternate licensure program, I’m requiring they go through Boettcher because of all the support they give.”
The Boettcher program recruits people who are professionals in their fields, or at least have their bachelor’s degree in a particular discipline, and gives them yearlong in-the-classroom training and support through the next four years of their teaching careers. Ninety-three percent of Boettcher-trained teachers are in the classroom after eight years.
“They have the expertise,” said Julie Popp, spokeswoman for Durango School District 9-R, which has four Boettcher teachers this school year. “This is a quick road to certification, and they’re paid a living wage while they’re getting their education at this end.”
Teachers-in-trainingLeigh Gillette comes to the classroom after a career that included working for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Durango Nature Studies and water conservancy districts.
“I’m a biologist by training, but as I finished my bachelor’s degree, I realized I didn’t want to go into research,” the 46-year-old said, “because it lacked the interface between people and science.”
Over the next couple of decades, she logged a lot of miles coordinating education efforts, primarily for Parks and Wildlife, at places such as Paonia, Ignacio, Cortez and the San Luis Valley.
“I was a one-woman army in a wonderfully juicy job, but I started to feel the absence of life in my own community of Durango, and I felt my roots withering,” Gillette said. “Teachers are amazing people, and I felt jealousy because, while I could administer training for science teachers, what fed my soul was direct contact with students.”
It’s people with that attitude that Jeb Holt, the Boettcher program’s field director for Southwest Colorado, looks for in candidates for the program.
“We’re talking about working with kids, so we want to make sure we’re getting people who will be good for kids,” he said. “Teaching is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job, not just teaching, but planning, grading and perseverating on the kid who just didn’t get it today and wondering how to get through to him tomorrow. I’ve even dreamed about lesson plans.”
What makes the Boettcher program effective and different from other teacher training is the ongoing support. That includes cohort networking, instructional coaches, lab classrooms and Public Education and Business Coalition institutes such as history and social studies, math and science, reading and writing.
“So many new teachers leave because they’re overwhelmed,” Holt said. “And teachers are beaten up so much by everyone – by the public, by parents, by media and by politicians. One of my key responsibilities is working with our residents to find balance.”
The balance is challenged because not only are resident teachers in the classroom full time their first year, they are studying half-time for their master’s degrees in teacher licensure through Adams State University in Alamosa with classes in Durango every other Friday and some evenings. Gillette also is working on a master’s degree for science teachers through the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.
Fort Lewis College will add a master’s degree in teacher licensure in 2017 that includes some of the same elements as the Boettcher residency, although it’s a two-year program as opposed to the five years Boettcher offers.
“We like partnering with local institutions, but this type of innovative program requires an innovative structure,” said Belle Faust, executive director of the Boettcher Teacher Residency and senior director of evaluation for the PEBC, which runs the residency with grants from the Boettcher Foundation, Colorado Department of Education, federal grant monies and support from corporate sponsors. “If the Fort Lewis program adds elementary teacher licensure, we’ll take another look.”
The hubDistrict 9-R is different than other districts involved in the program because it tends to attract experienced teachers. So it serves as a regional hub, while seeking what it does need, teachers who are people of color or minorities as well as people with experience in specialized areas such as the culinary arts.
“We want a staff that represents the community, so students see themselves in the classroom,” 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said. “We said we will take up to 10 Boettcher residents next year, not only because of our needs but because we can provide long-term support for our neighboring districts.”