Back to School
Lawrence Township’s New Program Addresses Teacher Shortages & Fulfills Dreams For Aspiring Teachers
Writer: Suzanne Huntzinger
The education field has experienced a rough patch in recent years, and they’ve been facing a shortage of teachers. But some good news has come along that’s about to turn that around.
Lawrence Township, in partnership with IU’s School of Education at IUPUI, designed the District Based Alternative Certification Program (DBAC) providing staff currently employed at Lawrence Township in other capacities the opportunity to become certified elementary education teachers and be assigned to their own classrooms. The DBAC program welcomed its first batch of 15 students from Lawrence Township in the Fall of 2017, and they could be assigned to their first classroom as early as January 2019.
The DBAC cohort certification program directly addresses the teacher shortage that has been plaguing schools for some time. Staff working at Lawrence Township schools in other capacities (like teaching assistants or behavior specialists) who have dreams of becoming a teacher can become certified through this program in 18 months without having to take any time off from their current job. The classes are in the evenings, conveniently located at the Lawrence Education and Community Center (the former Craig Middle School). The first semester classes are two evenings a week, second-semester classes are three evenings a week, then in the summer, the students take six weeks of summer classes. The final semester is spent student teaching. The exciting part is that, upon completion of this certification, students are halfway to achieving a Master’s Degree.
While the DBAC program directly addresses the teacher shortage, it also addresses something else in the classroom.
“It addresses diversity in the classrooms too,” says Dr. Paula Magee, Clinical Professor at IUPUI and Program Coordinator. “The overwhelming majority of the applicants to this program are persons of color, and this will make a big difference for students of color. They’ll see them in a leadership role, and that makes it easier for them to relate to that teacher.”
The DBAC Program took a few years to get off the ground.
“The program really began as a way to address the non-traditional college student. That is, a student who doesn’t show up to campus for orientation and then plan on an uninterrupted four-year run at college,” says Tim Harshbarger, Executive Director for Human Resources for Lawrence Township Schools. “DBAC is about the student to whom life just happened. For me, that was military service, and for my Assistant Director of HR, Mrs. Tammorra Golder, that was a family. We both went back to school later in life, and that presented some specific challenges, the most important of which was making basic ends meet on a daily basis. Yet, both of us earned college degrees and advanced degrees since then.”
When Harshbarger and other administrators got to talking, they decided there were a lot of paraprofessionals in the district for whom life got in the way of their dreams to become teachers.
“They had the desire, like we did, but not the means, the support or a way to finish school and still earn a living at the same time,” Harshbarger says. “So we approached IUPUI and they liked the idea. There were a lot of roadblocks to getting the program in place but if it is meant to last then you have to vet things thoroughly. Excellence doesn’t happen by chance it takes planning and failure before success happens.”
This partnership is more than just a mechanism for getting teachers into the classroom.
“For many of our DBAC teacher candidates it is a pathway to a better life both personally and professionally,” Harshbarger says. “Teaching is a great career choice and comes with benefits, salary and a pension. That’s a big deal and a life-changing one at that. I’m so proud of these folks.”
One candidate summed it up the best. “The program has given me a better chance at life and one in which I can bring my life experience and pedagogy learned through this program to the classroom,” says Michael Johnson, Family Partner Liaison for Harrison Hill Elementary.
Though the inaugural class for the DBAC cohort program hasn’t completed their certification yet, Lawrence Township and IUPUI both consider the program has been a huge success.
“Lawrence Township’s HR department has been fantastic,” Magee says. “They’ve been supportive of their employees enrolled in the program, given us access to their facilities, and they’ve been as accommodating as possible. The convenience of the evening classes in a nearby location removes the hurdle for these students. This is a great collaboration and Lawrence Township is a great partner.”
The success of this flagship program will likely pave the way for DBAC programs in other school districts and talks to make that happen are already underway. In the meantime, those who have aspirations of becoming a teacher don’t have to cast those dreams aside. Now they have options. The Indiana University School of Education at IUPUI has a variety of certification programs for post-Bachelor degree candidates who aspire to become elementary school teachers or secondary education teachers. You can browse the programs at education.iupui.edu.