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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

DeSantis grant allows UF undergraduates to be paid to intern in K-5 classrooms

The state’s first pre-bachelor’s apprentice program aims to fight teacher shortage

Alyson Adams wishes the UF College of Education’s new master’s program was more competitive. But even though the course load is free, online and just one year long, applicant numbers are slim, she said.

“It’s just hard to get people to commit to the career of teaching right now,” said Adams, UF education professor and director of the School of Teaching and Learning.

Gov. Ron DeSantis awarded $5 million Dec. 13 among 10 Florida public universities to develop pre-bachelor’s apprenticeship programs. UF received about $1.3 million from the grant, which was the latest effort in DeSantis’ Pathways to Career Opportunities investment to strengthen Florida’s teacher pipeline.

Apprenticeships pair aspiring educators with mentors who guide them through on-the-job classroom training — giving participants a chance to get paid for becoming a teacher. Since PCO’s launch in 2019, 56 new apprenticeship programs have been created in Florida.

UF launched its first PCO-backed apprenticeship in March 2023. The one-year program offers a master’s degree and teaching certificate to students who complete online courses and an in-classroom apprenticeship.

But the requirements to join the program — a bachelor’s degree in a topic other than education and a passing score on subject exams — have made it hard to find interested and qualified students, Adams said.

Just 10 students are currently enrolled in the program, she said.

“There aren’t many bachelor’s degrees where you can get paid”

The Dec. 13 grant caters to pre-bachelors instead of master’s students, which Adams hopes will draw wider interest, she said. Instead of accumulating student debt, undergraduates will get paid a salary to apprentice in local schools for two years.

“There aren’t many bachelor’s degrees where you can get paid for your junior and senior year,” Adams said. “I think that’s going to be a really popular option.”

Adams is now creating online courses for the program and hopes to start recruiting in Fall 2025. The program still needs full approval, and UF will submit its final grant application Jan. 19, she said.

Apprenticeships are a great way to address Florida’s teacher shortage, said UF education professor Tina Smith-Bonahue. Research on what makes a good teacher shows the importance of academics combined with real-life experience, she said.

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“Teaching apprenticeships are not unique to Florida,” she said. “There’s a national move in this direction.”

Tennessee was the first state to register an apprenticeship program with the federal government in January 2022. Two years later, apprenticeship programs are formally registered in 30 states and under development in at least six more.

More teachers, quality teachers

Florida school district websites posted 10,771 total vacancies in August 2022, according to the Florida Education Association.

DeSantis’ efforts to fight the shortage have received mixed feedback. In June 2022, he approved a bill making veterans without a bachelor’s degree eligible to receive a temporary five-year teaching certificate.

Critics’ fears that apprenticeships make it easier for unqualified people to become teachers are valid, said Adams. But the new program won’t let that happen.

“There were probably some veterans who had a position in the military that would make them excellent teachers. But there maybe are others that could use some more preparation,” she said. “So I'm glad that we're at the table with the apprentice grant so that we can make sure to focus on quality.”

Undergraduates applying to the program will need an associate degree and a 3.5 GPA, Smith-Bonahue said. With strict admission requirements and demanding coursework, the program won’t create undeserved certificates, she said.

“There’s always critics,” she said. “But one thing to understand about teaching apprenticeships is that it’s not a red state or a blue state issue.” 

Rebekah Keita, a 36-year-old Rawlings Elementary teacher, enrolled in UF’s Site-based Implementation of Teacher Education program after getting an email last year advertising an opportunity for a free master’s degree.

Keita got her UF undergraduate degree in sociology. But when she got a job as a paraprofessional working with behaviorally and academically challenged kids after graduating, she realized she wanted to become a full-time teacher.

“It can be difficult physically and emotionally, but most days you love it,” she said. “Because you see the tiny little growth for somebody who couldn't recognize numbers up to five and then they can. It was amazing every day.”

Difficult classes but worthwhile results

The coursework required for the master’s program is so rigorous that of the four other teachers at Keita’s school who began the program with her, Keita is the only one remaining, she said.

But Keita — who balances her master’s studies and her work with ESE students on top of her duties as a mom to an 11-year-old daughter and their brand-new puppy — said she would choose to do the course again if given the option, she said.

“I didn’t know anything going into teaching, and now you get all this background,” she said. “The professors are amazing. I had an incident in mid-September and I just could not get myself to do the work, and they're like, ‘Whatever you can turn in by the end of the semester would be great.’” 

The pre-bachelors program will also be rigorous, but they’ll be very tied to practice, Adams said. While a class might help apprentices learn about classroom management, their work in the classroom will help them understand what it looks like, she said.

Young people in the College of Education are excited to get out into the classroom and start working with students, and she’s excited this program will give them the opportunity to do so even sooner, she said.

“It's hard to be a teacher right now,” she said. “But there are some amazing veteran teachers who, despite the challenges and the environment, stick with teaching. And thank goodness that they're there to inspire the young people who are coming into the schools.”

Contact Zoey Thomas at zthomas@alligator.org. Follow her on X @zoeythomas39.

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Zoey Thomas

Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production major and the university administration reporter for The Alligator. She previously wrote for the metro desk. Other than reporter, Zoey's titles include espresso connoisseur, long-distance runner and Wes Anderson appreciator. 


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