New teacher apprenticeships open doors to college affordability and paid job training

For the last 85 years, the U.S. government has run a registered apprenticeship program through the Department of Labor (DOL) to provide formal career training for plumbers, electricians, and other skilled trades, says Education Week. However, last year, the Biden Administration added teacher apprenticeships to that list to address pandemic-induced teacher shortages, diversify the field, and subsidize a low-cost bachelor’s degree and paid on-the-job training for aspiring educators, PBS reports. 

The DOL and Department of Education (DOE) also issued a joint letter urging states to combat teaching shortages by leveraging federal funding—such as the $130 billion the American Rescue Plan (ARP) directed to the nation’s K-12 schools—to establish teacher apprenticeship programs; increase state collaboration with workforce and education systems to widen pathways to the profession; and ensure teachers are paid a “livable and competitive wage.”

Teacher preparation has typically entailed two routes: in most states, certified teachers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree—an average of $35,000 each year—and complete an unpaid student teaching experience in their final year. Alternative programs, including teacher residency and “grow-your-own” (GYO) programs, partner with school districts and educator preparation programs to recruit teachers from the local community, such as high school students and paraeducators, New America reports. However, college costs and low wages have been barriers to would-be teachers.

Widening pathways to the teaching profession

Existing and new teacher apprenticeships that receive federal certification and become registered programs can grow in scale and increase pathways to the profession. Apprenticeships allow teacher candidates to be paid for structured, on-the-job training while receiving job-related technical education with a mentor that leads to a nationally recognized credential, officials say. Teacher candidates serving as apprentices are paid by their employer while they participate in the programs, which makes their entry into the profession more affordable. 

Registered teacher apprenticeships are connected to the public workforce system. These programs can fund teacher workforce recruitment and development through a network of federal, state, and local government-backed agencies and initiatives that provide job search assistance, career readiness training, and college and career navigation, according to the Urban Institute

To establish registered teacher apprenticeship programs, the DOL and DOE advise states to collaborate with apprenticeship, labor, and educational leaders to begin the process of starting  their own program; identify sponsors for the program—such as the state’s department of education, which oversees teaching licensing requirements—and consult with the federal Office of Apprenticeship (OA) at the U.S. Department of Labor. Once programs are established, states can leverage ARP and other federal funding that can pay for on-the-job training, wages, and other supportive services, such as textbooks and child care, Education Week reports.

“If we really want to diversify the profession, we have to make the profession financially accessible,” says Tabitha Grossman, chief external relations officer at the National Center for Teacher Residencies, according to The Washington Post. Residencies and apprenticeships “make the profession a lot more accessible, particularly for candidates of color who don’t have the generational wealth to not work for a period of time.”

Reducing barriers to the teaching profession through collaboration

Different states have established programs tailored to their education systems. In January, Tennessee became the first state to receive approval from the DOL for its three-year apprenticeship program at Austin Peay State University, which in partnership with the Clarksville-Montgomery County school district, has been in place since 2018. As a GYO program that covers tuition and fees, it serves recent high school graduates, paraprofessionals, and individuals eager to make a career change, says Education Week. Teacher candidates without a bachelor’s degree first take classes at a community college, which is free in Tennessee, then complete their coursework at Austin Peay while earning a salary and benefits as an educational assistant at Clarksville-Montgomery schools. After completing the program and earning a certification, they are required to spend three years teaching in the district. 

In West Virginia’s registered teacher apprenticeship program, the second GYO to receive federal certification, high school students interested in the teaching profession complete 24 to 30 dual-enrollment or Advanced Placement credit hours in a variety of subjects, such as introductory education courses, for free. Then they complete their second and third years at a participating university in the state while gaining paid on-the-job experience. In their final year, students return to their community as “the teacher of record,” with guidance from an experienced educator.

Seventeen states in total currently, including Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire, Texas, and West Virginia, have federally certified registered teacher apprenticeship programs, and even more are in the process of pursuing their own programs, Education Week and PBS reports.

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