NDE announces apprenticeship program to help train teachers

March 27, 2024, 3:51 p.m. ·

Shelly Sip Reading to Class
Shelly Sip, an educational assistant for Westside in Omaha, reads to a class. Sip is a part of the grow-your-own partnership between Westside and Midland University. (Photo by Jolie Peal/Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Department of Education launched the Teacher Apprenticeship Program to help train teachers with more in-classroom experiences.

The Nebraska Legislature passed the Teacher Apprenticeship Program last year with $1 million slated for the initiative in the first year. The program is starting with three grow-your-own initiatives that were already in effect:

  • Midland University and Omaha Westside’s “Growing Our Own Educator Assistant (EA) to Teacher Ladder Program”
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Lincoln Public Schools’ “Building the Special Education Teacher Pipeline”
  • Chadron State College and North Platte Public Schools’ “Panhandle Para to Teacher Academy.”

The program was created as a way to help address the ongoing teacher shortage across the state. According to the Teacher Shortage Survey, over 900 positions were left unfilled by a fully qualified teacher and about 360 were left vacant this school year.

NDE Commissioner Brian Maher said the education department hopes to connect more school districts and universities to create apprenticeship programs.

“We think that this will be the start of a tremendous opportunity for the schools, for the educational assistants, for teachers, and ultimately, for students across the state of Nebraska,” Maher said.

With the Westside-Midland partnership, educational assistants can continue working while taking classes at night to get their teacher certifications. Shelly Sip is one of those EAs. She said she has been an educational assistant for 15 years, but was ready for a change.

“It wasn't enough to just be an assistant,” Sip said. “I wanted more. I wanted to be in front of the room. I wanted to make the lesson plans.”

The cost to get a teaching degree was holding her back. That’s when she discovered her district’s grow-your-own program that paid for all the costs and provided her with an iPad to succeed in her classes.

“It is the only reason I was able to go to college, 100%,” Sip said. “Every year, I'm like ‘I want to go.’ I look at my funds, don't have them. So as soon as I found out about this program, I knew it's what I wanted.”

Andrea Haynes, assistant superintendent for Westside Community Schools, said educational assistants like Sip already have experience in the classroom, which makes it easier for them to transition to teaching.

Andrea Haynes at Podium
Westside Community Schools Assistant Superintendent Andrea Haynes speaks about the grow-your-own partnership with Midland University. (Photo by Jolie Peal/Nebraska Public Media News)

“What the apprenticeship, grow-our-own model does is begins to turn over some of that responsibility to the EA through their cooperating teacher earlier than maybe what traditionally happened in a traditional secondary education or elementary education program,” Haynes said.

According to Haynes, there will be about eight graduates this spring from the program that will have classrooms at Westside next school year. Sip will graduate in May of next year.

While these programs are helping attract more paraprofessionals to become teachers, there is an ongoing paraprofessional shortage. Maher said both shortages are important for the department to address.

“If our only answer to fill the teacher vacancies is to rob the educational assistants or paraprofessionals, we've just shifted the problem,” Maher said. “What we really need to do is to make sure that everybody understands this is a great profession. This is something that's awesome to be a part of. We need to fill both buckets.”

Maher said there are several ways for teachers to enter the profession, and that the apprenticeship program is trying to help people already working in education who need financial help getting their degree.

The stipulations for the three programs vary. For the Westside-Midland partnership, participants agree to work in the district for five years after graduating.