Story: Lisa Sollie

An executive order in January 2023 from Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to address the state’s teacher shortage has helped launch Alabama’s inaugural Teacher Apprenticeship Program. The Alabama Office of Apprenticeship (AOA), the state’s apprenticeship agency, has partnered with the University of West Alabama and three other Alabama universities to implement the pilot program set to begin in fall 2024.

Dr. Jan Miller, dean of the College of Education (COE) at UWA, believes the university was selected to participate in the pilot program “due to our rich history of creating and molding teachers of the future.” Each participating university, noted Miller, will have a different model for instructional delivery. “As the first university in the state to roll out undergraduate teacher programs online and have since expanded our offerings, we felt the teacher apprenticeship program and online delivery was a perfect fit for UWA’s College of Education.”

How it works

The pilot program is employer-driven, meaning school districts must register with one of the four participating institutions. Five school districts, Alabaster City Schools, Alexander City Board of Education, Baldwin County Board of Education, Elmore County Board of Education, and Talladega County Schools, have joined UWA’s teacher apprenticeship program. “Right now, we are conversing with them about identifying teacher apprenticeship candidates in their schools. We are also contacting other districts in the state to make sure they know about the program and how it works. We’d love to partner with them if they’re interested,” Miller added. Incentive funds from the AOA are available to participating districts for the costs associated with the program.

To be considered for one of 40 available teacher apprentice spots, candidates must be current employees of a participating school system with one year of experience as a paraprofessional or teacher’s aide, pursuing a degree in education with 60 transferable credit hours and within two years of completing the degree.

“The essence of a teacher apprenticeship lies in its ability to bridge the gap between theory and practice,” explained Dr. Reenay Rogers, associate dean and executive director of the Center for Rural Education at UWA. “The program allows aspiring educators to learn the ropes under the guidance of an experienced, highly qualified journeyworker (mentor educator) for one academic year while taking classes through the convenience of UWA’s online program. The program,” added Rogers, “doesn’t just provide a pathway to a career; it offers the opportunity to earn a living while honing the skills and knowledge necessary to make a meaningful impact in the classroom.”

Upon satisfactory completion of the assigned coursework and demonstration of competencies, the teacher apprentice will work a second year as the teacher of record in their classroom under the continued supervision of their journeyworker teacher. There is no cost to the teacher apprentice, and candidates will be paid 65 percent of the base teacher pay rate in year one of the program and 85 percent in year two.

According to the AOA, the goal of the teacher apprenticeship program is to get teachers in the classroom one year sooner and with more in-class experience. Targeting this program to aids and paraprofessionals who work in the school system means districts are investing in people they already know while removing barriers for these committed employees to gain the skills they need to grow their careers.

Miller believes many paraprofessionals are interested in becoming classroom teachers, and the university’s COE enrollment numbers reflect that. “Right now, we have more than 700 students in UWA’s online elementary, early childhood, and special education programs, and the bulk of them are paraprofessionals,” she said. “I think the teacher apprentice program is a great opportunity for more paraprofessionals to get into classrooms statewide and help reduce school districts’ teacher shortages. We just have to find the right candidates.”

School districts who want to learn more about UWA’s Teacher Apprenticeship Program, should contact Dr. Jan Miller, or Dr. Reenay Rogers,

UWA’s College of Education is also involved in the Early Childhood Apprenticeship sponsored by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. UWA has an articulated agreement with Coastal Alabama Community College and are in negotiations with two other community colleges in the state. The apprenticeship program allows students to earn an associate degree in early childhood and then transfer to UWA for their last two years of college and get their early childhood degree.