ECISD apprenticeship program provides another pathway for aspiring teachers

Lamar Early Education Center Special Education Aide Barbara Gustafson poses for a photo at the campus. She is one of two registered teacher apprentices in ECISD currently, but plans are to recruit heavily starting in January. (Courtesy Photo)

People who don’t have a bachelor’s degree, but want to become teachers have a new pathway through Ector County ISD called the registered teacher apprenticeship.

It is approved by the U.S. Department of Labor and ECISD also is working with the Texas Workforce Commission.

With this apprenticeship, ECISD will be able to place people in paraprofessional positions. They can then go to Odessa College or University of Texas Permian Basin and have their tuition and fees paid, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jaime Miller said.

“It is a pivotal pipeline for us because we want to ensure that we’re removing barriers that anyone might have in becoming a certified teacher, but also working with the Texas Workforce Commission we’re able to pull funds down that can help with gas … child care, clothing stipends, training … different things that we can pull down from the Texas Workforce Commission to remove even more barriers for candidates within this pipeline,” Miller added.

There are other programs for people who already have a bachelor’s degree like Odessa Pathway to Teaching, an educator preparation program which also helps with financial barriers.

This is ECISD’s ninth teacher development program and is the 10th local effort to build up the local teacher workforce. It includes financial support from the Permian Strategic Partnership.

“… But the main people we’re targeting (with the registered teacher apprenticeship) are people without a bachelor’s degree that would like to become a paraprofessional within the district and work toward becoming a certified teacher,” Miller said.

“We’re looking at some of our high school students that come out already having an associate degree and this would be a great path for them to take. They could get their teaching degree within two years and the apprenticeship would help them remove barriers, but also their education would be debt free,” Miller added.

There are two people in the apprenticeship currently, but Miller said ECISD is going to be recruiting people rigorously starting in January. Both were already working for the district, but you don’t have to be.

“We can hire you into the district and you can become an apprenticeship for us,” Miller said.

Apprentices get pay and benefits through ECISD while they are apprentices.

“There is a progressive pay wage increase, so every year that you are in the apprentice program, you will get a pay raise. Then once you have that bachelor’s degree and you’re teaching in our system, you will receive full pay from ECISD. We’re doing this to ensure that every student has that high-quality certified teacher in the classroom knowing that’s going to lead to student success,” Miller said.

Nearly anyone can be an apprentice, but you have to be working toward teacher certification.

“… If you’re in Odessa Pathway to Teaching, which is one of our pipelines, you can be an apprentice. If you’re a parent, a teacher, you can be an apprentice. If you’re in Future Teachers of Odessa, which is high school, then you can be an apprentice,” Miller said.

“We’re also looking at recruiting parents. If you’re at the school, if you’re volunteering, then let’s get you to be a (paraprofessional) and let’s get you in the pipeline. You’re already there anyway. We want to get to you in the classroom,” she added.

Barbara Gustafson, a special education aide at Lamar Early Education Center, is one of the apprentices.

ECISD Board of Trustees member Tammy Hawkins strongly encouraged Gustafson to join the district.

She said the district provides a lot of support as long as you communicate with them. At Lamar, she was paired with Kristy Marquez, a pre-K 4 special education teacher.

“She is a very wonderful teacher. Whenever I have questions, she tries to answer them as thoroughly as she can,” Gustafson said.

If she has to take care of something for school, Marquez is very understanding.

Gustafson said she didn’t know she wanted to go into education, but she always wanted to find a niche where she helped people out. It wasn’t until recently that she figured out what that was.

At the campus, she fell in love with the younger children and “the special education classroom. Those kids are so sweet and they’re so loving.”

“I just want to be somebody that helps them to see that they do have the capability of having a future and a disability isn’t something that’s going to hold them back,” she added.

A mother of two, Gustafson said she was impressed that ECISD did so much for the aides and assistants to help them progress in their career.

“… Most other places you have to figure that out on your own to progress,” but ECISD is fully willing to help, Gustafson said.

“It’s just amazing,” she added.

Gustafson said she’s enjoying that the online college courses are set up to where she can work at her own pace, even though she still has a deadline.

“… I opted to do all my classes online. It … kept me in the classroom working full time, so it made it easier,” Gustafson said.

Although it seems like there are now a myriad of teacher pipelines, Miller said the district always needs teachers.

“… In 2019, we had 350 vacancies, and this year, we only had 36. But we know that people retire, people move, so we always need that pool of high-quality teachers to be able to step into our classrooms. We also know our community is growing. As growth comes, you’re going to need more high-quality teachers in the classrooms,” Miller said.

The district works to make sure teachers are high quality and certified, she said.

“… They will do a residency through the apprenticeship program, so they’ll spend an entire year. They’ll be there for the first day of school all the way to the last day of school and they’ll be with a teacher … They’ll learn from that teacher. That teacher will help them with planning, with classroom management, with building a relationship with the students. They come out of that not as a first-year teacher. They come out as a second-year teacher because they’re first-day ready to be with our kids,” Miller said.

Normally, she said, you do six weeks of student teaching. Miller said that’s what she did and it was six weeks into the spring semester so classroom expectations were already set.

With the residency, you see the entire year from first day to last.

“… That’s very beneficial for teachers,” Miller said.

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