South Louisiana Community College is pictured Thursday, September 15, 2016, in Lafayette, La. ORG XMIT: BAT1609161254382294

South Louisiana Community College is aiming to make it easier for its graduates hoping to become teachers to transition into a four-year education program at its partner universities.

Under its cooperative efforts with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, SLCC will offer students in its general studies degree program opportunities to earn credits that would be transferrable to an education degree program elsewhere, SLCC liberal arts Dean Stasia T. Herbert-McZeal said.

Herbert-McZeal said the college has met with UL and Northwestern officials about the plan. 

“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” Herbert-McZeal said last week. “Our (two-year) graduates would have 60 credits with us at graduation, no remedials and would then enter the junior year for specialized education classes at the university.” Sixty credits is around half of the number of credits needed to complete a bachelor’s degree in education.

The goal is to provide prospective teachers a seamless transfer into the junior year of the four-year education programs at UL and Northwestern, which has an online teacher prep program.

SLCC has one class on deck this semester but hopes to eventually offer as many as four or five lower-level education courses on its campus whose credits would transfer with SLCC graduates to four-year institutions.

Herbert-McZeal said the first transferable course will be an introduction to education course equivalent to those offered at four-year schools. That first course, which would involve instruction from working teachers, would “open students’ eyes to everything about being a teacher.”

Andre Perez, executive director for academic initiatives at SLCC, said the community college used to offer courses that introduced students to education but hasn’t offered them for several years. The old courses focused more on the care and development of children than teaching school, he said. They didn’t offer a direct pathway into teaching, but the new courses will, he said.

Creating an SLCC pathway to a teaching career through UL and Northwestern represents one strategy for meeting the statewide need for more classroom teachers. A statewide effort to attract new teachers involves myriad, layered efforts to interest students as young as middle school in the teaching profession.

With the decline in the number of students entering teaching programs, SLCC decided there was an opportunity to help prepare students for a professional field that offers important jobs. The demand for more teachers is clear: Louisiana public schools began the 2022-23 academic year needing another 2,500 certified teachers in classrooms.

Many Louisiana K-12 public schools are making do with long-term substitute teachers, teacher retirees who are returning to the classroom and uncertified teachers who are hired when no one else is available. But the better remedy would be to increase the number of people who are interested in earning education degrees and guiding them toward teaching credentials and jobs.

About 50,000 of Louisiana’s 690,000 students go without a regular teacher every day. Louisiana has the fifth-highest number of uncertified teachers at 9% and fourth-most teachers in their first or second year of teaching — 16% — according to a spring 2022 audit.

On Friday, representatives of the Lafayette Parish school system, UL, SLCC and various community stakeholder groups met at UL to discuss how a grant, secured by the public schools to help with recovery from hurricanes in recent years, might help create and bolster the next generation of educators. 

Aimee Barber, who teaches education at UL, said the group’s discussions would include teacher shortages and how to encourage new waves of prospective teachers, starting with programs offered through Educators Rising, which introduces teaching career opportunities to middle school students up to college students.

Lafayette Parish schools offer an Educators Rising group to more than 60 participating students who are considering the teaching profession. The idea is to reach students early and connect them with professionals who will talk with them about teaching.

Herbert-McZeal said UL's Educators Rising group has invited SLCC students interested in teaching to join.

Educators Rising groups do club activities and service projects, in addition to attending meetings and learning about the profession. High school students interested in teaching also visit UL to meet with education faculty members and discuss what teacher education programs offer.

At the Friday meeting to discuss the grant, proponents said they consider the clubs to be part of a pipeline for encouraging young people to pursue teaching careers.

SLCC and its fledgling effort to prepare students for teaching careers is another part of that multilayered pipeline, and Herbert-McZeal said she hopes it will become an important part. Students will register for that first education course at SLCC this month. The course will grant three credit hours and last 12 weeks, starting in February.

The first class, she said, will involve insights from “boots-on-the-ground” teachers who will give students an unvarnished view of teaching.

“We want to give students realistic ideas to make career decisions, going forward,” she said. “Teachers have been leaving the profession. We want to create new opportunities for students to someday get into it.”

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