By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University has launched an initiative to combat teacher shortages at a crucial time in the state.
The Canyon L.E.A.P. to Teach alternative route to licensure welcomed its first cohort of 16 students in late December to fill a need for well-prepared teachers in elementary and secondary school districts.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. More than one in four Arizona classrooms face teacher vacancies, a situation made worse by COVID-19, according to a survey by Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association released in December. Since the academic year began, 1,369 teachers have severed employment, nearly 40% citing the pandemic as a reason.
Many of the vacancies are filled by teachers who lack standard requirements, instead holding short-term emergency, subject matter or intern certificates.
For example, an accountant may decide to change careers and fill a math teacher vacancy. While holding a subject matter certificate, the person may not know how to run a classroom.
“Everyone thinks they can be a teacher since they have been to school. Come to find out, there is an art and a science to teaching,” College of Education Associate Dean Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick said.
That is the knowledge gap that GCU aims to fill, an idea hatched months before COVID-19 hit. President Brian Mueller challenged GCU’s College of Education and Canyon Professional Development, a branch of K12 Educational Development, to address the shortage by finding a path for teacher certification.
Leaders enlisted the help of five area school districts in Tolleson, Glendale and Alhambra and one charter school to develop a program that combines online courses, weekend boot camps with Canyon Professional Development and direct supervision from COE instructors, with vital support from the districts.
The program was unanimously approved by the Arizona State Board of Education in late August, and the first cohort of students in the pilot class are attending at no cost. GCU plans to make the initiative a 16-credit graduate certificate program and expand it.
Canyon L.E.A.P. to Teach is different from other licensure programs in that it doesn’t take as long to complete and creates a framework “so that they won’t quit after being a teacher for three to five years,” said Carol Lippert, Executive Director of K12 Outreach and Education Program Development. “They can set up a support network with other people who are on this pathway as well.”
It’s also unique in its three-pronged approach from Canyon Professional Development, GCU educators and the school districts, where it gets part of its name – Local Education Agency Pathway (L.E.A.P.).
Often, experts in their fields are not educated in how to prepare lessons or break down content that students understand.
“Also, as a former principal, I see their biggest gaps are in classroom management,” Lippert continued. “They go in and expect, ‘I will provide them with this wonderful content, and they will just sit there like beautiful children and take it all in.’ We’re helping them actually teach instead of profess -- instead of just telling them information, teaching them how to teach it.”
The boot camps include the nuts and bolts of teaching, such as communication with parents, policies and procedures and classroom management.
Lippert and her team provide one-on-one coaching, and faculty supervisors from COE provide informative feedback about their progress.
“Teachers are held to very high standards – each content area comes with standards on what each student should be able to do at the end of every grade level,” Gilpatrick said. “We help them learn what those standards mean and how to break them down into lessons that are relevant and applicable.”
It’s already showing benefits.
Nevada Fox moved from Wyoming to Arizona last year and is teaching fifth grade at Sunset Vista Elementary in Glendale. She needed her Arizona certification and enrolled in GCU’s program.
“One of our first assignments was how to engage students in the classroom, since we are all virtual now,” Fox said. “In the class, I learned ways to incentivize my kids – for example, if everyone turns in their homework for a week, they get to choose a field trip. That is one of the things I did, and it worked.”
Her GCU faculty supervisor, Lindy Gaudiano, was thrilled.
“This is a program we’ve been working on for a year, so to see one of the first in the program give us positive feedback was really rewarding,” said Gaudiano, COE’s Director of Academic Programs. “They are able to use that information right away, turn it around the next day and implement it with their students.”
Cathey Mayes, Administrator of Human Resources at Tolleson Elementary School District, said it will add to the quality of teachers they can hire.
“Right now, we have to look at creative ways to get classrooms filled,” she said. “The program gives us flexibility that a good candidate that is maybe a substitute or is a class or two short can handle a classroom.”
GCU is not only addressing the shortage but sharing its education message, which is learning, leading and serving.
“I feel like what it means for Arizona students is, not only will they have a teacher in their classroom, but they will have a well-prepared, highly qualified teacher in their classroom,” Lippert said. “That will accelerate achievement, and right now they need every advantage they can get.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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