Cristina Canales stood in front of a projector screen at West Frederick Middle School pointing to photos of an office clerk and a post office building.
She’s delivering a lesson to a class of English language learners, and even though she’s barely five years older than some of her students, she speaks with the reverence of a seasoned veteran.
As she realizes some students are focusing on their Chromebooks and not the lesson she is delivering on the projector, she tells the classroom to turn their Chromebooks around and close the screens. Their attention turns back to Canales.
“I love the way she speaks so clearly,” says Sally Huguley, who is evaluating her student. “She has a lot of that older sibling in her, and she knows how to get the students to listen to her.”
Canales, a senior at Frederick High, is winding down a semester of mentee teaching as part of her work with the Career and Technology Center’s Teacher Academy.
With districts across the country struggling to find and hire qualified teachers, future homegrown teachers such as Canales could be part of the solution.
A growing need
Over the last decade, the number of students pursuing a degree in education has fallen by half, according to national research done in 2016 by the University of California at Los Angeles.
In 2005, about 10 percent of college students chose to major in education. In 2015, slightly more than 4 percent of college students chose to go after a degree in education.
This data led to the Maryland State Department of Education in 2016 releasing a report declaring critical teacher shortages in 22 different content areas, and a projected shortage in all 24 districts in the state. The shortage areas are exacerbated among minority teachers, according to the state’s data.
“I think there’s a growing feeling that teachers aren’t really appreciated,” said Christy Graybeal, chair of the education department at Hood College. “And that’s turning a lot of students off to pursuing it.”
Hood is experiencing a similar decrease in the number of students who want to be teachers.
This May, the college expects to graduate 33 education majors, nearly a 50 percent decrease from the 59 it graduated six years ago.
The University of Maryland College of Education has also seen a decrease in the number of students pursuing teaching degrees from its program even with the college’s 98 percent placement rate, according to a survey done by the university’s career center. The college’s faculty members largely contributed the decrease to an increasing number of programs in which students can enroll.
Seeing teachers from districts across the United States protesting for higher pay and better working conditions could also be viewed as a turnoff for prospective students, said faculty member Kathy Angeletti.
“I think they’re seeing all of the PR from the other districts across the country,” Angeletti said. “I think that has played a role.”
With districts already facing shortages, the decreasing numbers in colleges have led to increased competition among those districts to land the best-qualified teachers. About 60 percent of the teacher hires in Maryland districts have come from out-of-state colleges.
“They need to, because we don’t graduate enough in state to fill the need,” Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Terry Alban said in January.
Districts such as FCPS have turned to a number of solutions to try to address the shortage. Most notably is the district’s increased pay scale to make teacher salaries more competitive with those in the rest of the state.
But they have also upped their aggressiveness in recruiting, commonly offering open contracts to college students who have yet to graduate. The open contract offering has been common among neighboring districts such as Montgomery County, but Frederick County historically has been slower to make an offer, Graybeal said.
“The number of open contracts being offered locally is the most I’ve seen,” Graybeal said.
One of Graybeal’s students, Taylor Kline, received an offer from Montgomery County Public Schools before finishing her degree this spring. While she was tempted to take the offer, Kline graduated from Urbana High School and wanted to teach in the district in which she attended school.
So she contacted a former teacher who put in a good word, and she landed an interview. She was eventually offered an open contract from FCPS to teach at a Title I school, though the salary offered was several thousand dollars less than in Montgomery, she said.
Still, Kline decided to stay home.
“It was hard to pass up that extra money,” Kline said. “But I think I’ll have a better quality of life here, not spending so much time on the road. And I always saw myself teaching in FCPS. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but I think I made the right one.”
For Kline, the opportunity to teach at a Title I school — those schools with high numbers of children from low-income families — was her highest desire. Going to elementary school in Virginia, she attended a Title I where her teachers made her feel loved, and gave her confidence in school, she said.
“Teachers in these schools have the chance to make such a difference,” Kline said. “I know mine did. These kids need those support systems to tell kids that they matter, and that someone cares about them. I can’t wait to be that.”
A homegrown solution
In an effort to create a long-term pipeline of teachers into FCPS, the district created the Teacher’s Academy at CTC, a year-and-a-half-long program that covers issues teachers will face professionally in the first year. In the second year, students spend a semester working in a classroom with a mentor teacher.
Huguley teaches the class in the morning and in the afternoon she often drops into the various classrooms to see her students teaching. She fills out evaluation forms and when the class is over she offers the students feedback.
Canales is doing her mentee program at West Frederick Middle School teaching a class for English language learners. Canales, who is bilingual, hopes to pursue being an English language learning teacher as her career.
“I’ve seen a lot of these kids who come into these programs, and they don’t feel like they have someone to relate to,” Canales said. “Being someone who can speak the same language as them, it gives them someone they can say, ‘Well, if she did it, then I can too.’”
To join the program, students are required to visit CTC and shadow for a day. The students then complete an interview before earning admission into the academy. This year, Huguley’s class has 14 students.
Canales, a senior, should have entered the program as a junior, but learned about it too late to apply, so she is fast-tracking the program and working to complete it in one year. After taking the class early in the morning, she heads to West Frederick Middle to teach.
Alexis Bruchey, a senior at Brunswick High School, joined the program last year and completed her mentee program earlier this year. But she still wanted to get experience in the classroom. Her mentor teacher at Brunswick Elementary, Julie Miller, offered to keep her in the classroom for the rest of the year. Mentor teachers receive MSDE credits that allow the teacher to renew his or her Maryland Teaching Certificate, which is required every five years.
Bruchey, who is teaching in a fifth-grade classroom, has started to teach entire days on her own. Earlier this month, Bruchey planned an entire day using the school’s outdoor classroom. She designed her own lesson plan and a “baseball” game, in which she asked students a question and if he or she got the answer correct, the student got to move a base. Bruchey wanted to incorporate baseball because the class has recently been learning a lot about Jackie Robinson, she said.
In the classroom, Huguley requires students to address hot topics in education, such as blended learning and classroom design. They also talk openly about the teacher shortage, and the demands that are placed on teachers.
Students in the teacher academy are completing much of the same work that upperclassmen in college programs are completing, Huguley said. This gives them a leg up on their competitors as they head into college as freshmen, but it also could lead to more qualified teachers once they come out, Angeletti said.
Homegrown programs have become increasingly popular among local districts, Angeletti said. And she expects the trend to continue.
“There’s a lot of interest in these ‘grow your own’ programs,” Angeletti said. “The kids come in at a high level, and they’re certainly meeting a need.”