How Sunnyside and UArizona hope to train, keep teachers in Tucson

Teacher training program prepares the next generation of instructors

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A new collaboration in southern Arizona could be the innovative answer to filling a statewide teacher shortage one community at a time.

Pathways to Teaching finds candidates who already have a connection to the Sunnyside Unified School District and trains them to become certified teachers in less than a year and a half.

Isabel Tello started volunteering at Los Ninos Elementary school as part of her education at Pima Community College. She heard about the program and applied. The mother of three will be the first in her family to finish school.

"I want to set the example for my boys," she said

Tello secured one of 14 available seats for the first class of the University Arizona College of Education Pathways to Teaching program. Everyone in the program will have their tuition paid for and they’ll receive a stipend of $1,000.

“For some people who really want to be teachers, the tuition’s not enough,” program director Macy Wood said. “They’re working full time and, in order to be a teacher, you really need time in classrooms.”

Participants will have plenty of classroom experience by the end of the 17-month program. Wood said students will shadow professionals in the field by the end of January and each one will be a teach of record — or the main instructor — for their own class when school is back in session next fall.

"This isn't a program where there's different standards or lower standards," she said. "It's the same high expectations we have as if they were on campus in our regular teacher preparation program."

This program has been in development for 10 years, Wood said, and Sunnyside was the first district in southern Arizona to commit to it.

The university covers the cost of tuition and stipend, then, when the participants lead their own classrooms next fall, Sunnyside will pay the university. Wood said it’s money that would have paid for a substitute teacher anyway, so the district doesn’t have to break any budgets and the classrooms can have some consistency.

“These are all folks who will stay here and teach in Sunnyside that’ll help to address the teacher shortage problem that we have across Arizona,” she said.

Tello's lived in Tucson for 30 years. She considered pursing a different career to make a little more money, but her heart wasn't in it.

"It wasn't going to bring joy," she said. "Teaching does bring joy."

Through a support system of instructors and each other, the first class of Pathways to Teaching will bring new teachers to classrooms around Tucson.

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