Schools nationwide are feeling the strain of finding new teachers to hire. Fewer and fewer students are graduating with education degrees, leading to a smaller hiring pool when a position becomes available.
The strain is being felt all over the country, but West Virginia has created a new initiative that will hopefully encourage high school students to enter the education field.
Pocahontas County Schools superintendent Terrence Beam said he learned of the initiative at a recent superintendents conference.
“The state’s come up with this new initiative called ‘Grow Your Own,”’ he said. “The purpose of the Grow Your Own initiative is to train our own teachers in West Virginia to stay home and become teachers for our students.”
During the presentation of the initiative, it was stated that the pilot program needed at least six to eight counties to show interest in participating. By the end of the 15-minute presentation, 18 counties had signed up for the program.
“Everybody is struggling,” Beam said.
Pocahontas County is one of the 18 to join the initiative and training will begin in March. The county will partner with Glenville State College, soon to be Glenville University, to provide the program.
With Grow Your Own, students interested in becoming teachers will actually begin their journey toward that goal in the junior year. There are four courses, as well as AP classes, they will take while still in high school that will count as college credits.
“There are four core classes – education courses – that they must take over a two year period,” Beam said. “There’s also some AP courses that they will be required to take over that two year period. If they complete those courses and pass those courses with a 3.0 average, then they will be able to forego their freshman year of college.”
The students will then attend Glenville, where they will technically be considered sophomores. They will take two years of their required courses and by the third year of college, when they will be considered seniors, they will be hired through the teacher-in-residency program.
“Their senior year will actually be in the schools, hired as a teacher-in-residency,” Beam explained. They are paid sixty-five percent of a teacher’s salary to get their job training at the schools. So in four years, starting as juniors in high school, they could be getting into the workforce.”
Beam said there is a possibility the courses taken during high school may be offered to freshmen, allowing the students four years to take the four education courses, but for now, it will begin with juniors.
Once the training sessions are complete, Beam said he wants to have a public meeting with high school parents and students to explain the program.
“I want to have a meeting with not just the students, but with the parents, and tell them what the program is going to be like,” he said. “Hopefully, I will have [Director of Teacher Education] Jeff Hunter from Glenville join me.”
Along with getting students into the workforce faster, the initiative will also have a discounted tuition.
“The tuition for these courses is going to be much, much friendlier to parents’ pocketbooks than what we’ve done in the past,” Beam said.
Beam said he hopes this new initiative will help students consider a career in education and help them realize that it is a worthy profession to be in.
“Education catches a lot of grief, but it’s a wonderful profession,” he said. “It gives you a chance to really help kids and it allows kids who want to stay in Pocahontas County to stay in Pocahontas County and make a good living with good benefits. I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Even if a student doesn’t think they want to be a teacher, Beam encourages them to look into the program as a possibility, because even he didn’t initially want to be an educator.
“I got my first teaching job two weeks out of college and I haven’t quit yet,” he said. “I had no intentions of being a teacher when I was in college. You never know what the future is going to bring. We wanted to give this opportunity to our students, especially the ones who are really interested, or the ones that don’t have a real firm grasp on what they want to do when they’re older.
“If they’re determined to be a lawyer or doctor, great,” he continued. “We need them all. If they’re not sure they want to go to college, but they just don’t know what for sure they want to study, it doesn’t hurt. A lot of these courses have to be taken in college anyway, so you might as well take them.”
Beam is hopeful the initiative will work and help students get a good higher education that allows them to come back to the county and gives them a steady profession while also giving back to their community.
“The Grow Your Own initiative is perfect for Pocahontas County because we have a lot of kids who really want to stay home,” he said. “They want to stay close. They like it here. They want to be here. Now this gives them the opportunity to gain employment and make a good living.”