- Teacher shortages have seeped into every grade level in K-12 public schools across the country.
- At the same time, fewer college students are pursuing the traditional track to become a K-12 teacher.
- A new program at the University of Miami instead looks to students outside education schools to fill the gap.
At a time when K-12 teachers are needed desperately, it’s important to be a door opener rather than a gatekeeper.
That’s the mindset that led to the development of the new Teacher Accelerator Program at the University of Miami (UM) in conjunction with nonprofit Achieve Miami. It’s also the frame of mind that led founder Leslie Miller Saiontz to look for teaching candidates outside the school of education.
The Teacher Accelerator Program (TAP) is a crash course specifically for college students who haven’t been preparing for a career in teaching.
TAP targets seniors entering their last year of college who have not yet laid out post-graduation plans. TAP enrollees can instead opt into a course during their last semester of study that will lead to a teaching certification.
TAP students will automatically have access to a summer teaching internship with a $5,000 stipend and then a guarantee of a teaching job at a Miami-Dade County public school.
Targeting non-education majors may seem radical, but Miller Saiontz told BestColleges she sees the move as a way to get fresh perspectives in K-12 education.
“All of a sudden, we have the opportunity to pull from students that majored in hundreds of other majors,” she said. “It’s a broad background of knowledge and experiences to bring into the classroom.”
TAP is also designed to accommodate those exploring a mid-life career change.
An Industry in Crisis
The nationwide K-12 teacher shortage is oft talked about but difficult to quantify due to a lack of data.
In Florida, however, the data is more clear.
Using figures from the 2021-22 school year, researchers from Brown University, the University of Illinois, and Kansas State University found nearly 4,000 vacant teaching positions in the Sunshine State, which is the highest number in the country. An additional 16,500 positions are listed as “underqualified.”
Brown University also found that pundits shouldn’t paint the teacher shortage issue with a broad brush. Instead, vacancy rates can vary wildly between different communities, according to a 2022 study.
Jasmine Calin-Micek, director of programming for TAP, told BestColleges that a conservative estimate of the issue in Miami-Dade County says approximately 200 positions are unfilled.
Concurrently, higher education hasn’t been a reliable pipeline for creating new teachers.
Dr. Laura Kohn-Wood, professor and dean of the School of Education and Human Development at UM, told BestColleges that enrollments into schools of education have declined, going back many years.
“Deans of these schools have been talking about this for quite some time,” she said.
It’s a sentiment borne out in national data:
Finding an Innovative Solution
With fewer students graduating from traditional education major programs, the core team at TAP thought to look outside of this boundary.
Kohn-Wood said all UM students are getting a robust higher education experience before their senior year, albeit in things like history, music, and marine science. TAP’s job is to show them how a start in public education could be a stepping stone in their career path or a new way altogether to continue exploring the subjects that interest them.
“We’re just having a different conversation about where your purpose and passion can be expressed,” she said.
This tactic does, however, mean students are entering a teaching career from a very different level than traditional education majors. With that in mind, Calin-Micek said TAP uses the summer internship period as a lower-stakes environment for recent graduates to “get their feet wet.”
During this period, TAP enrollees are paired with a mentor to teach them the ropes. Achieve Miami and Teach for America will continue to train TAP enrollees throughout their first year.
“[We are] mindful of the fact that students are either coming from a new career or … coming from a different major,” Calin-Micek said. “Your connection to education is through a one-semester course, not four years of study.”
Miller Saiontz said TAP’s first-year goal is to have 50 new educators enter Miami-Dade County schools this fall.
She added that the organization is already halfway to that goal, and the enrollment deadline for the first cohort is Jan. 25
Forging a New Path
TAP is designed for people who haven’t seriously considered teaching before.
That presents a challenge in getting someone through the door, Calin-Micek said. That includes convincing someone to make a career change or a four-year student with other ideas for their life after graduation.
She understands that mindset, as she once stood in their shoes.
Calin-Micek said she was an anthropology major in college and a student-athlete playing basketball. Teaching was not something on her radar. But when she looked at her options for a job that would positively impact people’s lives, she settled on teaching.
That’s the pitch she gives to seniors now, she said.
Kohn-Wood said this can be an especially appealing offer for student-athletes realizing during their senior year that playing professionally is not in the cards for them. TAP also stresses the positive impact teaching can have, not only on students but on the teachers themselves.
Many students also worry they may not have what it takes to be an exceptional teacher.
To that, Kohn-Wood has a simple message:
“Good teachers aren’t just born; they can be made.”
Calin-Micek said one of the common trepidations students have is about teacher salaries. She said she points out the flexibility teachers have thanks to summer break, as well as the near-guaranteed employment teachers have thanks to the shortage.
Additionally, a TAP enrollee is not required to accept a full-time position at a Miami-Dade County school.
Students are more than welcome not to pursue teaching if they find it’s not for them.
“We want to be realistic about that,” Calin-Micek said. “We want people who want to be in front of students teaching.”