University program helps alleviate local, nationwide teacher shortages

Spinnaker

The nation’s education system currently faces a critical shortage of professionally certified teachers, and Northeast Florida is not exempt from the problem.

About 1,400 classroom teachers in the area only have temporary teaching certificates, according to the regional coordinator of the North Florida Personel Development Partnership who founded a program aimed to do something about it.

Dr. Kathryn Krudwig started the Educator Preparation Institute at UNF last November to help alleviate the problem in the local school districts.

“We continue having a critical shortage of math teachers, science teachers, special education teachers, reading teachers and teachers for children and students who speak English as a second language,” Krudwig said.

Within the past year, EPI has successfully passed 52 teachers with professional certficates into the workforce, and another 103 teachers are still in the process of completion, Krudwig said.

“We are 52, but that’s a start,” Krudwig said. “We certainly hope for many years to come to continue turning out professionally certified teachers.”

Along with EPI’s training, teachers can choose any field they have an expertise in or want to teach and that’s taught in a school, Krudwig said. Many of these teachers have already graduated with bachelor’s degrees, and EPI trains them in teaching methods.

“We provide the professional knowledge and skills that you [need] to have to teach,” Krudwig said. “They bring the subject, and we bring the professional preparation.”

In order to gain full certification, teachers go through a nine-month certification process, where they take competency-based courses such as classroom management and assessment, instructional strategies, the teaching and learning process, professional foundations, diversity in the classroom, technology and a Florida online reading course.

She said all of the courses are interconnected and cover all of the major areas teachers need to have expertise in.

Teachers – some who already have temporary certificates – must also demonstrate fieldwork in an actual classroom with students and have to complete the Florida Educator Accomplished Practices (FEAPS), an observation/evaluation process during their field and coursework experience.

The teachers must also pass the three subtests –-general knowledge, subject area and professional tests – of the Florida Teacher Certification Exam and receive a credential of EPI completion, which confirms they’ve met all the requirements and are eligible to apply to the Florida Department of Education for professional certification.

“They can’t complete the EPI until they have actually mastered all of the competencies required by the state of Florida for a professional certificate,” Krudwig said.

EPI gives the teachers already in the workforce and with bachelor’s degrees a chance to find a new career.

One of these teachers is Carmen Theis, an August 2008 graduate.

Before attending EPI, Theis had a bachelor’s degree in economic science from San Marcos National Public University in Peru, she said. She worked for 10 years in international logistics before gaining a passion to teach and coming to the U.S.

Theis, who now works as a Spanish teacher at Samuel W. Wolfson High School, started her career as a substitute teacher where she realized teaching was for her.

“I decided to become a teacher because I [want] to be a part of the shaping of the next generation of students,” Theis said. “I believe education is the gift for success in life. I want all my students to experience that success in the future.

Dr. Betty Bennett, director of EPI, said it’s a great benefit for education to have people choose teaching as a second career.

“The idea of having people that have gained other kinds of experiences rather than being in education […] can bring in rich experiences,” said Bennett, who is also an EPI instructor and confirms completion for the teachers.

She said EPI can also give options and opportunities for jobs to recent college graduates who are unaware of what they want to do.

“If they’ve graduated and have a bachelor’s degree in anything, this gives them an opportunity to go into teaching without having to go back and get another degree,” Bennett said.

EPI is currently going through its second year at UNF and has had a total of 167 teachers were admitted in the program’s first three cohorts.

But at the end of the day, EPI’s mission and main priority is the children, Krudwig said.

“Everything we do in the EPI is really about the kids,” Krudwig said. “It’s really so that every student K-12 will have expert committed teachers. If the students are being taught well, then we’ve been successful. That’s really what it all goes back to.”

E-mail Laura Franco at [email protected]