February 1, 2023

WCU Helps Answer the National Teacher Pipeline Shortage by Teaching Schools How to “Grow Their Own”

student teacherFueled by a passion to help others learn and discover, teaching is one of the most inspirational careers one can take on. Post-pandemic, however, the profession has evolved dramatically and those who have dedicated themselves to the life-transforming career understand that it will take a lot more than tempting teachers with apples to swell the ranks. Interestingly, a significant factor associated with the current national teacher shortage (as outlined by the American Association of School Personnel Administrators) is decreased interest in the profession prompted by the perception of what it means to be a teacher. West Chester University’s Dean of the College of Education and Social Work Desha Williams knows exactly what it will take to fill the pipeline once again — Partnering in Raising Inclusive, Zealous Educators (PRIZE).

Created and led by Williams, the University’s new PRIZE program is designed to increase the number of teacher candidates in today’s pipeline while significantly boosting the number of teacher candidates from diverse backgrounds. The program, which was launched in the fall of 2022, features opportunities for participating high school juniors or seniors with a 2.8 or higher high school GPA to take in-person and/or online college-level education classes at WCU; all costs will be covered by the University as well as the partnering school district. The University plans to admit all participating students who earn a minimum 3.0 high school GPA or who earn a grade of “C” or better in their college education courses.

Peer-to-peer support is a critical component of the project, too. Undergraduate education majors have been tapped to serve as mentors to keep the high school students on track and inspired along the way. In addition to being immersed in a host of leadership development and internship opportunities, rising high school seniors and/or graduated seniors will participate in a summer on-campus experience at the University. The University looks forward to welcoming its first cohort of high school participants this summer.  

The PRIZE will be when these participating students graduate from West Chester University and return to their home schools to teach.

School districts are eagerly raising their hands. Participating in the innovative partnership so far are Kennett Consolidated School District in Kennett Square, PA; Chester Upland School District in Chester, PA; and Colonial School District in Plymouth Meeting, PA. Conversations are also ongoing with other area school districts that wish to join in.

Williams, a long-time educator who developed a series of successful pathway programs in GA to prepare teachers for ethnically diverse student populations in rural, urban, and suburban environments, is adamant that the teaching profession needs to change its strategy.

“We don’t do a good enough job telling our stories,” Williams said recently in a Philadelphia Inquirer article written by Sue Snyder, higher education reporter. Williams shared with Snyder, “We do the work. We celebrate students’ accomplishments, and then we just get up and do it again the next year.”

PRIZE is destined to be a game-changer and the timing is right for such an initiative. According to Williams, the Commonwealth is experiencing a drastic increase in the need for teachers. In 2020-2021, the Commonwealth issued 5,039 new certifications, as opposed to 25,728 in 2012-2013. While research documents positive impacts on student learning when teachers represent diverse backgrounds, only 7% of teachers in Pennsylvania identify as persons of color; 37% of students in the Commonwealth identify as students of color.

“As the backbone of our educational system, teachers cultivate generations of students and comprise the village that we depend on,” says Senior Vice President and Interim Provost Jeffery L. Osgood. “It is up to the universities and colleges that train these committed professionals to actively reach out to school districts to help solve what has become a grand challenge: infusing the U.S. educational system with an increasing number of teachers from a variety of diverse backgrounds who welcome inspiring all children. We are especially proud of the compelling work that is going on at WCU’s College of Education and Social Work to advance the education of all children; that is indeed the ultimate PRIZE.”

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