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Opportunity Now: Paving the Way for Paid Teacher Degree Apprenticeships

By Adam Vitcavage

CareerWise, in collaboration with partners Colorado Mountain College (CMC) and Reach University‘s National Center for the Apprenticeship Degree, launched the Teacher Degree Apprenticeship program on January 22 in Glenwood Springs, Colo.

This innovative entry into teaching was brought about by SB23-087 which gave the Colorado Department of Education the authority to create a new pathway into teaching through apprenticeship. As a financial catalyst to pilot this work, CareerWise was awarded a grant through Opportunity Now, which is funded and administered by the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Right out of the gate, the Teacher Degree Apprenticeship program features 11 districts committing to hire 40 or more apprentices this spring for a fall 2024 start. Each apprentice will fill a high-need vacancy, be registered with the State Apprenticeship Agency, pursue a bachelor’s degree through Colorado Mountain College, and receive on-the-job training under the guidance of a trained mentor teacher. The overarching goal is to create a blueprint for a best-in-class Teacher Degree Apprenticeship, eventually expanding to every district in the state.

Liz Qualman, Director of Teacher Education at CMC, said the program will offer new pathways for young people to achieve a teaching career without the traditional barriers often faced with being a full-time college student.

“Individuals can work while studying and be in the classroom getting hands-on experience. The Teacher Degree Apprenticeship will require more collaboration with our K-12 partners, which will be great, because both the college and the employer will be responsible for training educators together,” said Qualman. “The apprentice will get more experience in the K-12 system, which will prepare them better to take over their classrooms when they graduate from the program. They can graduate with little to no debt.”

That last benefit is vital to addressing the teacher shortage school districts across Colorado are facing. Offering students a pathway to earn a salary while going to school can open doors to individuals who may have shied away from attending college full time due to financial barriers.

Margarita Tovar, who is now the Chief Talent Officer at Summit School District, was once one of those young people who saw a path she wanted for her life but didn’t have a program that was right for her.

“I had the privilege and opportunity to become an after-school teacher at 17 in the same elementary school I attended as a student,” said Tovar about her experiences after high school. “I was a paraprofessional for five years while I attended college in the evening full-time. As a financial contributor to my household, I couldn’t afford the traditional route toward licensure because of the unpaid student-teacher component. While I’ve been successful as a teacher, principal, and now Chief Talent Officer, I can’t imagine how much support an apprenticeship model would’ve been for me.”

Now, her district is one of the 11 that will offer a new Teacher Degree Apprenticeship that will help provide pathways to students who want to be teachers.

“The Teacher Degree Apprenticeship means moving toward more sustainable methods of recruitment and preparation of staff,” said Tovar. “It will redefine the traditional pathway to teacher licensure. It shows actual time on the job is just as important as classwork to get licensure. It’s not a matter of college vs a career. It’s both. You don’t have a binary path.”

The initial cohort of districts that will participate in the Teacher Degree Apprenticeship that will allow a new pathway toward teacher licensure through Colorado Mountain College include Cherry Creek School District, Pueblo County School District 70, Bayfield School District, Fort Morgan School District, Harrison School District 2, Garfield RE 2 School District, Roaring Fork School District (RE-1), Salida School District, Eagle County School District, Summit School District, and Lake County School District.