Staffed Up: 7 tips to keep in mind when forming a registered teacher apprenticeship

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It’s been nearly one year since the U.S. Department of Labor approved the first registered teacher apprenticeship program, and experts are now noticing states, districts and educator preparation programs increasingly inquiring about and adopting the model.

So far four states — Tennessee, Iowa, West Virginia and Wyoming — have enrolled in teacher apprenticeship programs, and more states are actively exploring their options, said Cheryl Krohn, a senior technical assistance consultant for the American Institutes for Research. AIR is consulting with leaders interested in establishing their own models. 

These developments follow an August joint letter from the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Labor  encouraging states to use this model as a strategy to address teacher shortages, Krohn said. That advice is quickly being heeded. 

“It is a fast-moving train to say the least,” Krohn said. 

Because of varying teacher licensure requirements, each state is approaching the apprenticeship model a little differently, she said. Apprenticeships are paid models similar to grow-your-own programs, which invest in high school students, community members or paraprofessionals to help them attain a teaching certification. 

Essentially, an apprenticeship pays for a prospective teacher to receive mentoring from another educator as they complete in-classroom training and study to earn a teaching degree and license. 

In January, the Labor Department approved the first apprenticeship program for a partnership between Tennessee’s Clarksville-Montgomery County School System and Austin Peay State University. While the program was only just recognized by the federal government this year, the grow-your-own apprenticeship model really began in 2019, said Prentice Chandler, dean of Eriksson College of Education at Austin Peay.

Three years in, the university now has a waiting list for the program, Chandler said. On top of that, Clarksville-Montgomery schools had been set to completely eliminate teacher vacancies in April, according to a spring webinar presented by Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. As of August, teacher vacancies shrunk from 150 to 70 before classes began for the 2022-23 school year, Clarksville Now reported

While the model has demonstrated success with addressing teacher shortages in Tennessee, experts note that the approach — if done right — will not show results overnight. Because registered teacher apprenticeships are so new, there’s still no “rigorous research” about what’s effective and what works best, Krohn said. 

Experts suggest seven best practices for education leaders beginning to implement these programs: 

Tap into existing partnerships

Before starting a program, leaders should ask themselves what local partnerships and relationships are already in place, said Jennifer Jirous-Rapp, a technical assistance consultant for AIR.

Jirous-Rapp said other related questions could include: 

  • “Do we have an existing relationship with a training provider that is very effective already?” 
  • “Do we have an existing relationship with our workforce area in the state or at the local level?” 
  • “What are the relationships, what are they like already, and who else do we need to grow in that relationship to really do this well?”

David Donaldson, managing partner of the National Center for Grow Your Own, said an apprenticeship program is often the second phase of existing, high-performing grow-your-own and teacher residency efforts to address shortages. Federal funds should either support or expand these programs, he said.

“I don’t think this should be a brand new thing, a standalone thing, some new creation,” said Donaldson.

Get district buy-in

The apprenticeship model isn’t meant for everyone, Krohn said, so education leaders need to ask themselves, “Is this the right program for me?”

If it is, then leaders need to reach out to the right partners in their state to get the ball rolling, she said. But as seen from current apprenticeships, those conversations can be difficult, and this work can take years before noticeable results come through, Krohn said. 

For Chandler, thinking about the district first is crucial.